You have probably seen this. One minute an athlete is on top of his game. The next minute he/she collapses, grimacing, face contorted in excruciating pain. You can almost feel their pain just by looking. Can you prevent muscle cramps during or after exercise (or other physical activity)?
Exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMC) are quite common in both professional athletes and recreational athletes. The chances of getting one at some stage can be as high as 30 per cent or higher depending on the sport or activity.
My Own Experience
It was a legs day. For those who may not know, bodybuilders have what they call a “split”, which means training a certain body part on a given day.
The workout had been great. I got home fine. I was back home from the gym and I felt great. Suddenly I went down, with the worst hamstring cramps I had ever experienced.
I straightened my legs in a bid to relax my hamstrings, only for my quads (quadriceps) to cramp. So I bent my legs at knees again to relax the quads, but the camps went back to my hamstrings. This went on back and forth from hamstrings to quads, for what seemed like an eternity though it was really no more than three minutes.
Luckily, I recovered without having to call 911 – some people have. I know of at least one person who was hospitalized because of cramps. They can be that serious.
Causes of EAMC
Studying muscle cramps is a challenge. They cannot be induced and it is impractical to study them when they occur, which is by itself mostly unpredictable. The true causes are largely unknown, but the most common theory is dehydration–electrolyte imbalance. Age, history, body mass index, body conditioning and genetics also play a part.
Since actual causes are not known, treatment and prevention of muscle cramps is for the most part based on theory and not on exact science.
Preventing Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps
Though the true causes of EAMC are not yet known, you may be able to prevent them – or minimize the chances of experience one – by following a few basic steps. Here are some things you may want to try:
1. Warm up and cool down: Make sure you are thoroughly warmed up before a workout session or sports activity. Cooling down after vigorous exercise may also help.
2. Stretching: One of the most effective (and basic) ways to prevent muscle cramps is to stretch before and after an activity. Try spot-stretching between sets to target the primary muscles being used or trained as well. Passive stretching may help relieve cramps when they occur.
3. Hydrate: Try to stay hydrated at all times; before, during and after activity. Experts recommend drinking 1 to 1.5 gallons of water daily if you are physically active.
4. Maintain or restore electrolyte balance: Drinking a sports drink fortified with electrolytes may help with recovery from muscle cramps. Electrolytes include potassium, magnesium and sodium. Eating a well-balanced diet consisting of plenty of fruits and vegetables can help maintain a good electrolyte balance.
5. Ensure sufficient vitamins and minerals intake: Some studies suggest that deficiency in certain vitamins and minerals may help keep muscle cramps at bay. Taking a good multivitamin supplement is the quickest way to ensure adequate intake of most vitamins and minerals.
Pickle Juice for Muscle Cramps?
This is not a preventive measure but more of a treatment. I thought it appropriate to include it and if you have read this far it is most likely of interest to you. Drinking pickle juice is one of the quickest and effective ways relieving muscle cramps. The exact way it does this is not yet known. Experts opine that it works too quickly to be anything to do with electrolyte replacement.
Of course, consulting a healthcare professional before trying any of the above is always recommended.