We have all had them — those painful, involuntary contractions of one or more muscles that can occur whether you’re active or sleeping. Muscle cramps can be mild or excruciating, and usually happen in the calf and feet. They can also occur in other parts of the body, like the arm or hand.
Muscle cramps are caused by overexertion and lack of stretching, poor circulation, dehydration and lack of certain nutrients. Even some medications can cause them.
Your best bet is to pay attention to exercise safety and ergonomics. Most of all, stay hydrated and eat properly.
The following are five nutrients you should always include in your diet:
When you’re dehydrated the electrolyte-water balance is disturbed, and that stimulates nerves. The average person loses three to four cups per day just through perspiration and urine; it just takes a loss of two percent of your body’s water to become dehydrated.
This substance helps maintain normal body-fluid balance, nerve impulse generation and muscle contraction. It’s not unusual for an athlete to crave salt after a workout; when the electrolyte balance is disturbed, the body will start pulling nutrients from other sources, such as salt. You can get it naturally by eating certain foods, like celery.
This mineral controls the nerve signals that allow a muscle to contract. When there’s little calcium, there are no controlled nerve signals, and you get a spasm. Calcium-rich foods include dark leafy greens, canned fish (with bones and in oil), and dairy.
Regulates adenosine triphosphate (ATP), a big energy source for muscle contraction, to make muscles relax. Magnesium-rich foods include spinach, halibut, nuts and seeds, avocados, lentils, soy beans, whole grains, yogurt, bananas, dried fruit and dark chocolate.
This mineral plays an important role in muscle formation and nerve cells and also regulates the electrolyte balance in your body. Potassium-rich foods include dark, leafy greens, white beans, avocados, dried apricots, bananas, baked acorn squash, yogurt, salmon, white mushrooms and baked potatoes (with skin).