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Curbing Muscle Cramping

by Lori Diamos1 Comment

Although muscle cramping can happen any time of year for a variety reasons, I tend to notice increased complaints from my active and/or athletic populations during the throes of summer.  Whether they are simply being more outdoorsy and recreational or training for an upcoming sport season or competition, muscle cramping seems to be more prevalent in hot weather.  For those of you wondering about the “how” and “why,” below you’ll find a quick review but more importantly, some tips and pointers on what you can do to combat muscle cramping in hotter weather.

I think we can all agree that when we get too hot, most of us tend to sweat as a natural response to help the body cool itself and regulate its temperature.  In general, the greater the exertion the greater the amount of sweating that happens. Water loss in the muscle can cause cramping.  Some bodies are more efficient than others so the amount each individual sweats in relation to strenuous activity will vary.  Staying hydrated  is imperative with greater activity levels and the need for hydration increases exponentially as the temperature rises.  Rather than rehashing hydration again, simply click here for an excellent refresher from a past article.  To help decrease water loss from sweating, consider adding sea salt (especially colored salt like pink or grey as it also has trace minerals) to your water before and after exertion. This aids in water retention.

Sweating also causes a loss of electrolytes, or minerals necessary for normal bodily functions. In terms of cramping, the two big culprits that frequently decrease after exertion in hot weather are potassium and magnesium.

Potassium helps to maintain fluid balance and also assists in regulating heart rhythms as well as blood pressure.  It further helps to build strong bones and muscles. Oftentimes muscle cramping is a sign of deficiency especially during exertion.  Bananas are a good source of potassium and frequently recommended to eat if someone is experiencing cramping. Many other foods are higher in potassium such as winter squash, sweet and/or baked potato with skin on, broccoli, yogurt, white beans, 100% orange juice and unsulphured  blackstrap molasses to name a few.

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Magnesium regulates enzymes

Dr. Carolyn Dean, guru of all things magnesium and author of the book called “The Magnesium Miracle,” notes, “Magnesium regulates over 325 enzyme reactions in the body the most important of which produce, transport, store, and utilize energy.” Magnesium also controls nerve action, heart activity, neuromuscular transmission, muscular contraction, vascular tone, blood pressure and peripheral blood flow. Deficiency is often present when muscle cramping of any kind is experienced, especially during excessive activity in hot weather where the physical stress to the body and/or sweating can cause depletion.  Magnesium can be found in kelp, wheat bran/germ, molasses and most nuts, but oftentimes requires outside supplementation.  Many still have trouble getting enough magnesium through the digestive tract before experiencing diarrhea, the body’s natural response to having more magnesium than it can process.  An excellent way to bypass the stomach is to use magnesium oil, a spray that can go right on the skin transdermally and be massaged into the specific muscles that are cramping. An Epsom salt bath is another source of magnesium).

There are many sports drinks on the market to help with hydration. However, most use high fructose corn syrup (which can also cause muscle tremors/cramping from low blood glucose when depleted from exertion/heat), dyes, and other additives. I often make a version of my own (ad lib based on preference) with:

Blog-Lori 216 oz. water

1 TBS unsulphured blackstrap molasses (glucose, magnesium, potassium and some salt)

1 TBS honey

2 TBS Raw/unpasteurized apple cider vinegar (some added potassium and gives it a nice zing!)

1/8 TSP Himalayan sea salt (has trace minerals)

and 1 TSP of magnesium powder (I use Natural Calm)

If you need more flavor/color you can also steep some herbal fruit tea with your water which is caffeine free, but adds another nice dimension to the taste. I like to call this my de-cramping cocktail.

Hopefully you can implement some of these ideas to keep your muscles happy and free from cramping in the sweltering days of summer that lie ahead.

The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.

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Lori Diamos was a physical therapist at Athletico Physical Therapy at the time of this blog.

1 Comment

  1. Jan Weeks

    Great tips! I’ll look for the oil. Not sure if my cramps are from mineral loss or bad/erratic walking due to bad knee & horrible feet. Sure hate the pain & sleepless nites. Need help

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