It is common to temporarily suffer from muscle cramps during exercise for professional athletes, at the end of exercise or at any other time of the day. It is generally assumed to be normal due to exertion or simply not given any importance, but what if they are a sign that you are not doing as well as you should? What is their cause? Are they avoidable?
What are muscle cramps?
Muscle cramps are involuntary contractions in one or more muscles. The muscle stiffens or contracts and it is not possible to relax it. They are very common and often occur after exercise. Some people get muscle cramps, especially in the legs, at night. They can be painful and last from a few seconds to several minutes and can occur in any muscle.
Although it is difficult to know with certainty the exact cause, it is believed that the main cause is overexertion (exercising longer than usual or at a higher intensity). However, there are several possible causes related to this unusual exertion, and some of them can be adjusted to avoid suffering these consequences:
- Dehydration and a lack of electrolytes (sodium, magnesium or potassium) in your diet or a loss of electrolytes from your body due to sweating.
- Lack of physical fitness
- Incorrect technique (in any sport such as running, swimming…)
- Unusual unfavorable weather conditions (high temperatures, high humidity, wind…).
- Interference with certain medications
As you can see, the causes revolve around excessive exertion that can affect the regulation of body water and electrolytes (sodium/potassium), responsible for maintaining your homeostasis.
What we can do when a cramp appears?
First of all, let’s see what we can do when a cramp appears. At the moment of its onset, we must remain calm despite its acute pain and stretch the contracted muscle slightly (we can accompany the stretching with a light massage). Of course, it is necessary to stop if we are exercising and replenish fluids. Also, keep in mind that applying heat to the area will help us to relax the muscle, and applying cold later will reduce the inflammation that may exist.
Remember that we are talking about cramps in athletes. If you suffer from cramps and they are not derived from exercise, you should talk to your doctor to find the underlying cause.
Okay, that’s treatment in an acute case, but can I prevent them? Of course you can. We have already seen that their causes are mainly overexertion and poor hydration or electrolyte deficiency. Then we must take into account the following points:
- For training: a good periodization of training and a gradual and progressive load of effort will help you to keep improving (even faster) in training and will avoid peaks of effort, as well as having a lower risk of injury.
- For proper hydration, in athletes, water consumption should be at least 3-4 liters per day. And, above all, near training, consumption should be higher (being hydrated before, during and after is essential). In addition, for long exercise sessions, it will not be enough to drink water. It will be necessary to introduce drinks that replenish electrolytes and help us to maintain a correct state of hydration. If you are in doubt as to whether you are drinking the correct amount of water, you can test your urine. Darker urine is indicative of insufficient hydration.
- Perhaps the most important thing is a correct and balanced diet, according to the physical exercise we do. We must ensure that we provide our body with everything it needs to function at its best without creating imbalances. For example, we must control the amount of sodium we provide to ensure proper functioning without problems for a person predisposed to high blood pressure.
- Do not be advised by anyone who will tell you that stretching before and after exercise will help prevent cramps. This is not proven and there is much controversy regarding its possible benefits.
In addition, controlling these points mentioned above will not only prevent or reduce the occurrence of cramps, but will be directly related to performance. The main cause of a drop in performance is dehydration, so this is just one more reason to take care of everything surrounding your training.
Hiring a health professional to take care of these points would be the key to avoid problems or, in the case that any appear, to know exactly what is going wrong and put solution.
If you have questions about proper hydration, the causes of cramps or any other related topic, do not hesitate to write to our instagram @md__coaching or our email [email protected]