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January 12, 2023 6 min read

Muscle Cramps in Athletes: Understanding the Causes and Prevention Ideas

In this article:

  • Overview of muscle cramps in athletes
  • Importance of understanding causes and prevention
  • Causes of Muscle Cramps in Athletes
  • Prevention of Muscle Cramps in Athletes

Muscle cramping is a widely discussed issue among endurance athletes. Some are more susceptible to leg cramps while others are not. Despite the abundance of information available, there are still gaps in understanding the topic.

WikiHow for Runners: If you have shin splints, you might try putting heel lifts in your shoes. They'll provide extra cushioning for your heels, and also put less strain on your calves.

Muscle spasms (leg cramps) are a common issue facing athletes of all levels and ages. Leg muscle cramps can zap you at the worst moments while training or racing. These muscle tissue spasms can be debilitating, making you groan in pain! Understanding the causes of leg cramps in athletes is crucial for preventing and treating them effectively.

Offseasonathlete: Rather, it leads us to believe that there is some disconnect or malfunction in the electrical signaling from brain to the muscle when the onset of cramps occurs. This electrical signaling is facilitated by the electrolytes sodium, potassium, and calcium whereas calcium and potassium play significant roles in actual muscle contraction. 

Wikipedia: A spasmodic muscle contraction may be caused by many medical conditions. Most commonly, it is a muscle cramp that is accompanied by a sudden burst of pain.

Man stretching after running

Causes of Muscle Cramps in Athletes

  1. Dehydration: When the body loses fluids through excessive sweating and does not replace them, the muscles can become dehydrated, leading to cramping.
  2. Electrolyte Imbalance/Deficiency: Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium play a crucial role in muscle contractions. Losing a lot of electrolytes through sweat may put anyone at risk of cramping. Consuming electrolyte-rich foods or supplements can help prevent this.
  3. Muscle Fatigue: Prolonged intense physical activity can lead to muscle strain and fatigue, which can make muscles more susceptible to spasms and misfiring of the nervous system.
  4. Training Errors: Athletes who don't follow a proper training schedule and do not give their leg muscles enough time to recover are at a higher risk of cramps.
  5. Weather Conditions: Athletes performing in extremely hot or cold temperatures may experience cramping due to increased stress on the muscles.
  6. Improper Warm Up or Stretching: Athletes who do not properly warm-up or stretch before training or racing are at a higher risk of cramping.
  7. Genetics: Some athletes are more prone to leg cramps even with similar diets and training program.
  8. Age: As we age, our muscles can become weaker and less flexible. Our body's ability to absorb and utilize certain electrolytes, can also lead to cramping.

Why are athletes using Vitamin B12?

Prevention of Muscle Cramps in Athletes

Sports supplements capsules

Hydration and Electrolytes

We are sold the idea that we must consume large amounts of electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium) or ingest a hot sauce formula. What if this is only a portion of the equation?

American College of Sports Medicine: Extensive sweating and a consequent significant whole-body exchangeable sodium deficit can lead to more widespread muscle cramping, even when there is minimal or no muscle overload and fatigue

Most endurance athletes experience muscle cramps in their leg and calf muscles. Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet, however, perhaps we can provide new ideas.

Cleveland Clinic: Doctors do not always know what causes a muscle cramp. When your healthcare provider can’t find a specific cause, the cramps are called idiopathic.

We know hydration is important and understand our need for electrolytes. These are heavily marketed ideas with a plethora of brand formulas. What if we are diligent and ensure proper hydration and electrolyte intake, but still fall victim to leg cramps? Let's take a further look.

Terry Ziegler at SportsMD: Because thirst is not often a sufficient stimulus to maintain adequate fluid balance during exercise, adequate fluids need to be consumed prior to exercising.

Amino Acids

Here's our article comparing Creatine and Beta-Alanine.

Amino Acids are often in the spotlight for bodybuilders and muscle recovery formulas, however, there's growing evidence that Amino Acids can prevent muscle cramps.

Some studies have shown that certain amino acids, such as taurine and branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), may help reduce muscle cramps and soreness, but more research is needed to establish the effectiveness and optimal dosage.

Research Gate: Some clinical reports have demonstrated that oral supplementation of BCAA to patients successfully suppressed the occurrence of muscle cramps...attributed in part to improved taurine biosynthesis

Creatine

Mayo Clinic: Oral creatine might reduce the frequency of dehydration, muscle cramping, and injuries to the muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and nerves.

Beta-Alanine

Bodybuilding.com and Beta-Alanine: Studies have shown that supplementing with beta-alanine increases muscle carnosine concentrations, which decreases fatigue in athletes and increases total muscular work performed.

Taurine

Practical Neurology: Disruption of chloride, sodium, and potassium channels and inadequate amino acid concentrations (eg, taurine) disrupt membrane currents to generate muscle cramps.

Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant that can cause dehydration, which can lead to muscle cramping. 

Runners Connect and Coach Laura McLean: Caffeine increases body temperature. An overdose of caffeine can cause muscle cramping twitching and involuntary contractions. It also leads to increased urination which can cause dehydration, but it doesn’t sound like you needed to stop for a pee and it probably wouldn’t cause dehydration that quickly.

Rest and Recovery

Muscle cramp prevention is paramount for so many athletes. Most athletes do a great job with their nutrition and are mindful of their hydration needs. However, fatigue isn't something we can just run away from.

Livestrong.com: Warmth brings blood flow to the area, which brings oxygen and nutrients, helping to alleviate the contracted muscle, Dr. Baxi tells LIVESTRONG.com.

Ice is less helpful when it comes to halting a cramp. But after​ a cramp, you may feel like your muscles are bruised or sore, and applying ice at that point may ease that discomfort, Dr. Hameed says.

Rest and recovery through proper athletic training are great ways to avoid or prevent muscle cramps. Long training efforts and high-intensity training workouts can contribute to cramping. Having proper rest in-between long or intense workouts will reduce leg cramps due to fatigue.

American College of Sports Medicine: Skeletal muscle overload and fatigue from overuse or insufficient conditioning can prompt muscle cramping locally in the overworked muscle fibers

Stretching to prevent muscle cramps

Stretching

Stretching can help prevent muscle cramps by improving flexibility and blood flow to the muscles, especially after a workout. When you stretch, you increase the temperature of the muscles, which can make them more pliable and less prone to cramping.

"When it suddenly strikes, don't exercise or tighten the muscle. Just gently stretch it to your tolerance. That helps to relax the muscle and relieve the uncontrolled contraction," says Madhuri Kale, a physical therapist at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital 

What Supplements are Best for Leg Cramps?

Here is our list of the top 10 supplements for athletes.

As previously mentioned: Electrolytes such as; Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium levels, and Sodium should be properly consumed before, during, and after workouts. Many brands offer basic formulas that include varying electrolytes. 

Part of the equation that almost nobody is talking about is Amino Acids, among the best solutions to your muscle cramps.

Article also available on Medium.

As mentioned above recommended Amino Acids are:

  1. Creatine
  2. Beta-Alanine
  3. BCAAs (Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine)
  4. Taurine

The best sports supplement for athletes: Endurance360® contains a balanced dose of Creatine, Beta-Alanine, and Taurine.

The best tasting and the best beetroot powder: Beetroot Pro® contains a healthy dose of BCAAs, Magnesium, and Potassium. 

In summary, muscle cramps can occur in athletes for several reasons. From dehydration, and electrolyte imbalances to overuse, fatigue, and injury can all result in muscle spasms.

Understanding the causes of muscle cramps in athletes is crucial for preventing and treating them effectively. Several strategies are available to overcome muscle cramps, including hydration, nutrition, supplements, a well-structured training program, rest and recovery, a proper warm-up, and stretching, which can all help prevent muscle cramps.

 

 

FDA Disclosure: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

It is recommended to consult with a healthcare professional before taking any dietary supplement especially if you have any medical condition, pregnant, breastfeeding or are on any medication.

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