Muscle cramps suck and they typically surprise you. Worse – muscle cramps can leave your muscles tender and sore for several days.
Unfortunately, muscular cramps are common. Even though these involuntary contractions are harmless, they do have the potential to ruin your days and nights. So lets dive into why muscle cramps happen and what you can do about it.
Why do muscle cramps occur?
Research suggests that there can be two leading causes of unexplained muscular cramps. One theory relates to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance in the body, while the other theory suggests that muscular cramps stem from muscular overload and neuromuscular fatigue.
- Dehydration/ Electrolyte imbalance theory
This is the most common and probably the oldest theory that explains muscle cramps. According to this theory, muscular cramps are caused by a significant disturbance in the body fluids and electrolyte balance.
So does this theory have truth to it?
Well – in 2021 this study used two groups of participants, mostly athletes, they were given two different drinks before exercise. One group was given a placebo drink, while the other was given an electrolyte drink (mostly sodium). The participants who took the electrolyte drink were less likely to develop muscular cramps, while the group given a placebo drink complained of post-workout muscular cramps.
The reason electrolytes can help with muscle cramps is because muscles need sufficient amounts of electrolytes. They need sodium, magnesium, potassium, and chlorides in balanced levels to function properly. If these electrolytes are out of balance, it can lead to muscle cramps and spasms. Plus a low level of these minerals keeps the muscles from relaxing after a contraction, causing tenderness and cramps.
Signs your muscular cramps are due to electrolyte imbalance
Along with the muscular cramps post-workout, a few other signs indicate an electrolyte imbalance. These signs are mental confusion, dizziness, palpitations, or irregular heartbeat. If you have any of these symptoms coupled with muscular cramps your electrolytes are likely out of balance.
But what if you’re well hydrated and you have sufficient levels of electrolytes and still get muscle cramps?
That leads us to the Neuromuscular theory.
According to this theory, the muscular overload and extra pressure on the muscles during workout causes muscular fatigue, resulting in an imbalance between excitatory and inhibitory signals that the muscles send during contraction and relaxation.
Research indicates that this imbalance occurs when the muscles contract in a relatively shortened position due to the muscle’s less tension pull. This causes an amplified level of excitatory signals, resulting in muscular cramps.
What does that all mean? In simple terms it means most people race or compete much harder than they train. And sometimes when you overload your muscles they cramp. So if you want to prevent muscle overload cramping you have to train harder.
Muscle cramp prevention
Unfortunately research has yet to find a one size fits all solution to muscle cramping. Worse they haven’t even found a consistent solution to muscle cramping. So the best approach is to maintain proper hydration and electrolyte balance. Train your butt off so you can push hard during a race or competition and hope for the best.
So What Does Proper Hydration Actually Mean?
Specifically for athletes, excessive sweating post-exercise causes a deficiency of sodium. If not taken orally, the prolonged sodium insufficiency will most likely cause contracted interstitial fluid compartment and intense and widespread muscle spasms. These muscular cramps can occur even if there is no pressure or muscle overload.
Unfortunately, contrary to the old beliefs, water alone isn’t enough to replenish electrolytes and help us prevent muscular cramping. When you lose water after a workout through sweat, drinking more water will only result in the body flushing out more electrolytes. Since water and electrolytes are lost during sweating, they both have to be replaced.
The best approach to maintain proper hydration is to use a hydration drink like Hydration Sauce during and after exercise. This will help replenish electrolytes, glycogen and other essential amino acids your body uses during exercise. Plus – it can improve exercise performance, support the nervous system, and aid in preventing heat strokes.
When it’s really hot or if you’re the type of person who sweats a lot during exercise electrolyte capsules like Electro Sauce can be a huge benefit. These are great because you won’t feel bloated or full from having to consume lots of liquid. And they’re convenient to take on runs and long bike rides.
Besides the electrolyte-infused water, consuming electrolyte-rich foods, particularly those with sodium, potassium, and chloride, is also suggested to make up for the lost electrolytes. If you want to make it even more convenient, try taking electrolyte capsules or hydration drinks. Cell Sauce has some innovative products by the name of Electro Sauce and Hydration Sauce that provides the essential electrolytes and all the hydration your body needs. These products help replenish the sodium and potassium lost through sweating. To avoid muscle spasms, it is suggested to take the electrolytes during the hours immediately before the workout or exercise. In just a little time after consumption, you will quickly get to know if the product is effective or not.
How Much Fluid Should I Drink?
For most athletes in most conditions: 20–25 oz/hr will be sufficient.
If you’re a lighter athlete, or exercising in cooler temperatures: 16–18 oz/hr is probably good.
If you’re a heavier athlete or competing in hotter conditions: You can drink up to 28 oz/hr.
To avoid dilutional hyponatremia (over-hydrating), you should not exceed 28 oz/hr. There are exceptions to this based on weight, training conditions and intensity of exercise.
Now remember – as you increase fluid intake it requires an increase in electrolyte intake as well.
An easy way to track your fluid intake is by drinking one water bottle per hour. The typical water bottle contains 20–25 oz.