Muscle cramps can be pesky, frustrating, and even debilitating. They can wake you up in the middle of the night, or they can catch you off-guard in the middle of a workout. However, the specific causes of muscle cramps are becoming less mysterious, and some solutions to help avoid muscle cramps are now coming to light from the medical community. In particular, there are a few foods and beverages that can help you avoid getting muscle cramps.
This one seems obvious, but one of the main theorized causes of muscle cramps is dehydration. As the amount of water a muscle contains decreases, it loses its ability to function, which causes it to cramp up. Consequently, drinking more water, and drinking water regularly throughout a workout can help avoid cramps. While water has not been proven to make cramps stop once they start, it is believed that it can help with prevention.
In contrast, pickle juice is recommended by many trainers and sports physiologists to help stop athletes’ cramping muscles in the moment. Like electrolyte-laced beverages (think Gatorade, Powerade, etc.), pickle juice is high in the salts and fluids lost during typical exercise. In one study, pickle juice stopped athletes’ cramps 45% faster than drinking water.
Many trainers also recommend eating bananas before and after workouts to replenish potassium, a lack of which causes cramps during exercise or at rest. While pickle juice is an immediate fix, bananas, like water, require consumption well before exercise in order to maintain healthy levels of potassium throughout the workout.
Like salt and potassium, muscles also need magnesium in order to function healthily. Soy products (such as soy beans and tofu) are particularly rich with magnesium, and consumption before and after exercise can help alleviate the threat of muscle cramps. A single serving of soy products (soy milk is also a good source) will generally provide a sufficient level of magnesium for the body, though it does require time for absorption.
Dealing with cramps is quite literally a pain for any athlete who experiences them. However, with a little advance planning and a good diet, the effects of a muscle cramps should be reduced or alleviated. Of course, for any questions about which foods or beverages are right for you, or if you have a chronic cramping problem, a physical therapist or sports medicine professional should be consulted.
Source: Reynolds, Gretchen. “Phys Ed: Can pickle juice stop muscle cramps?”. New York Times, 9 June 2010. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/06/09/phys-ed-can-pickle-juice-stop-muscle-cramps/. Accessed 7 July 2010.