Muscle cramps are a nightmare for any athlete. One minute you are in the heat of the moment, focusing solely on your sport and the next you are crumpled on the floor desperately trying to stretch the cramp away.
Although there are many theories around muscle cramps, we now that the primary cause of cramping is through altering neuromuscular function due to fatigue in your muscles. This leads to an involuntary contraction and an inability to ‘turn off’ your muscle. Although this means that it is in fact difficult to completely remove any chance of cramping, here are 5 things that you can control to reduce the risk of it occurring.
Under fuelling is a sure-fire way to get yourself to cramp. We now know that fatigues muscles are more likely to cramp. Since under fuelling leads to faster rates of fatigue, it therefore makes it more likely that you will cramp if you are not fuelling adequately. What you eat and drink during a session plays a big part in how well you perform, and therefore making sure you are eating enough carbohydrates before a session is a great way to help prevent cramp.
Hydrate with Electrolytes
During exercise, you sweat many different minerals which are required by the nervous system to help contract and relax your muscles. If there are not replaced appropriately, an imbalance can be caused in your body leading to a distortion of your nervous system. By not having enough of these electrolytes, you are making it difficult for your nervous system to respond appropriately which could therefore increase the chance of cramping.
Cramping occurs due to muscle fatigue. However, if you are well trained and conditioned, the likelihood is that you are putting yourself in the best position not to cramp. Since cramping usually occurs on race or match days due to your body being pushed to higher limits than it is used to, preparing appropriately for these will help reduce the rate of cramping.
Bonus: Pickle Juice
For those who struggle consistently with cramping, pickle juice may be the surprising addition to your kit bag which might just save the day. Swishing pickle juice or drinking it when you start feeling a cramp come on has been shown to be effective in some athletes in reducing cramp. Although it is unclear exactly why, the theory is that the high acidity triggers your nervous system which stops the process of cramping.