Plagued by sudden, random muscle cramps? Here’s some common causes of muscle cramps, and how to stop them. Plus, get a tasty, easy drink recipe below to naturally replenish your electrolytes.
Muscle cramps are involuntary contractions of certain muscles in your body. While they most commonly occur in your legs, feet, and calves; they can plague any muscle that is having trouble relaxing.
Some examples of pain caused by muscle cramps include lower back pain, menstrual cramps, and aching calves. This type of pain is different from the pain of a pulled muscle, which will come on suddenly from activity and possibly start to swell. Also the pain of a pulled muscle will usually stick around much longer than a muscle cramp.
4 Common Causes of Muscle Cramps
There are several causes of muscle cramps, with each depending on your lifestyle and activities.
1. Electrolyte Imbalance
One of the most common causes of muscle cramps is electrolyte imbalance.
Electrolytes are natural chemicals such as calcium, sodium, magnesium, potassium, and chloride, that are used by your body for nerve signalling, regulating blood pressure, and maintaining fluid balance.
Each contains an electric charge (hence the name) that causes your nerves to send signals throughout your body. Specifically, a good balance of electrolytes keeps your muscles contracting and relaxing as they should.
Unfortunately, every time you sweat or urinate, you lose a certain amount of these electrolytes. In a perfect world, these would automatically be replaced through mineral-rich foods in the correct amounts.
However, if you don’t regularly consume a lot of organic veggies and fruit, you might end up getting too much sodium and not enough potassium or magnesium, which can cause your muscles to spasm because your nerves don’t have the means to send them proper signals.
In the same vein, if you avoid all sodium sources, you might find yourself with extremely low sodium levels, which can also affect how efficiently your muscles receive signals from your nerves. It’s a truly delicate balance that can easily be thrown out of whack if you’re not paying attention.
2. Lactic Acid Buildup
Researchers have long blamed sore muscles on the buildup of lactic acid – a by-product of muscle breakdown and repair.
While this soreness usually occurs around 12-48 hours after a workout, some evidence has shown that lactic acid accumulation during exercise can also cause muscle spasms, especially when the muscle is worked to fatigue. If you find you’re getting cramps during intense exercise, this could be to blame.
3. Lack of Circulation
If you’ve ever experienced your feet or hands feeling numb, you know that lack of blood circulation can definitely have an immediate effect on your body. One of these effects could also be muscle cramps, since a blockage or compressed area could reduce the blood flow of nutrients to certain muscles.
Similar to lack of circulation, poor posture can also put unnatural pressure on the muscles, ligaments, and nerves throughout your body. This could result in the signals to your muscles being blocked or compressed, causing them to spasm. Sit up straight! Poor posture could lead to muscle spasms.
If you’ve been getting enough electrolytes and regularly stretch your muscles, but still find you have persistent muscle cramps, you might want to work on your posture or see a chiropractor.
4 Ways to Fix Muscle Cramps
1. Eat More Mineral-Rich Foods
There’s a reason you’ve probably been told at least once in your life to eat a banana if you’re having cramps. Namely, bananas and several other fruits and veggies, are rich in potassium and electrolytes that can help get your muscle contractions back on track.
Some other excellent sources of minerals and electrolytes are avocado, sweet potato, citrus fruits, kale and leafy greens, root vegetables like carrots and beets, and seeds. Try adding more of these into your daily diet, making sure to get plenty before and after sweaty, intense workouts.
2. Get Moving
If your muscle cramps are being caused by lack of circulation, your best bet is to add more movement into your day. This could mean taking the stairs instead of the elevator, and standing once or twice every hour and doing some active stretches like arm circles and leg swings.
3. Stretch and Foam Roll
Stretching and foam rolling have been shown to help remove lactic acid buildup in muscles, which could reduce the chances of experiencing cramps. Massaging the area that’s cramping up can also bring immediate, effective relief.
4. Increase Electrolytes
As mentioned earlier, electrolyte imbalances are a common cause of repeated muscle cramps. Increasing electrolytes can help re-balance your system to help your muscles fire properly. Drink coconut water or pickle juice after your workouts — not Gatorade!
Aside from increasing your intake of mineral-rich foods, you can also consume drinks like coconut water and pickle juice, before and after your workouts, to help keep you hydrated. One thing you shouldn’t do, however, is down commercial sports drinks, since they’re often loaded with sugar and artificial colors, flavors, and chemicals.
Instead, check out the do-it-yourself electrolyte water recipe below!
DIY Natural Sports Drink with Electrolytes
Recipe by Megan Olson
- 1 cup of coconut water
- 1/8 cup lemon juice
- 1/8 cup lime juice
- 1 t honey
- ½ t sea salt
- Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Process on high 2-3 minutes until honey is fully incorporated.
- Transfer to a glass and drink.
Watch this video – Fix Muscle Cramps – 7 Causes & 7 Cures
Written by Megan Patiry
Megan is an inquisitive nutrition and wellness writer harboring an editorial love affair with the decadent and the nutritious. She is a dedicated researcher in all areas of ancestral health, a certified specialist in fitness nutrition, personal trainer, and professional almond milk latte addict.
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