Muscle Cramps are sudden, involuntary, and localized contractions of a muscle, accompanied by a hardening of the muscle that happens during athletic activity. Generally, muscle cramps are commonly experienced in the calf muscles. All athletes are prone to them and it is important to understand what factors lead to cramps and how to mitigate them as cramping can lead to poor end results for an athlete.
What are the main factors that lead to muscle cramps?
Some of the major factors are:
Too much exertion at the start of an exercise.
Novice athletes are more prone to muscle cramps than experienced athletes as they tend to exert and fatigue out faster. As an athlete whether experienced or novice, it is important to ease into your workout. Before any exercise activity begins, it is important to stretch your muscles as tight muscles can cause undue strain on the neighboring joints during normal daily function, or they themselves can become injured.
There are lots of scientific studies that show that consuming fluids with electrolytes help reduce or delay the onset of cramps. As an athlete, it is important to understand how much fluid loss happens during exercise activity. This can be easily figured out by measuring your weight before the exercise begins and after completion of the exercise. The net loss in weight is the change in fluid balance in the body. Weight loss greater than 2% to 3% can significantly increase the risks of an onset of cramps, leading to decreasing levels of performance. Understanding your thirst pattern and ingesting fluids at the right time can prevent the onset of muscle cramps.
Strenuous and prolonged exercise activity can cause muscle fatigue leading to cramps. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel used by the body during exercise. Strenuous and prolonged exercise activity causes depletion of glycogen in the muscles. Our muscles store a certain amount of carbohydrates. Glycogen is used by the muscles to provide energy to exercise and as well as to relax. Muscle relaxation gets impaired when glycogen levels been low, hence cramps occur. Depending on the type of activity, athletes should decide whether they need to preload with carbohydrates. Exercise activity in excess of 60-90 minutes or intense exercise lasting 45 minutes will lead to depletion to carbohydrate levels. Hence, it is important to have a carbohydrate-rich meal before exercise begins and then supplement it with fluids during the exercise to maintain carbohydrate levels.
Nutrition is one of the most important factors that affect athletic performance, hence eating right is very important. Eating foods that contain high levels of potassium (tomato juice, beet greens, dates, raisins, legumes, tuna, papaya and plantain, and magnesium (green leafy vegetables such as kale and spinach, legumes, nuts such as almonds can improve electrolyte levels in the body. Eating dairy products improves calcium levels in your body. If you are a vegan athlete, then it is important to supplement your diet with calcium supplements.
How to treat cramps
- Stretch the affected muscle.
- Apply direct compression to the affected area.
- Apply a cold compress to reduce pain.
- Massage the affected muscle with warm medicated Ayurvedic oil like Murivenna Thailam /Oil. Murivenna Thailam /Oil is a traditional medicated Ayurvedic oil for relieving of pain and lowering inflammation. The oil is locally available at your Ayurvedic shops.
- Apply a heat compress post massage.