Muscle cramps are experienced as sudden, involuntary contraction of muscles.
Causes of cramp include intense exercise, stress, dehydration, pregnancy, restriction of blood supply and as a side effect of certain pharmaceutical drugs. Despite the causes often being through our daytime activities and lifestyle, the cramp itself is likely to appear when we are still, most often at night which can in turn affect our sleep.
One commonality between these causes is a lack of electrolytes which include: magnesium, potassium, sodium, calcium. These all play a role in proper muscle function and can be lost in a number of ways.
For every 1 hour of moderate exercise, we can lose up to 1 litre of fluid. Within our sweat we will be losing key electrolytes, ensuring we replenish our bodies is key to maintaining a healthy electrolyte balance. Poor hydration throughout the day can also leave us in similar situations, even if we are not elite athletes!
You may be surprised to learn that many common medications can disrupt our electrolyte balance. The oral contraceptive pill and proton pump inhibitors like omeprazole are known to deplete the body’s magnesium. If you are taking unavoidable medications, ensure you are offsetting by including a good quality supplement into your routine to ensure that muscle cramps and other signs of deficiency don’t start to creep in.
There are some everyday food and drinks which can act as ‘anti-nutrients’ meaning they inhibit the availability of magnesium and other electrolytes in the body. Aim to avoid excess alcohol, salt, coffee and fizzy drinks.
Stress is also a thief of our precious electrolytes. High cortisol can deplete sodium and aldosterone made in our adrenal glands can deplete potassium. Reducing and managing stress is key to many aspects of our health but could also be one of the reasons contributing to cramp.
So how can nutrition support us with cramps?
Foods: Electrolytes can be found in many everyday foods including: bananas, sweet potatoes, avocados, beans, lentils, melons, dark green leafy veg. Focus on incorporating these foods into each meal for optimum electrolyte intake.
Hydration: Even for those of us who aren't athletes, ensuring adequate hydration throughout the day is key to managing cramps. Focus on filtered water and herbal teas. Remember that not all fluid is equal and as we discussed above, caffeine, alcohol and fizzy drinks can have the opposite effect. Electrolyte drops are an easy way to level up your water especially post exercise or other fluid loss.
Lifestyle: Magnesium is easily absorbed through the skin making it super easy to integrate into your routine. Add a generous handful of magnesium rich epsom salts into a bath 2-3x a week. This will absorb into your skin whilst also helping with stress management. Magnesium enriched body creams, oils and lotions are also a luxurious way of integrating this into your routine. Alternatively include a magnesium supplement such as Wild Nutrition Food Grown Magensium or Terranova Smooth Mag.
Blood circulation: ensuring optimum blood flow can be as easy as prioritising simple daily exercise, hot baths (don’t forget the epsom salts) and elevating areas suffering with cramp. Nutrition for healthy blood flow incudes Omega 3. The highest doses are found in oily fish but there are plenty of vegetarian options like flaxseeds, walnuts, Chia seeds, algae.
Please note that the information contained within this website does not and should not replace medical advice, and is not intended to treat or diagnose. We always recommend you consult with your doctor. Our Nutritional Therapy team is highly trained and we offer one to one Nutritional Therapy Consultations, which are designed to be complementary to any medical treatment from a functional medicine approach, as well as offering a preventative & optimal health focus.