Strategies for Improving Leg Cramps
By Dr. Karen Vieira Ph.D.
Dr. Kevin C. Miller, PhD, from the North Dakota State University states that “exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMC) are a common condition experienced by recreational and competitive athletes” . This type of cramp, which is the result of a persistent contraction of the muscle when it is in a shortened position during exercise, typically occurs in the quadriceps and hamstrings. The symptoms of muscle cramps include: abrupt pain and stiffness, knotting or bulging of the muscle, and soreness that may last for several days .
There are a number of factors that may cause leg cramps. Muscle overload and subsequent fatigue due to intense sporting competitions and physical workouts appear to cause cramps by creating a state in which the muscles attempt to contract and expand simultaneously. Exercising in hot, humid environments may also lead to electrolyte imbalances and dehydration, which are conditions that facilitate cramps . Dr. Glenn Lopate, MD, from the Department of Neurology, Division of Neuromuscular Disease at the Washington University School of Medicine also indicates that “cramps may originate as local mediators of inflammation released by a damaged small nerve that excites intramuscular nerves” . This suggests that vigorous exercise may cause damage to nerves in muscle tissue that may result in inflammation-induced cramps. Omega-3 fatty acids target inflammatory substances in the body and fish oils are an excellent source of omega-3s.
In particular, omega-3 fatty acids influence the balance of prostaglandins, which are chemicals that can increase inflammation. Dr. Rafat Siddiqui, PhD, who is the Senior Investigator at the Methodist Research Institute explains that “omega-3s reduce prostaglandins formation by diminishing the availability of their substrate” . By enhancing the body’s ability to regulate chemicals that are involved in inflammatory responses, it may hinder the development of inflammation-induced leg cramps. In addition, omega-3s may be able to hinder the onset or shorten the length of leg cramps by promoting the production of proteins that enhance the recovery of injured muscles . Therefore, taking an omega-3 supplement daily can help prevent the onset of muscle pain and cramps after exercising.
In reference to additional supplements that may hinder the development of leg cramps, Dr. David Williams who is a medical researcher, biochemist, and chiropractor believes that “90% of muscle cramps are caused by calcium deficiency.” Dr. Williams further explains that taking a calcium supplement which contains “magnesium, vitamin D, and a digestive acid called betaine hydrochloride is optimal as each of these substances will help increase the amount of calcium you assimilate into your system.” For individuals who workout regularly and frequently experience muscle cramps, daily supplementation with these nutrients may hinder the inflammatory processes that are associated with post-workout muscle aches and leg cramps.
One of the most common reasons that leg cramps develop is due to vigorous exercise that may cause muscle overload and fatigue. Supplying the body with nutrients that hinder muscle injury and promote the production of proteins that prevent inflammation, such as omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D can help you avoid experiencing cramps and muscle pain after an intense workout.
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