How to Prevent Leg Cramps in Athletes

How to Prevent Leg Cramps in Athletes
As the number one complaint of athletes world-wide, cramps have been a subject of interest to the sports-medicine community for some time. With cramps, the best treatment is prevention. Though we still don't fully understand the physiology behind a cramp, we now consider muscle fatigue as the primary cause. Research also has identified several factors that can predispose us to cramps, such as dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, calcium deficiency and improper warm-ups and cool-downs.

Instructions

Difficulty: Moderate

Things You’ll Need:
  • Water bottle or hydration bladder Sports drinks or energy gels
  • Water bottle or hydration bladder
  • Sports drinks or energy gels
Step 1
Condition your muscles. Overexertion is the primary cause of cramps. Endurance athletes often develop muscular imbalances from not strengthening their secondary muscles. Easily fatigued muscles quickly build up lactic acid and can cause irregular electrical activity, resulting in cramps. To prevent muscular imbalances, twice a week spend 20 to 30 minutes strength training the lower body muscle groups. Commonly skipped muscles include the adductors, abductors and the shin muscles.
Step 2
Warm up and cool down during every workout. A proper warm-up should target the muscle groups used during the workout and kick your heart and respiratory system into gear. This will prime your muscles with blood and reduce cramping. Famed running coach Jack Daniels says a proper warm-up should increase your muscle temperature by 1 or 2 degrees (usually 10 -- 20 minutes or until you feel "warm") and include some broad muscle group stretches. Cool down with an activity that allows your heart rate to slowly drop to 100 beats/min or less (again, usually 10 -- 20 minutes). Follow up with stretching, which triggers Golgi receptors in your muscles, causing them to relax.
Step 3
Keep hydrated. Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark considers dehydration an important predisposing factor for muscle cramps, and stresses that athletes hydrate before, during, and after a workout. Drink 2 -- 8 ounces of fluids every 15 -- 20 minutes while exercising. After a workout, drink 2.5 cups of fluids for every pound lost. Proper re-hydration varies for each person, so some experimentation will be needed to determine your needs.
Step 4
Maintain a balanced intake of electrolytes, which play a huge role in muscle contraction and nerve impulse conduction. Primarily, athletes should monitor their sodium and potassium intake. Imbalances can result from long periods of sweating or an improper diet. With proper nutrition you should have a reserve of electrolytes large enough for up to an hour of strenuous exercise. Anything longer may require electrolyte replacement through sports drinks or energy gels. Include lots of raw vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and a healthy portion of salt in your diet.
Step 5
Calcium deficiency may have a link to muscle cramps in some athletes. Nutritionist Susan Eberle says that some athletes have seen chronic cramping disappear by increasing their calcium intake. Consume 1000 mg/day of calcium through dark green and leafy vegetables, dairy products and other calcium enriched foods.

Tips & Warnings

 
After a workout, eat brightly colored fruits and veggies, which are high in antioxidants. Try compression shorts for thigh or cold weather cramps.
 
After a workout, eat brightly colored fruits and veggies, which are high in antioxidants.
 
Try compression shorts for thigh or cold weather cramps.
 
If you have high blood pressure, consult your doctor about your sodium intake.

Article Written By Isaac Billings

Residing in northern Michigan, Isaac Billings began writing in 2009, with articles appearing on eHow, Trails and Run.com. A wilderness EMT-paramedic and wilderness instructor, Billings enjoys writing about the outdoors, running, health and nutrition. He holds an Associates of Applied Science in emergency medicine from North Central Michigan College.

Keep Me Informed

Weekly newsletters, announcements and offers from Trails.com to your inbox.

Sign me up!

We HATE spam and promise to keep your email addresses safe and secure.