1. Magnesium deficiency
The first, and perhaps biggest reason cramps can occur is due to a magnesium deficiency. Within muscle cells, calcium works to contract muscle fibres, and magnesium triggers them to relax. If your body does not have enough magnesium, your muscles are able to contract but struggle after this to relax. This prolonged contraction then manifests as the stabbing and intense experience known as a muscle cramp.
The primary reason this deficiency arises is dietary intake. Incredibly, up to 30% of Australians aren’t consuming enough magnesium on a daily basis.
This is due to the average Australian diet being low in magnesium rich foods wholefoods, as it is often high in refined and processed foods. Instead, magnesium is best sourced from green leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and whole grains. Magnesium supplementation is also recommended as it has been shown to improve muscle relaxation.
Whilst there are countless benefits to regular exercise, muscle cramps are one of the most common side effects experienced from being active. This is primarily due to the sweating that occurs, which not only depletes water levels within the body, but levels of electrolytes too.
Electrolytes are a collection of minerals made up of sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, phosphate, and magnesium. These minerals dissolve into the water in your body, where they ensure your nerves, heart and muscles work properly, and oversee the passage of fluids in out of your cells. As they’re found within water in the body, profuse sweating not only leads to water loss, but electrolyte loss too.
This means, beyond the need to re-hydrate, a big workout can deplete you of the minerals, such as magnesium and sodium, which your nerves and muscles need to contract and relax properly.
This means, beyond the need to re-hydrate, a big workout can deplete you of the minerals, such as magnesium and sodium, which your nerves and muscles need to contract and relax properly
Consuming a quality electrolyte formula when you exercise, especially one that contains magnesium, may then diminish your chance of experiencing cramping.
Overtraining can also cause leg cramps. When your muscles are contracted vigorously and repetitively (such as during a spin cycle class), this doesn’t allow for adequate recovery, and cramps may result. To reduce cramping from overexertion, stretch frequently, modify the intensity of your exercise regimen, and schedule in rest days to allow your muscles to recuperate.
3. Prolonged sitting or standing
Your body is designed to move, rest and recover, then move again. When you spend all day seated at a desk or standing for hours on end, leg cramps can occur due to lack of movement. To prevent this, simply stretch your muscles regularly, go for a walk, or break out some star jumps – do whatever you feel like, just get those legs moving!
Don’t let cramps cramp your style!
You can reduce your chances of experiencing leg cramps by consuming magnesium-rich foods, replenishing your electrolytes after exercise, and ensuring frequent and varied movement throughout your exercise and daily routine. A magnesium supplement can also be a great way to quickly replenish your levels of this nutrient if deficient.