How to Stop Cramps Getting in the Way of Your Workout


Getting into the zone during a workout is hard enough, so when you finally get there, the last thing you want is a cramp to, well, cramp your style. Unfortunately, there isn’t one fool-proof way to stop cramps affecting your wellness. That said, if you follow a few key guidelines, it’s often possible to prevent cramping when working out.


According to fitness expert Danielle Restuccia, ‘In basic terms, when you cramp up, it’s because your muscles are spasming. The reason for exercise-induced muscle cramping isn’t known, but some theories point to a lack of salt or water, while others suggest that when a muscle gets tired, maybe in your leg, the neural pathway telling it to contract and release miscommunicates, causing it to stay contracted. If your side cramps up, that may be a breathing problem…you often get a “side stitch” if you’re breathing shallowly, instead of deeply from your lower lung.’ So now we know what cramping is, how do you prevent it from affecting your wellbeing?


1. Build Up Slowly: ‘Don’t do too much, too fast,’ Restuccia warns. ‘If you’ve been running three miles, and you suddenly decide to run six, don’t be surprised if your calves or quads seize up. Ramp up your mileage or workout times steadily.’


2. Breathe Deeply: Restuccia instructs, ‘Put your hand on your stomach: can you feel it rising and falling? That means you’re breathing from your lower lung, which can help ward off cramps. You should also start your workout slowly, since jumping right into a sprint can cause a side stitch.’


3. Stay Hydrated: Restuccia suggests that you drink ‘16 to 20 ounces of water 45 minutes before your workout and two to four ounces per 15 minutes of exercise. Of course, this supposes that you stay hydrated during the rest of the day, too, so keep a water bottle handy!’


4. Time Your Food Right: ‘Some people can eat immediately before a swim or run and not have a problem,’ notes Restuccia. ‘Others have to wait hours before they can hit the gym in order to prevent cramping. If you tend to get stomach cramps, experiment with meal timing. Space out your snack and workout a little more, and make sure you eat easy-to-digest foods prior to exercise. Some good foods for a pre-workout meal are a piece of fruit, a bagel or toast, pasta and rice. Avoid foods high in fat or dairy content before exercise, since those may cause stomach cramps. You should also make sure you’re getting enough salt, especially if it’s hot outside. Although not every study reveals a connection between cramping and a lack of sodium, a significant body of research does suggest a relationship.’


5. Take Supplements: ‘If you’re going for a long run or bike ride, carry salt tablets to replace what you lose through sweat,’ Restuccia advises. ‘Sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade, can also help you maintain a balanced sodium and electrolyte level, which may prevent cramping. Just keep in mind these drinks add calories and sugar to your diet, so if you’re trying to lose weight, these may not be recommended. In the same vein, if you’re going to exercise for more than an hour, you should eat a carbohydrate-rich snack during your workout. A sports bar, gel, or half a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich should do the trick to keep your body running efficiently. You may also try a small protein shake blended with blueberries. Some studies suggest that taking your vitamins and minerals can lessen muscle spasms. Vitamins B, D, E, magnesium and zinc have all been indicated as potentially keeping cramps at bay.’


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