Whether they happen to you in the middle of the night or while exercising, leg cramps can be quite painful.
Thankfully, you can easily reduce the frequency and intensity of your leg cramps just by eating the right foods! This is important since your large leg muscles take long enough at it is to recover (see What Muscles Recover The Fastest?)
Why Do Leg Cramps Happen?
Leg cramps specifically in your muscles are very commonly experienced especially if you are a person that likes to workout. In fact the vast majority of the population knows from first-hand experience how painful and annoying a muscle cramp or sore muscle can be.
Even though leg cramps are mostly harmless the sudden sharp pain that characterizes them can be quite distressing and detrimental to your basic daily tasks especially for athletes.
Not to mention if you are in the middle of a golden exercise exercise like a really heavy squat the cramp could potentially be dangerous and has the potential to cause harm.
Be that as it may leg cramps are a very well studied phenomenon. For example, we know that the sudden, sustained, and involuntary contractions of muscular tissue which make leg cramps to be so painful are caused by a variety of factors.
So why do leg cramps happen ? There are a number of medical factors that are known to play a significant role in the development and recurrence of leg cramps.
The top reasons being circulatory problems, thyroid gland dysfunction, diabetes (especially during bouts of low blood sugar), bad posture, dehydration, and connective tissue disorders of the feet which cause undue strain on the leg muscles such as plantar fasciitis or pes cavus.
However perhaps the most common reason for the recurrence of cramps in the legs is a nutritional imbalance.
Nutrients and Leg Cramps
The human body is a tightly tuned machine and food is the fuel that powers it.
Most people know that a healthy and balanced diet promotes good health and general well-being. However, many ignore the fact that what you eat has a direct effect on the frequency and intensity of leg cramps.
Thankfully, the nutritional circumstances that lead to painful leg cramps can be easily reversed by following a simple dietary guideline to relieve you from such painful symptoms from exercise like leg cramps.
You see a deficit of some common minerals and vitamins is among the most frequent causes of leg cramps. So by making sure we eat certain foods we can ensure that our body has the right amount of these important nutrients and are able to help with painful leg cramps.
Of all the micronutrients that humans need 4 of them are intricately connected to the frequency and intensity of muscle cramps in your legs.
These are potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium; so let us learn a bit more about each of these important substances.
Foods To Eat That Help With Leg Cramps
Potassium is a fundamental mineral that is involved in countless bodily processes and as such is necessary for good health and overall wellbeing.
Unfortunately an alarmingly large number of individuals suffer from a moderate to severe level of potassium deficiency. Various experiments have documented that daily sodium intake is often three times as high as potassium intake or higher in most individuals.
That is an alarming report in not only how low people’s potassium intake is but also may show just how high people’s sodium intake is as well.
Potassium plays an important role in cell health, homeostasis, and nervous system function. As such consuming a diet rich in potassium can help you prevent a wide variety of diseases as well as help you prevent leg cramps and other kinds of cramps.
Luckily the main sources of dietary potassium are fruits and vegetables. So eating a diet rich in this essential nutrient can be quite easily achieved.
While most people know that bananas are rich in potassium,(see Are Bananas Good For Muscle Recovery?) few would gander that oranges, grapefruit, apricots, and melons such as honeydew and cantaloupe, are also very rich in potassium.
Nuts, which are a tasty source of dietary fiber and healthy fats, can also contribute to your daily potassium intake. A handful of peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, or cashews can go a long way in helping you lessen or outright prevent painful leg cramps.
Some other potassium rich foods to include in your diet are beans, lentils, brown rice, tuna fish, trout and poultry.
Sodium gets a bad reputation because culturally it has been linked to sodium chloride, or table salt, and the many diseases that it may present due to its overconsumption.
However sodium is another essential mineral for the human body and especially for the prevention of leg cramps and soreness.
Adequate sodium consumption is important for things such as cardiac health, proper nervous system function, hydration, and muscle cramp prevention.
Many processed foods have a very high salt content. This is why it is important to lean into healthier diets and away from those rich in processed foods.
If you want help with reducing the frequency and intensity of leg cramps, make sure you add plenty of foods with natural sodium into your diet and avoid the processed foods with too much unnatural sodium.
Switch to more natural sources of sodium by eating things like mixed nuts, cheese, oatmeal, beets, carrots, avocados, celery, and cucumbers instead of processed foods.
Calcium has long been known as the secret to having healthy bones and teeth. But did you know that calcium also plays an important role in a wide variety of other bodily processes?
Adequate calcium consumption can even be the difference between suffering from painful leg cramps or getting rid of them altogether
Calcium is an essential component of cellular function throughout the body. Practically every cell in the body requires adequate calcium levels to perform its given functions properly.
These functions include the creation and maintenance of cellular structures, regulation of enzyme levels, hormonal responses, metabolic rates as well as muscle contractions.
Thus, having enough calcium in your diet can help you to reduce the discomfort associated with frequent leg cramps.
Recommended calcium intake varies by age at different stages in life. If you eat foods including dairy products, veggies such as leafy greens such as spinach and kale, as well as high fat fish on a regular basis you shouldn’t ever find yourself suffering from calcium deficiency.
Some other good sources of calcium are fruits such as oranges, kiwis, figs, dates, apricots, prunes, and prickly pears.
As Well as calcium-fortified products such as cereals and bread made with enriched flour are also a good source of dietary calcium.
Magnesium is the final nutrient we are going to talk about today. However, it is certainly not the least important. In my opinion it’s actually the most important or at least the most effective in relieving leg cramps.
Magnesium is responsible for important aspects of your health such as maintaining blood sugar levels, protein synthesis, bone health, and muscle and nerve function.
In other words a sufficient intake of dietary magnesium will help your muscles relax more naturally and thus avoid cramps.
As a result if you want to minimize the frequency and intensity of leg cramps you will need to consume magnesium.
How much is enough magnesium? Well that will depend on your age. However, generally speaking you will need at least 300 to 400 mg per day. To be able to achieve these daily recommended levels we suggest you include the following foods in your daily diet.
Nuts such as walnuts, peanuts, pecans, Brazil nuts, cashews, and almonds. Fruits such as guavas, avocados, papayas, bananas, blackberries, and raspberries.
Herbs such as basil, dill, spearmint, and chives. Sesame, pumpkin, and sunflower seeds. Artichokes, broccoli, and okra. Salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines, and other fatty fish. Whole grains, and even dark chocolate.
Muscle cramps can occur for a variety of reasons so if your quality of life is diminishing due to painful and inopportune leg cramps you may want to visit a doctor.
However with just this lone symptom there is nutrition study after nutrition study of research that demonstrate the absorption of certain key nutrients provide great benefits and play a substantial role in lowering frequency and intensity of muscle cramps.
As such by eating certain foods and staying hydrated by drinking enough water you can ensure that your body has sufficient quantities of these essential nutrients and minimize your chances of suffering from painful leg cramps.
And if you do experience muscle cramping during exercise, as is normal, they will be significantly less painful and frequent.
While you can certainly gain from taking a multivitamin supplement as an extra benefit to ensure your micronutrient levels are acceptable as long as you eat foods that contain potassium, natural sodium, calcium, and magnesium, you will see that your leg cramps get better with time and you should have a stress free recovery full of relief.
Always remember yes whole foods are better than any kind of supplementation this does not mean avoiding supplements altogether though. At the end of the day pay close attention to what you eat and do what is most beneficial to you.
Work towards reaching your micronutrient requirements and having the right amounts absorbed into your body in any way possible. For more about reducing your leg cramps specifically post exercise and just recovering from leg day all together see “Muscle Recovery For Leg Day”.