Beginning to feel like your muscles have a mind of their own? Whether you’ve been working out or not, we all suffer from occasional muscle cramps and spasms. Occurring all over the body, these cramps can range from slight discomfort to extreme pain. Sometimes walking around can help, but more than likely you just need to massage it, and hope it goes away. If you’re fed up of hobbling home, it’s time to try some electrolytes and vitamins for muscle cramps and spasms.
What are electrolytes and why do we need them?
Electrolytes are minerals that we need for our body to carry out lots of daily functions. When introduced to water, electrolytes do exactly what they sound like they do — conduct electricity. This is important for us because our bodies produce electrical currents for countless processes1. When these electrolytes are unbalanced, though (which could mean one is in too low of concentration or another is too high), our ability to send currents is impaired and can lead to several unwanted side effects such as:
- Muscle cramps and spasms
- Constant fatigue and brain fog
- Muscle weakness during exercise and even everyday activities if severe enough
- Increased blood pressure above safe levels
- Arrhythmic (uneven) heart beat
- Twitches or constant shaking of extremities (usually hands)
- Impaired nervous system function
- Impaired reflexes and pain response
- Bone disorders when imbalanced electrolytes become a chronic problem
- Extreme imbalances can lead to seizures and convulsions
Usually our kidneys are very good at filtering out extra electrolytes to keep us healthy, but when we consume too little of a mineral, the body goes without as it can’t naturally produce them — they have to be consumed as a part of your diet. More than likely though, an imbalance will occur when you sweat heavily on a daily basis or under-consume food and drinks that are high in vitamins for muscle cramps and spasms. Let’s have a look at some of the most important to keep strong, not shaky.
When we talk about imbalances, this mineral is usually the problem. This is because the western diet can be extremely high in salt and low in potassium2. Nine times out of ten, when someone suffers from muscle cramps during exercise, throughout the day, or spasms in the middle of the night, it’s because they’re consuming too much sodium and not enough potassium.
Tips to consume less sodium include skipping the extra salt on home cooked foods and on meals out, getting your sweat on more often, drinking more water, choosing more natural food options, and avoiding processed meats as well as other highly processed and fast food.
This electrolyte has a direct link to sodium in our body, known as Na+/K+-ATPase, or the sodium/potassium pump and controls muscle contraction and function. Every cell in our body has to have a certain amount of potassium and sodium ions to stay balanced, and when you consume too much sodium and not enough potassium, an imbalance develops. Since they have an inverse relationship, the more sodium you consume, the more likely it is that potassium levels will decrease3. This is why it’s recommended to consume a daily dose of the two minerals in equal amount4.
Getting in the right electrolytes and vitamins for muscle cramps is all about restoring your diet back to more natural foods — such as fruit — that are high in potassium and low in sodium. This will more than likely stop any muscle cramps and spasms you’re having that are due to an electrolyte imbalance.
This mineral is one that most of us can get enough of on a daily basis, as many foods contain it naturally. It’s in childhood or the late stages of life when hypocalcemia (not consuming enough calcium on a daily basis) can become an issue. While our eating habits might not change, children that are still growing need extra calcium to grow their bones and teeth5. Likewise, the elderly need more daily calcium to avoid conditions such as osteoporosis and becoming more susceptible to breaking bones6. Calcium is also known to help your muscles and nerves to function normally and a deficiency can often result in cramps and other more serious problems7.
Consuming more milk, cheese, yogurt, seeds, nuts, and fish such as salmon or sardines, or even a calcium supplement are all good ways to prevent a calcium deficiency. You can also take a calcium supplement, but be careful not to over-do it as too much calcium can have negative effects on the body too.
This vitamin is used by the body to make red blood cells and is often found in meat sources to be used by the body when consumed as well as in supplement form. While a deficiency in vitamin B12 doesn’t directly cause leg cramps or spasms, this is a must-take on the list of vitamins for muscle cramps as a lack of B12 in the diet can lead to fatigue and weakness, which in turn, can lead to muscle spasms and cramps8.
Natural sources of vitamin B12 include fish, meat, eggs and milk as well as fortified cereals, so it’s easy to consume as a part of a balanced diet. Supplements are also available, but if you feel that you are really suffering from a B12 deficiency, then you should get to the doctors, as a deficiency can be incredibly detrimental to your health.
Take Home Message
Taking electrolytes and vitamins for muscle cramps and spasms will not only keep you on top form, but prevent the crippling cramp that we all dread post-cardio. Take a look at your daily diet and make a note of where you can squeeze in the extra nutrients that you need. Ensure that you’re getting the right amount of these every day to smash your workouts worry-free.