You’ve been playing tennis for close to two hours and you’re about to overtake your opponent. But before you can even send the ball sailing to the other side of the court, your muscle cramps with a pain worse than the agony of defeat. Before you know it, you’re lying on the court, howling in pain, wondering how you could have prevented this darn muscle cramp from ruining your game. Read on to learn how to prevent muscle cramps.
What Are Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramps are involuntary spasms or contractions and if you’ve ever experienced them before, you aren’t alone. Muscle cramps are a common problem for athletes and exercisers alike. When they occur, they can bring a game or a workout to an abrupt halt. They’re often very painful and most commonly occur in the:
- Back of the calf
- Front or back of the thigh
- Rib cage or abdomen
- Arms or hands
Muscle cramps can occur during a workout or while playing a sport such as tennis or golf. They can also occur at night during your sleep. These muscle cramps are known as nocturnal cramps and usually occur in the toes or calves (see: Nocturnal Leg Cramps: Why Do They Happen?).
Although muscle cramps are similar to muscle twitches, the two are not to be confused. Muscle twitches are also muscle contractions, but they are minor contractions and typically aren’t painful. In most cases, muscle twitches are normal, but for some people they can be a sign of a nervous system disorder
How To Prevent Muscle Cramps
The good news about muscle cramps is that they are easily preventable; all you have to do is follow these simple precautions before, during or after your workout:
Drink Plenty Of Fluids
Dehydration is a common cause of muscle cramps, so be sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during and after physical activity. If you don’t, the fluid around the cells of your body can become imbalanced, which leads to compressed nerve endings AKA muscle twitches. Those muscle twitches are what turn into painful muscle cramps. The best fluid to drink is, of course, water, but sports drinks are also a good choice.
Snack On Something Salty
Sodium is an electrolyte and is the electrolyte that is lost the most when you sweat. It also plays a key role in maintaining the balance of fluid inside and outside of the cells, so it’s just as important to consume while exercising as it is to consume water. In fact, if you replace water without replacing salt, you could be in danger of developing hyponatremia, or low blood sodium levels. The best way to prevent hyponatremia as well as muscle cramps is to keep a salty snack on hand such as pretzels or salted nuts, and much on it before, during and after physical activity.
Increase Intake Of Potassium
Sodium and potassium go hand-in-hand and it’s also another electrolyte that is lost through sweat. Potassium deficiencies can also cause muscle cramps, so it’s important to increase your intake of potassium if you are an athlete or regular exerciser. Foods like bananas, sweet potatoes and certain types of fish are all good sources of potassium. You may also want to increase your intake of magnesium and calcium, two other electrolytes that play a role in muscle function.
Eat Some Carbs Beforehand
Carbohydrates are what allow the muscles to contract and relax. If your body doesn’t have a sufficient store of carbohydrates before you begin physical activity, your muscles will contract and stay that way. Eating carbs before a big workout (a 60-90-minute workout or an intense 45-minute workout) can help to keep them relaxed.
Jumping into a workout before warming up your muscles can lead to injury and, yes, muscle cramps. The best way to warm-up before a workout is by practicing some dynamic exercises or stretches. For instance, if you are about to play tennis, practice swinging the racket or if you are about to play baseball, practice throwing the ball. If you have nocturnal muscle cramps, stretching before bedtime should prevent the.
Stretching a muscle beyond its capacity can cause a muscle to cramp, so be sure to maintain your flexibility beyond a pre-exercise stretch. Try to incorporate stretching into your morning or evening routine, and if you really want to improve your flexibility, sign up for a yoga class.
Exercise Within Your Own Ability
Your mind may be ready to try an advanced tennis class, but your body may not be. Getting ahead of your ability can also lead to injury as well as muscle cramps, so don’t overdo it. Exercise within your ability until your body is ready to move on.
If your muscle cramps aren’t caused by physical activity, they may be brought on by nerve compression, a physical condition or by holding a position for too long. If your muscle cramps are caused by something more serious, talk with your doctor about possible preventative measures you can take. But if your muscle cramps are caused by physical activity, these tips should help relieve your pain and help you to stay in the game.