Leg cramps-Does taking salt help with muscle cramps while running?

Leg cramps-Does taking salt help with muscle cramps while running?

In the latest episode of Ask Coach Parry we deal with the ever-asked question about cramping. Lindsey Parry gives us the answer to Mbuli Melusi’s question. Mbuli wanted to know what causes cramps, how can you avoid it and lastly, does salt help to avoid cramping?

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Brad Brown: In the latest episode of Ask Coach Parry we deal with the ever-asked question about cramping. Lindsey Parry gives us the answer to Mbuli Melusi’s question. Mbuli wanted to know what causes cramps, how can you avoid it and lastly, does salt help to avoid cramping?

LINDSEY PARRY:  Yes, it is a very common question and one we will naturally answer a few times because it is basically always relevant. People are always suffering from cramps so look, at the moment there is no conclusive evidence for exactly what causes cramps.

Does my nutrition affect my cramping?

We have determined that cramps that you get, so night time cramps, if you cramp while you are at rest or cramp while you are sleeping, those tend to be the kind of cramps that are caused by some sort of shortage in your diet, so perhaps magnesium or calcium or sodium.

But there has been a very poor relationship between lack of sodium or magnesium and calcium and cramping during exercise. So at the moment, the most plausible explanation from all the research that has been done, is that cramp is quite literally caused by fatigue, and in particular what we call cross bridge fatigue.

Which means that the little chemical reactions that take place, that cause the muscles to slide over each other and cause a muscle contraction and those that cause the muscles to relax in between contractions, there is a delay in the impulse because of fatigue and therefore those two messages get sensed at the same time and then we get a massive involuntary muscle contraction.

So how you avoid them, well, the bad news is that people who cramp, tend to be more susceptible to cramp and, yes, depending on the distance of the race or the intensity of the race, they tend to be the people that will invariably cramp at some point so there are a few things that we can try and do to minimise the effect of the cramp or to offset the start of the cramping.

Probably the most obvious of those is to train properly for the event that you are preparing for and obviously to optimise your training. I think a lot of people will get that or at least endeavour to get that right. Then we can also add in some strength training because if you have nice strong muscles, that will also make your legs more resistant to fatigue and therefore delay the onset of the cramping.

Then finally, particularly in longer races, making sure that you get your pacing right, in other words do not go too hard otherwise you are going to bring on that cramp sooner. More importantly, make sure that you add in some walk-breaks from early on in the race because if you add in the walk-breaks, it looks after your legs, it keeps them fresh for longer and again, it delays the onset of that cramp.

In relation to does salt help, look there are reported cases of individuals who, when they add salt tablets or cramp stop or some form of electrolyte replacement that it does sort out their cramping problem or make it less but you do have to be careful, particularly with salt.

Because if you have too high a sodium concentration, that is more likely to cause cramping than having too little sodium. So, because there is some anecdotal evidence, and there is certainly people on the road that you will meet that will swear that it took away their cramping, it is probably something that is worth experimenting with but it is still the minority of people that that works for and if you get it wrong, it can make the problem worse so that is just something to be aware of.

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