Almost every athlete experiences one. He’s running, biking, swimming or relaxing after having just finished one of the former when his muscle contracts, balls up into a painful knot that won’t relax, and he is momentarily paralyzed. The cramp, for that’s what it is, takes hold of his leg stubbornly refusing him relief.
If you’ve experienced one, you know how painful and debilitating it can be, particularly if you are in the middle of an activity. And you’ve more than likely tried a number of different ways to prevent having another. Perhaps you’ve started taking multivitamins with zinc and magnesium or you’ve taken to massaging your legs for hours a day or you now stretch yourself into a pretzel before every workout. But has it worked? Have you truly ended the cramps or have you simply, until the next time you find yourself lying on the floor gritting your teeth in pain, fooled yourself into believing that you’ve discovered a cure?
I’m willing to bet that it’s the latter, for, you see, no one understands cramps. Theorized causes range from dehydration to an imbalance of nerve signals and thus there is a wide range of cures. However, none of them work for sure, so what are you to do? How are you to prevent a cramp?
You aren’t, at least not until a team of researchers stumbles upon their exact cause. What you want to do is make sure that the rest of your body is strong enough to handle the cramp and that your seized calf muscle is your only affliction – not dehydration, not overuse fatigue and not tense limbs. Before you exercise, drink lots of water. Make sure there is enough liquid in your body to last you through your workout. Also ensure that your body has enough fuel or energy. Man does not run on water alone. Eat something. Then, about five minutes into your workout, stretch. Prepare all of your muscles for what’s to come, which shouldn’t be too excessive in length or intensity. You want to be healthy and fit not unconscious and exhausted. After your workout, have something with electrolytes – Gatorade or a similar sports drink – and, once again, stretch. And should that cramp hit you, well, you’ll probably spend a few minutes writhing in pain, but you’ll be able to get back up afterwards.