It is common for people to get cramps while working out. It is a sudden clenching of the muscles that can cause you to stumble or fall while running, but cramps can also serve as a warning sign that you’re doing something wrong.  A cramp in your side can be caused by improper breathing, and is the body’s warning to reevaluate how you’re drawing breath.  A cramp in the stomach can also be due to breathing, but it may also be caused by something you ate or drank prior to the workout.

While there’s nothing you can do to guarantee you won’t have cramps during a workout, there are a few steps you can take to greatly reduce the chances of cramping.

Remain hydrated
Dehydration is one of the leading causes of cramps.  By ensuring you drink enough water prior to and during the workout, you can greatly reduce the chance of cramps occurring.  However;

  • Drinking too much water can lead to nausea, so find a balance.
  • If you do begin to cramp, sip the water — don’t gulp it.
  • When a muscle contracts, it’s due to an electrical signal sent from one end of the muscle to the other.
  • An imbalance of fluids can interrupt that signal and cause a host of problems.

Keep yourself properly hydrated and you can prevent this from happening.

Eat bananas
The pains you experience in your side can be due to poor breathing, but can also be caused due to a lack of electrolytes.  To restore the balance of these chemicals in your body, eat a banana or have a sports drink.

  • Bananas are full of potassium and other helpful nutrients that can stop cramps in their tracks, while sports drinks are designed to restore the body’s natural balance.
  • However, be aware that many sports drinks are high in sugar and calories. While this can be useful for bringing your energy levels up, they can easily throw off a diet.

Warm up before and cool down after a workout
Warming up before working out is for more than just proper mobility.  It helps the muscles prepare for an intense workout and failing to warm up can cause undue stress on the muscles, which can lead to cramping.  Just the same, a proper cool down after the workout is necessary for ensuring the muscles return to their resting state.

Drink pickle juice
While the research behind this isn’t definitive, many athletes report that drinking pickle juice at the first sign of a cramp actually alleviates any symptoms almost immediately.  Researchers believe this could be due to the salt in the liquid; it triggers the brain to stop the muscle from cramping, sending a signal to the nerves to relax.  The salt helps the body retain water and stay hydrated.

Use a foam roller
Foam rollers are tools used by athletes to forcibly straighten out the muscle after a workout.  These are particularly useful for those who do squats in the gym; a foam roller applied to the thighs and calves can help to cool the muscles down and prevent cramping later on.  However, it is a rather unpleasant experience.  The use of the foam roller on tense, tight muscles is painful.  Foam rollers are inexpensive, but well worth the investment to prevent painful cramps hours after a workout.

While there’s nothing that can be done to completely stay away from cramps, following these steps above can greatly reduce the chance that one will occur.  While researchers don’t completely understand why a cramp takes place, the painful effects are clear.  Do what you can to avoid them.

For more information, visit Careworks.

Author: Michele Holincheck, FNP