Man eating avocado toast with salmon.

Prevent Muscle Cramps One Meal at a Time

Muscle cramps can’t always be prevented, but you can ensure you’re doing everything to give your muscles what they need to function and recover properly.

If you’ve ever had a muscle cramp, you know how painful it can be. Maybe you’ve had a cramp wake you up in the middle of the night or after standing for a long shift at work. Maybe you’ve had a cramp in your hands after a day full of typing. No matter where or when you get them, muscle cramps aren’t fun.

But what can we do about them? Research suggests we can help prevent muscle cramps by making sure our bodies have enough of the right nutrients. Learn more about these important nutrients, what foods contain them and tips for dealing with painful muscle cramps.

What Are Muscle Cramps?A man’s wrist and hand pain using a laptop working.

Muscle cramps are sudden, involuntary contractions or spasms in one or more of your muscles. During a muscle cramp, your muscle might twitch or feel hard to the touch. Generally, muscle cramps last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes and go away on their own. You can get a cramp in any muscle, but cramps most often occur in these areas:

  • Legs – often in the thighs and calves
  • Feet
  • Hands
  • Arms
  • Abdomen
  • Area along your ribcage

What Causes Muscle Cramps?

Muscle cramps are common and can happen to anyone – regardless of your age or the condition of your overall health. Muscle cramps happen for a number of reasons, including:

  • Inadequate stretching (either before or after a workout or strenuous activity)
  • Heat
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte depletion
  • Stress
  • Muscle overuse and fatigue (this can happen from exercising, sitting too long or improperly, standing on hard floors or concrete for long periods of time, etc.)
  • Compression of your nerves, from problems such as a pinched nerve or a spinal cord injury
  • Certain medications
  • Dialysis
  • Pregnancy

What Nutrients Can Help Prevent Muscle Cramps?Woman grocery shopping.

Muscle cramps can’t always be prevented, but you can ensure you’re doing everything to give your muscles what they need to function and recover properly. Nutrients to help reduce muscle cramps include:

  • Potassium
  • Magnesium
  • Sodium
  • Calcium

These nutrients are electrolytes, which are substances that help our bodies regulate chemical reactions, maintain the balance of fluids inside and outside of our cells, and more. Without enough electrolytes, your muscles can spasm, twitch and cramp.

What Foods Contain the Right Nutrients?

A lot of different foods and drinks can provide you with enough electrolytes to give your muscles what they need, but here’s a good list of foods and drinks that are high in one or more electrolytes, as well as protein or water content:

  • Bananas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Watermelon and other melons
  • Spinach and other dark leafy greens
  • Lentils and beans
  • Avocadoes
  • Greek yogurt
  • Salmon
  • Coconut water
  • Milk

Maybe you’re already incorporating many of these foods into your diet, but if you need easy ways to add some of them, check out these ideas:Woman pouring a smoothie into a glass.

What Other Tips Can I Use to Reduce Muscle Cramps?

Here are some additional tips for muscle cramp relief:Mature man exercising at home.¬

  • Gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle until the cramp stops.
  • Apply heat to tense or tight muscles, or apply cold to sore and tender muscles.
  • Regularly stretch before and after a workout, targeting muscles that are likely to cramp.
  • Drink plenty of water before, during and after workouts to stay hydrated.
  • Warm up and cool down thoroughly when you exercise.
  • Check your medications – sometimes muscle cramping can be a side effect.
  • Give your muscles a break. Think about which muscles are cramping and try to give them proper rest. If you’re a walker or runner experiencing leg cramps, consider doing an alternate exercise to give your legs a rest. If you type a lot for work, give your hands time to relax and stretch throughout the day.
  • Avoid exercising in extreme heat. If you don’t have a choice, be sure to keep hydrated and replace the electrolytes you’ve lost from your sweat.

Using these strategies, along with a healthy diet full of the right nutrients, may help you reduce muscle cramps. If you continue to experience painful muscle cramps or your symptoms don’t improve, be sure to speak with your health care provider to ensure the cramps aren’t related to something else.

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