If you’re an athlete, you’re probably familiar with cramping. It often occurs when upping your training schedule, for example, as the muscles get used to working in different conditions. Athletes can be particularly prone to experience cramps in warm weather, so let’s take a look into why it happens and how we can avoid it.
What is cramping?
Cramping happens when muscles don’t contract and relax as they usually do. A muscle will suddenly contract and become locked in a spasm, which can last from few seconds to 15 minutes or more.
It’s particularly common in endurance athletes such as marathon runners and triathletes, and also those who take part in vigorous physical activity without enough training.
What causes cramping?
One factor that can influence cramps is hydration and electrolyte levels, as sufficient water and electrolytes are needed for muscles to fire and relax.
Another factor is how well the muscles are trained for the type of exercise you’re doing. Cramps are more likely to occur in muscles that are not used to intense training, so it’s a good idea to ensure your muscles are both trained and given a chance to recover.
How can I avoid cramping?
There are several things we can do to minimise the effects of cramp. Here are our top five:
- Train well for your event – the fitter and better trained you are, the lower your risk of cramp. That said, it’s also important to build up gradually! The guideline of increasing by no more than 10% each week is a helpful one.
- Stay hydrated – drinking enough water ensures that electrical signals within the muscles are not impaired. Taking on electrolytes also support the functioning of muscle fibres and are especially helpful in warm weather.
- Refuel with carbohydrates – keeping your glycogen stores topped up will help to prevent fatigue and cramping. Examples include rice, pasta, potatoes, beans, lentils, and starchy fruits and vegetables like bananas and pears.
- Stretch after exercise – stretching the muscles will help to stop cramping once it’s occurred and reduce the risk of it happening again. Aim to hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds.
- Get a sports massage – massage helps the muscles to relax, which eases the tightness experienced when muscles cramp. Time to book your next treatment? 😉