“Cramping Your Style”

“Cramping Your Style”

Gotta love the heat and humidity in Miami 24/7 nearly 12 months a year—not!  

What I do love about my hood’s weather is how it makes SoFlo tough competitors; stressing our bodies in a good way, training us to withstand the daily stresses of life—for me tackling 34 marathons (PR 2:52), the Ironman Triathlon in July, hundreds of multisport racing events and three healthy pregnancies during the summer months. No doubt, the greatest challenge in hot conditions is keeping up with fluid & electrolyte needs since excessive losses up to several pounds for a normal training session is not uncommon.

In tandem with sweating, there water and electrolyte losses—minerals that send messages to muscles and nerves that tell them when to react contract & relax. Electrolyte losses typically = cramping, a stressful acute pain that stops you in your tracks or wakes you from a peaceful sleep

Muscle cramps can occur in the legs, abdomen or gut aka gut cramps called the side “stitch” known to runners/triathletes, slowing speed, changing gait or prevents you from completing the task at hand whether it’s a race, pulling the weeds in the yard or painting the outside of your home. It’s so common, that it’s the 2nd most frequent concern expressed to me from clients and audiences worldwide. (Just for the record, #1 concern is whether or not to take supplements.)

If those achy spasms &muscle contractions are cramping your style, your sport and your fun, how do you get to root of the problem & treat it quickly, safely and completely?

3 Strategies for Cramping Relief

1. Identify the source of cramps—is it acute or chronic?

  • Are the type of cramps true, rest, Tetany, contractures or dystonic (see explanation below), try to resolve if simple solution.

2. Rule out a medical issue.

If it’s an ongoing problem, see your medical doctor, since it could be serious. Take a blood test under fasting normal conditions and after an exercise session to see what and if any constituents like the electrolytes sodium, potassium or magnesium or even iron are low in the blood.

3. Evaluate your Diet.

Schedule an appointment with a Sports Nutritionist (RD,CSSD) or clinical nutritionist (MD, CCN) to determine if it is a dietary issue, overall calorie, carbohydrate or vitamin/mineral deficiency (iron deficiency can cause leg cramps too!) that is causing the cramps.


Five potential causes include:

1. True cramps—hyperexcitability of nerves that stimulate muscles can be due to:

  • Persistent spasm following injury
  • Vigorous activity—no stretching
  • Sitting for long periods

2. Rest cramps—during night, painful; cause unknown, due to alcohol drinking,    dehydration, decreased potassium, medications

  • dehydration
  • body fluid shifts—ascities, water in gut due to medical issue or alcoholism
  • Low levels calcium/magnesium

3. Tetany— all nerve cells activated causes muscles to cramp, numbness—

  1. low calcium/magnesium or potassium levels

4. Contractures—when muscles unable to relax; constant spasms caused by ATP depletion, simplest form of muscle energy (can be inherited)

5. Dystonic— when muscles are not needed, get cramped


Bananas for Cramping?

It’s amazing to me how the banana has become the 1st line of defense for cramping. Everyone from child to grand mom believing a banana a day will make the cramps going away. Truth is, there’s a lot more to cramping than getting a banana’s worth of potassium—actually just 1/7 of your potassium requirements a day under the best conditions.

While bananas are higher in potassium than several other fruits and veggies, it only gets you a small baby step towards the 4500mg you need every day & potassium is not the leading culprit when it comes to fluid losses and cramping.

Here are food & fluid sources of the minerals—electrolytes which can play a role in cramping your style.

The major electrolyte mineral, sodium plays the largest role, is the mineral lost in the greatest quantities in sweat, but is also not typically missing but actually consumed in excess in most men and women’s diets in grain products—breads, cereals, crackers, snacks, processed and fast foods, dressings and sauces, dairy.

Potassium: RDA 4.7 grams

Zico Coconut water, potatoes, acorn squash, artichoke, spinach, broccoli, carrots, green beans, tomato juice, avocado, grapefruit juice, watermelon, banana, strawberries, milk

Magnesium: (RDA 310 mg day)

spinach, broccoli, artichokes, green beans, tomato juice, navy beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas,  sunflower seeds, tofu, cashews, halibut

Calcium: RDA 1000-1200 mg

Milk, yogurt, cheddar cheese, Swiss cheese, tofu, sardines, green beans, spinach, broccoli

Magnesium: (RDA 310 mg day)

spinach, broccoli, artichokes, green beans, tomato juice, navy beans, pinto beans, black-eyed peas,  sunflower seeds, tofu, cashews, halibut