No one totally understands what causes muscle cramps. These unpredictable spasms are somewhat mysterious. They most commonly occur among athletes who work their muscles to the point of exhaustion. They are likely related to overexertion, but fluid loss, inadequate conditioning, and electrolyte imbalance may also be predisposing factors. The solution often can be found with massage, stretching, or, a hard pinch of the upper lip. Other times, nutrition may be involved. Although the following nutritional tips are not guaranteed to resolve this malady, try to rule out these possible contributing causes:
- Lack of water. Cramps commonly occur when an athlete is dehydrated. To prevent dehydration-induced cramps, drink more than enough fluids before, during, and after your exercise. Always drink enough fluids daily so that your urine is clear, pale yellow, and copious. During a long exercise session, you should drink 8 ounces of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes. After a hard workout, if you are destined to drink alcoholic beverages, be sure to first have plenty of nonalcoholic fluids to replace the sweat losses, because alcohol has a dehydrating effect.
- Lack of calcium. Calcium plays an essential role in muscle contractions. But calcium imbalance seems unlikely cause of muscle cramps because the bones are a huge calcium reservoir. If a dietary deficiency should occur, calcium would be released from the bone to provide what's needed for proper muscle contraction. Nevertheless, athletes plagued by cramps should consume diary products at least twice each day, for example by eating low-fat milk on cereal and yogurt for a snack.
- Lack of potassium. Electrolyte imbalance, such as lack of potassium, may play a role in muscle cramps. Eat potassium-rich foods on daily basis, focusing on fruits and vegetables. But potassium deficiency is unlikely to occur as result of sweat losses, because the body contains much more potassium than even a marathoner might lose during a hot and sweaty race.
- Lack of sodium. By losing a significant amount of sodium through sweat, athletes may be putting themselves at risk of developing a sodium imbalance that could contribute to cramps.
Although the suggestions for resolving muscle cramps are only suggestions and not proven solutions, you might want to experiment with these dietary improvements if you repeatedly suffer from muscle cramps. Adding extra fluids, low-fat diary products, potassium-rich fruits and vegetables, and a sprinkling of salt certainly won't harm you, and it may resolve the worrisome problem. Also consult your physical therapist, athletic trainer, or coach regarding proper stretching and training techniques. Nutrition may play no role at all in your cramps.
Source: Sports Nutrition Guidebook by Nancy Clark, MS, RD
For more information, I suggest to read this excellent article at MedicineNet.com.