Q:I have recently started exercising more and have noticed that I am getting a lot of muscle cramps. What causes them, and what can I do to prevent them?


Common causes of muscle cramps include:

  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Overexertion
  • Lack of stretching
  • Too little potassium, calcium or magnesium in your diet can contribute to leg cramps.
  • Some diuretic medications prescribed for high blood pressure cause loss of potassium.

If you are new to exercise, make sure you ease into it carefully as doing too much too soon can cause cramps. If you do get a cramp, the best fix is to stretch until it goes away. If you are having cramps on a regular basis, look for a nutritional approach.

If you take a diuretic or sweat a great deal, make sure you are drinking enough water. Dehydration is the first line of defense against cramps.
Fruits and vegetables are naturally high in vitamins and minerals as well as water, so eating more of these can help solve the problem as well. Here is a list of foods that are high in the specific vitamins that can be deficient when you experience recurrent muscle cramps.

Calcium: dark leafy vegetables, such as spinach, collard, turnip and mustard greens, and broccoli, dairy products like milk, yogurt and cheese.
Potassium: avocado, bananas, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, cantaloupe, apricots, papaya, bell peppers, cauliflower, watermelon, green beans and pinto beans. Spinach and other greens are high in both calcium and potassium.
Magnesium: edamame, molasses, almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds, brazil nuts, flax seeds, sesame seeds, cocoa powder, pumpkin seeds, squash seeds.

The best bet is almost always to eat WHOLE FOODS that contain these components. Many people think that taking a vitamin will fix everything. No matter what the claims, vitamins are often not bio-available. That means that even though they contain 100% DV of certain vitamins, there is no guarantee that the body will absorb that amount. Also remember that no vitamins are regulated by the FDA nor are the claims. Real, whole foods always trump the ones in a bottle.