How to avoid muscle cramps during exercise and competition

Some would argue that there’s nothing worse. You can feel it coming. You’re working out, hitting your stride, having a great time and then, all of a sudden, there it is. A muscle cramp. Either you have to stop your workout completely, or you’re at least significantly hindered. And even if you don’t find your cramps to be particularly painful, we can all at least agree that they’re pretty annoying.

So, how can you make muscle cramps during your workout or competition a thing of the past? There’s no sure-fire method that’s proven to work for everyone, all the time, but there are a few remedies that many can rely on most of the time.

1. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

Proper hydration is crucial when it comes to lessening the likelihood of muscle cramps. Don’t just drink according to your thirst, though. Actually weigh yourself before and after your workout to see how much fluid weight you’re losing through sweat, and then adjust how much you’re drinking accordingly. While water is always an obvious choice for hydrating during a work out, also make sure you’re getting enough electrolytes (particularly sodium).

2. Speaking of salt…

Sodium is the most important electrolyte that you want to refuel on when working out, as not having enough sodium in your body can result in muscle cramps. Look for sodium-rich sports drinks and salt tablets specifically created for athletes. You can also just add more sodium into your diet through sodium-rich foods such as pretzels.

3. Prepare accordingly

Fatigue can greatly increase the likelihood of muscle cramps, particularly if you’re planning to participate in a competition that pushes your body past what you typically ask of it. So, make sure that your muscles are prepared accordingly before any competition and work out with that competition in mind. Build up your strength and endurance so that, when competition time comes, your muscles aren’t surprised by all the extra work and they can handle the challenge without cramping up.

4. Warm up properly

While everyone knows they should be warming up properly, that doesn’t mean that everyone does. Take the time to warm up and stretch your muscles before jumping right into your work out or competition. Pay special attention to whatever muscle groups you plan to use most. Then, if you do end up cramping during a workout or competition, stop and re-stretch those muscles to prevent muscle tears and further damage. 

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