CRAMPS: causes, risks and how to treat them

Edited by:
Dr. Luca Simoni. Nutritionist biologist and lecturer at the ‘Sanis’ School of Nutrition and Integration in Sport.

Who hasn’t experienced cramping at least once in their lives?
These sudden, involuntary and painful contractions of the skeletal muscle that tend to quickly sort themselves out can be of different types and those that generally affect healthy subjects are called “benign” or “cramps associated with exercise”.

The belief that the cause of cramps lies within a nutritional deficiency has its foundations, but before dealing with issues that remain unresolved today we are going to evaluate what are considered the main reasons.

The main risk factors associated with the appearance of cramps are familiarity, intensity and duration of exercise and poor level of training; so if during a marathon or a lengthy activity, you find with a certain repetitiveness the onset of cramps the first evaluations to be made are on the work program.
Giving a practical example, if you suffer from cramps in a more or less recurrent way, the calf will be included in the training-specific exercises to improve the strength and endurance of that muscle group, such as eccentric exercises.

Verified that it is not about a low level of training or excessive efforts, we can then hypothesise some nutritional deficiency and in this sense that linked to magnesium (Mg++) is certainly the best known.

With a varied diet, it is considered difficult to manifest Mg++ deficiency phenomena related to exercise, however during prolonged activities, and the marathon is a model, it is estimated a loss mainly with sweat equal to 10-20%. These losses are thought to be compensated by introducing about 240 mg/day of Mg++ not difficult to achieve with a balanced diet or with the aid of supplementation. It should be remembered that athletes frequently suffer from a deficiency of Mg++ and this is particularly evident in endurance sports. This deficiency, often underdiagnosed, can be the cause of general fatigue and muscle problems post workout.

Muscle cramps, therefore, occur more frequently in subjects with magnesium deficiency, although its role is not completely clear and defined to date and certainly provides for involvement in muscle contraction.
For all these reasons, magnesium should be considered an elective treatment to combat muscle cramps; even if the evidence of the supplementation\/reduction association of the phenomenon is still few, the intake remains recommended.