Sunday, September 6, 2020

What is More Helpful Than Electrolytes In Preventing Muscle Cramps?

I don't believe this. Many athletes still do not know what causes muscle cramps. In a survey of 344 endurance athletes published last year, 75 percent believed that taking extra sodium would help prevent their muscles cramping (McCubbin et al, 2019).

The usual and common theories for muscle cramps are loss of electrolytes (sodium, potassium and magnesium) and dehydration (fluid). Suggestions to combat cramps are to eat more bananas, take more salt/ sodiummagnesium supplementation, drink Gatorade etc. None of which will really help.

Having written on muscle cramps a few times, I'm most interested when new research suggests alternative ways to beat muscle cramping.

The researchers (Martinez-Navarro et al, 2020) recruited 98 runners running the Valencia marathon of which 84 (72 males, 12 females) completed the study (all pre and post race testing). 

20 runners suffered muscle cramps during or immediately after the race. Blood and urine tests showed no differences in dehydration and electrolyte levels before, during and after the race for the runners that cramped versus those that did not.

What the researchers found was a big difference in creatine kinase and lactate dehydrogenase which are both markers of muscle damage. These markers were significantly elevated immediately post race and 24 hours in those runners who had cramps.

There was also no difference when the runners did their last training run prior to the race nor any sign of elevated muscle damage in pre race tests. Hence, the runners who cramped did not have any muscle damage (from not tapering/ resting or backing off from training). 

Almost all the training variables between the two groups were similar. Weekly mileage, previous marathons ran, etc were all similar save one variable. 48 percent of those who did not suffer from cramps did regular lower body strength training compared to 25 percent of those who cramped.

This adds more weight to my previous post that muscle cramps are more likely to occur in muscles that are tired/ fatigued to the point of damage.

I would like to add that dehydration and electrolyte depletion can hasten muscular fatigue which then causes muscle cramping.

If you're still struggling with muscle cramps, it's definitely worth giving lower limb strength training a shot and for it's other benefits as well. 

Another researcher (Del Cosco et al, 2013)who wrote about muscle damage causing one to slow down at the end of marathons suggested lower limb exercises up to 80 percent maximum weight you can lift to protect your legs from damage.


References 

Del Cosco J,  Fernandez D, Abian-Vicen J et al (2013). Running Pace Decrease During A Marathon Is Positivively Related To Blood Markers Of Muscle Damage. PLoS One. 8(2): e57602. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057602

Martinez-Navarro I, Montoya-Vieco A et al (2020). Muscle Cramping In The Marathon: Dehydration And Electrolyte Depletion Vs Muscle Damage. J Stren Cond Res. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003713.

McCubbin AJ, Cox GR et al (2019). Sodium Intake Beliefs, Information Sources, And Intended Practices Of Endurance Athletes Before And During Exercise. Int J Sp Nutr Ex Metab. 29(4): 371-381. DOI: 10.1123/jisnem.2018-0270.

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