We have all seen athletes in the Olympics or major marathons stumbling stiffly across the finish line, bent over and grimacing from the pain of muscle cramps. The problem is not a serious injury or fatigue, but rather that their bodies have run out of the fuel they need to keep going.
They have literally exhausted their resources and the body no longer has any fuel left in reserve. Muscle cramps begin when the body starts to shut down from all the hard work it has been forced to do.
It does not take a genius to diagnose a cramp. We have all felt cramps in our toes at the end of a long day, or in our legs when we sleep. For athletes, the pain does not stop at the toes, often times the pain will travel all the way up the leg and into the hip. The cramps can get so bad that the athlete cannot walk very well until they can get it to go away. This type of cramp can be extremely debilitating and seem to last forever until it goes away.
Muscle Cramps from Dehydration
The best way to prevent muscle cramps is to make sure that you are properly hydrated and that your body has plenty of fuel to perform the activities that you are asking it to. Many times, one can feel the cramp coming on before it really takes hold, but athletes choose to ignore the symptoms because they want to keep competing. The best thing to do is stop as soon as you feel the initial twinges and drink.
A sports drink may be a little better than water at this point because it also provides carbohydrates and electrolytes. The carbohydrates are like little energy bombs that go straight to your muscles. The electrolytes help your body maintain its sodium levels and allow it to maximize the fluid that you put in it. In short, they help you stay properly hydrated.
When an athlete reaches the point where the cramps have already taken hold, then they need to drink immediately.
How to Make Muscle Cramps go Away
In order to get the affected muscle group to loosen up, they need to stretch as well. Gradually stretch the muscle until you feel it let go. This may be painful at first, as the muscle maybe quite tightly knotted up. While stretching, massage the muscle, as this will also help increase the blood flow and will allow the nutrients that you are drinking to be absorbed quickly into the tissue. Keep stretching and massaging until the leg begins to perform naturally again.
You can expect to be sore the day after a bad muscle cramp. When your muscle clenches with that much intensity it is similar to the kind of stress that you would put on it when lifting weights. You can actually get the same kind of soreness from muscle cramps that you would get from a hard workout.