Avoid cramps with good nutrition

Avoid muscle cramps – Eat these types of food

Many runners, and in general many athletes, struggle with muscle cramps. This can be due to many factors such as high physical demands or insufficient intake of certain nutrients from food or food supplements. As always, I am in favor of athletes getting their nutrients from food, particularly those least processed ones.

However, it may not be possible for some athletes to get all nutrients from the diet alone and one example is vitamin D, an important vitamin that is found in very limited number of foods. In most cases, however, we can and should get all of our nutrients from the diet. Nutritious diet should at least be first priority and later, if necessary, food supplements can be considered.

What can we do about cramps? They are extremely uncomfortable and cause us to put less effort into our workouts. But can these cramps be avoided?

Several nutrients are involved in muscle contraction and release. One of them is magnesium (Mg). This mineral is involved in more than 300 bodily functions, including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation. The muscle function role is of special importance to athletes and those that workout regularly at high intensity.

Insufficient intake of magnesium is quite common in western societies. In the United States substantial numbers of adults fail to consume adequate magnesium in their diets according to a study. It is, therefore, quite possible that many athletes and weekend warrior alike would benefit from additional magnesium consumption in order to minimize the risk of muscle cramps or spasms.

Fortunately, magnesium can be found in number of food. And most often these food are considered healthy choices, which perhaps explains why so many Americans are not meeting their requirements for magnesium :)

Generally, food rich in fiber is also rich in magnesium so eating magnesium rich food gives us added benefits.

Great food sources of magnesium that are easy to include in the normal diet:
  • Green, leafy vegetables, like spinach
  • Nuts
  • Beans, peas, and soybeans
  • Whole-grain cereals
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Avocados
  • Potatoes
  • Rice
  • Yoghurt, milk and some other milk products
  • Bananas (The runner’s best friend?) and apples
  • Salmon (great source of omega-3)
  • Chicken and beef

If you are a healthy adult over the age of 18 and you elect to take magnesium containing supplements do be aware of the upper limits. Most scientists would recommend not to go much over the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) which is 320 mg/day for women and 420 mg/day for men. It is my experience, especially from swimming, and I’ve had to deal with cramps in my swim a lot, that 200 mg of magnesium citrate, twice daily can do magic.

Magnesium citrate is the least expensive supplemental form of magnesium. It is easily absorbed like many other more expensive forms of magnesium (magnesium malate, oratate and others).

Magnesium supplementation for healthy adults is considered safe in the amounts indicated above. If you are unsure of any kind of interaction with the medications you are taking, please consult with a health professional.

Want to know more about nutrition for running and food supplements for runners? Take a look at this book in Amazon Kindle Store.


Institute of Medicine (IOM) | Food and Nutrition Board
The Journal of Nutrition
Office of Dietary Supplements
Medline Plus
PubMed Health
Oregon State University

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