A common sight isn't it? You're watching your favourite athlete giving their best performance and the next minute they are down on the ground clutching their calf or hamstring complaining about cramping.
A muscle cramp is a sudden, involuntary and uncomfortable contraction of the muscle which can last from seconds to minutes and may result in a palpable knot in the muscle belly. The most common muscle to cramp is the one directly involved in the activity or sport. The correct terminology is Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramp or EAMC.
Why do muscles cramp?
The most common reason for EAMC is system overload, meaning fatigue. This could be due to inapt conditioning of your muscles. Which translates to lack of muscle length, strength and endurance. The other reason could be excessive loss of sodium through sweat causing an electrolyte deficit.
Now that we have established the foundation of EAMC, it brings us to the good part, long-term solutions!
- Fuel your body right. Not just before game day, but through the entire season. Diet and nutrition are just as important for an athlete as is their training schedule. The right nutritional plan assists you in maximising your training load with reduced occurrences of injuries.
- Hydrate. Our body experiences massive losses of electrolytes as we sweat which are responsible for our neuromuscular system to work in order. Add electrolytes to your water, this can be diluted so you don't end up consuming high levels of sugar that may cause your system to crash.
- Conditioning. EAMC is low in well trained athletes. Focus on specific exercises that target muscle receptors. Plyometrics, strength and endurance-based exercises help in avoiding misfiring of the receptors and improve neuromuscular control.
Now that we have established what you should be doing, let's also talk about what can be done on the sidelines. Massage always helps in the short run. In recent times, there has been an increase in the consumption of pickle juice. Although small quantities of pickle juice cause no change in the plasma electrolyte balance in the minute after ingestion, it can work as a placebo.
It is important to get the correct advice when it comes to your body and training. It is just as important to look at long-term solutions rather than sideline solutions. If you're struggling with cramping during sport, make an appointment with a nutritionist and your strength and conditioning coach.