A quick Google search on “foods for cramps” will tell you that your cramps are likely due to dehydration, and that eating a diet of electrolyte-rich foods can help ease those painful muscle spasms. But while proper hydration is an important physical consideration as an athlete, many researchers have ruled out dehydration and electrolyte imbalance as the key driver of muscle cramping, especially when your cramps are coming from your exercise. So this means that eating those foods is probably not your answer to uncontrollable muscle cramps.
Luckily, there are some foods that are associated with the reduction of exercise-associated muscle cramps. To fight muscle cramps as an athlete, you need to address the neurological causes behind them, not the physical ones. More and more research is showing that in order to do that, you’ll need some heat.
Why do exercise-associated muscle cramps happen?
Exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMC) are involuntary skeletal muscle contractions that happen during or soon after exercise. They’re especially common among endurance athletes, and some athletes are more prone to cramping than others.
Because exercise-associated muscle cramps can happen so randomly, they’re hard to study, and scientists are still working on fully understanding what causes them. One popular and long-standing theory is that dehydration causes muscle cramping. If you participate in a high-intensity exercise like endurance running or cycling, you are probably sweating a lot. This means that you can lose both water and electrolytes, which can ultimately lead to dehydration if you aren’t rehydrating. While electrolytes do play a major role in the contraction and relaxation of your muscles, the dehydration theory does not hold up. Many studies have shown that muscle cramping can happen to athletes regardless of their electrolyte levels.
So instead of focusing on the physical side of cramping, researchers are now interested in the neurological side. What we know now is that muscle cramping is almost always caused by a “misfiring” of your nerves.
When you train for or participate in heavy exercises like endurance running or cycling, your muscles become fatigued. As this happens, motor neurons, which are specialized brain cells that signal to our muscles to move, can become hyperactive and fire off excessively into that overworked and tired muscle. This then leads to those painful and involuntary muscle cramps that happen during and after your workout. This excessive motor neuron activity has also been linked to nighttime leg cramping and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), another common condition among athletes after a big physical event.
So while dehydration has been the long-standing theory behind exercise-associated muscle cramps, increasing your electrolyte intake is not the answer for athletes prone to muscle cramping. Heat is.
How heat can stop your muscle cramping
Because exercise-associated muscle cramping is due to hyperexcited nerves, you need to find a way to “soothe” those nerves and inhibit their excessive firing. Scientists have found that one way that you can target the neurological cause of cramping is by activating the transient receptor potential ion channels (or TRP for short) that are found in your mouth, esophagus, and stomach.
When activated by certain stimuli like temperature and chemicals in food that can cause heat, TRP channels (in particular, TRPA1 and TRPV2 channels) can send a signal to the brain, which can then send “calming” signals down your spinal cord and thus, the rest of your body. This then reduces the activity of those overexcited nerves and reduces the uncontrolled cramping response.
This hypothesis that alludes to the connection between TRPA1 and TRPV2 channels and cramping is now being researched, and so far, it looks promising. For example, one experiment was conducted in which young, healthy adults held prolonged muscle contractions in order to elicit a cramp. The researchers found that activating TRP channel activators significantly reduced the intensity and duration of their muscle cramps in the study!
To put it simply, the heat that certain foods produce can activate receptors in your mouth, esophagus, and stomach, which then changes your brain activity and reduces the activity of hyperexcited motor neurons, and ultimately stops cramping!
HOTSHOT For Muscle Cramps
HOTSHOT is the only sports shot on the market that addresses the neurological side of cramping by activating the TRP channels. Adding HOTSHOT to your pre-workout supplement stack can proactively address hyperexcitability of motor neurons and thus reduce cramping that would otherwise get in the way of your workout. One study even found that HOTSHOT For Muscle Cramping prevented muscle cramping during and after heavy exercise by over 50% among reported heavy crampers who took the shot shortly before their workout!
More and more research is finding that muscle cramping from exercise comes from a neurological response -- namely, that hyperexcited motor neurons are firing off uncontrollably into fatigued muscles during exercise, inducing involuntary muscle cramping. In order to address neurological causes of cramping, you can activate TRP channels in your mouth, esophagus, and stomach that can calm those hyperexcited motor neurons down and ultimately relax those muscle cramps. Certain spicy foods like garlic, wasabi, and hot peppers can induce this reaction, but it’s more efficient to take HOTSHOT For Muscle Cramping.
Featured image credit: Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU