Muscle cramps are a common complaint among runners and other athletes. One study found that 27 percent of runners and walkers experienced abdominal cramps while exercising. Cramping of leg muscles is common as well. Hydrating, or drinking plenty of fluids, is a remedy that most doctors and sports physiologists will recommend, and most athletes themselves feel that hydration is very important. However, a review of the scientific literature published in the spring of 2010 argued that there is no scientific evidence that either hydration or stretching (another commonly suggested remedy) prevents muscle cramps. Still, hydration is an inexpensive, easily implemented remedy which is very unlikely to do any harm.
Using Hydration to Prevent Muscle Cramps
- Drink plenty of liquids every day, and drink during exercise, especially if you are exercising in hot, humid weather.
- Many exercise physiologists recommend drinking between 16 and 20 ounces of liquid 45 minutes before exercising, and two to four ounces every 15 minutes while exercising during hot weather.
- Eat a diet that includes plenty of water. For example, eat plenty of fresh, raw fruits and vegetables.
- If you get cramps while exercising, slow down or stop and rest, and drink some fluids.
Why It Works
Dehydration -- the opposite of hydration -- is a common cause of muscle cramps. When muscle cells have enough water, they get irritated less easily and are less likely to cramp. Dehydration can also contribute to an imbalance of electrolytes, such as sodium, potassium, and calcium, in the body. An electrolyte imbalance can contribute to stomach cramps.
Muscle cramps can also be caused by strain resulting from repeated movements or from holding a position for a long period of time without moving. It is important to get enough rest as well as being sufficiently hydrated.
Some muscle cramps may be the result of a pinched nerve or injury to the spinal cord. Others can be caused by serious disorders such as liver disease, kidney disease, and neurological disorders like Lou Gehrig’s disease or peripheral neuropathy (which often occurs in late-stage diabetes). If your cramps are persistent and chronic despite your attempts to prevent them by getting enough rest and drinking plenty of fluid, see a doctor to rule out other possible causes.