After pouring countless hours into your game day preparation, it can be incredibly frustrating (and a little embarrassing) to limp off the field with a case of the cramps. Usually, cramps are a signal that your body is not ready for the increased stress and exertion of an actual head-to-head competition. If your coach is particularly hot-headed, they may “encourage” you to rest by sitting on the bench for the duration of the game!
Thankfully, there are a few easy alterations that can be made to an athlete’s routine that can significantly decrease the likelihood of cramping. In addition to eliminating cramps, these small changes should improve your overall well-being and boost your performance on the field too!
To help you transition seamlessly from a practice scrimmage to a heated rivalry game, we’ve compiled a list of tips that will keep you from missing any in-game action. Read on to discover a few simple ways to preempt debilitating cramps and recover from muscle spasms.
Understand the Importance of Food
You are what you eat. That phrase is a common cliché, but food is truly one of the most vital factors in sustaining performance. If you’re constantly cramping on game day, the cure might be a simple switch up of your pre-game diet. While fatty and sugary foods are delicious, you need to be giving your body the right nutrients that can be metabolized into fuel.
What kind of food should you choose? Ideally, your pre-workout meal should consist of an assortment of items that are high in sodium, potassium, calcium and carbs. Whenever your body sweats, salt is secreted from your glands and it needs to be replenished. In order to ensure a healthy supply of sodium on game day, try sipping on a sports drink (Gatorade, Powerade, etc.) or eating some lightly salted nuts.
For potassium, try eating foods like bananas, yogurt, broccoli and legumes. Most diets don’t naturally provide sufficient levels of potassium, so it’s important to go out of your way to achieve the required intake. Potassium works alongside sodium to reduce muscle spasms and to ensure that your muscles are receiving the correct signals from your brain.
When eating, you should also keep the two “C”s in mind (calcium and carbs). While most weight-watching diets suggest that you limit your carb intake, it’s important that you carbo load before physical exertion. By eating grain based foods like bread, oatmeal or pancakes, you can create a healthy store of energy that your body can use as fuel. Calcium, like potassium, is an electrolyte that your muscles need to perform at their peak. To ensure adequate levels of calcium, try to eat a small serving of a dairy product like yogurt, milk or cheese. If you’re lactose intolerant, you can also get calcium from eating fish, greens and seeds.
Take Vitamin Supplements
If altering your diet isn’t enough, try adding a few vitamin supplements to your daily routine to get rid of cramps. The first supplement you should consider taking is vitamin E. This vitamin fights free radicals that are a cause of cramping—specifically cramps in legs. By taking 400 units of vitamin E each day, you can effectively reduce cramping. Magnesium is the next supplement that you should be taking. It can be found naturally in nuts, figs and seeds, but you can also ingest this electrolyte in pill form.
Drink Water but Not TOO Much
The average adult requires six to eight cups of water daily, but your body will need even more if you’re playing a sport. Cramps are directly caused by dehydration, so it’s vital that you increase fluid intake before you exert yourself. If you’re just starting to drink as you hit the field, it’s already too late. To ensure that you’re adequately hydrated, begin drinking about an hour before your game and make sure that it’s 16 to 24 ounces. However, there is such a thing as overhydration. If you drink too much water, it dilutes the level of sodium in your blood stream and could cause severe muscle spasms.
Warm Up and Cool Off
Whenever you’ve been playing sports competitively for a long time, it can be easy to disregard the importance of warming up and cooling off. You’ve probably been told that it’s essential, but stretching before or after a game isn’t very glamorous. If you neglect pre-game stretches, your body will likely cramp from the shock of sudden physical exertion. It’s important to ease yourself slowly into the heightened speed of a game. Simple stretches will ensure that your range of motion will comfortably allow you to flexibly extend muscles during a workout.
Massage and Heat Therapy
What if all of your preventative measure aren’t enough? This is where massage therapy, cold compression and heat therapy factor into the equation. The easiest way to heal spastic muscles is to gently massage the ailing areas with a foam roller. By targeting the cramps with a roller, you can relax your muscles and get back on the field. Another effective cramp alleviator is a simple heating pad. High temperatures are great for making pain disappear and should be effective within mere minutes. On the opposite end of the thermometer, ice is also a great way to relax ailing muscle groups.
With each of these five tips in mind, you can effectively prepare for your next physical activity and ensure that your muscles will perform at peak condition. By eating right, taking supplements, staying hydrated, stretching and enjoying a post-game massage, you’ll stop feebly limping off the field from muscle exhaustion.