Leg cramps got you down? Before you guzzle a litre of water, think about adding a serve of electrolytes. A recent study presented in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition learned that participants who had electrolytes + water while and after exercising had less muscle cramps in comparison to people who had pure water.
What are muscle cramps and spasms?
Though they can strike at any time, and we're all suscetible to them, this painful occurance is found amongst many different sports:
- 39% of marathon runners
- 52% of rugby players
- 60% of cyclists
Lack of electrolytes, not dehydration
ECU's School of Medical & Health Sciences lead researcher, Professor Ken Nosaka, had this to say about water and cramps:
"Many people think dehydration causes muscle cramps and will drink pure water while exercising to prevent cramping. We found that people who solely drink plain water before and after exercise could in fact be making them more prone to cramps. This is likely because pure water dilutes the electrolyte concentration in our bodies and doesn't replace what is lost during sweating."
What was involved in the study?
Ten men ran for 40-60 minutes on on a downhill treadmill in a 35ºC room, in order to shed 1.5 - 2 % of their weight through sweat.
This was done in two separate conditions:
Plain water during and after exercise
Water containig electrolytes during and after exercise
Muscle cramps were induced via a specific electrical stimulation on the calves. A lower frequency stimulation means the person is more disposed to muscle cramps. When participants drank the electrolyte water, the electrical frequency needed to induce the cramps increased. However, when they drank just water, the frequency requires by the stimulation decreased.
What does this mean? The study found that the participants' muscles were more likely to cramp when drinking only water, and has greater immunity to the cramps when having the electrolyte in water solution.
Though the study group was small, this research builds upon previous studies.
What are electrolytes?
Found in your sweet, urine and blood, electrolytes are electrically charged minerals in your body. Popular electrolytes include sodium, potassium, chloride and magnesium.
When you dilute your system with too much water, the electrolyte ratios go down, meaning the water and acid-base balance will be off. Your nerves and muscles need electrolytes to function optimally. When the ratios are out of whack, spasms and cramps are more likely!
Not just for athletes, electrolyte solutions can have benefits for you in your day to day life. When you're exercising, when the temperature is hot or when you're losing lots of fluids through illness or sweat, look to a quality electrolyte blend that will
Want to know more? Check out Hydrating for Performance (It's Not Just Water).
Wing Yin Lau, Haruyasu Kato, Kazunori Nosaka. Effect of oral rehydration solution versus spring water intake during exercise in the heat on muscle cramp susceptibility of young men. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 2021; 18 (1) DOI: 10.1186/s12970-021-00414-8
Edith Cowan University. "Muscle cramp? Drink electrolytes, not water, study shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 March 2021.
Healthline. 2020. Urine Colour Chart. [online] Available at: https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/urine-colour-chart
Healthline. 2020. Overhydration: Types, Symptoms, And Treatments. [online] Available at: https://www.healthline.com/health/overhydration#types