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  | By Irina Belfer-Lehat

Everybody knows that fluid imbalances and mild dehydration can trigger muscle cramping. And although we know that muscle cramping can and does occur with severe dehydration and heat injury, there is no conclusive evidence that consuming adequate fluids with or without electrolytes will prevent typical nocturnal or exercise-associated cramping. In fact, studies have found that runners, cyclists and triathletes who develop cramps during an endurance event are not more likely to be dehydrated or to have lost greater amounts of bodily water than those who do not develop cramps during the same race.

A diet complete in specific vitamins and minerals can prevent muscle cramping. As I mentioned in my previous articles, loading on proper nutrients three to five days prior to an event can significantly improve your athletic performance.

In this article, I will discuss some nutrients that can prevent muscle cramping, if incorporated in proper amounts in one’s diet. Intake of these nutrients will increase your chances of being cramp-free during a long match.

►Sodium is one of the main positively-charged mineral ions or electrolytes in the body’s fluids. The body needs it to help maintain normal body-fluid balance and blood pressure, and in conjunction with several other electrolytes, it is critical for nerve impulse generation and muscle contraction. Sodium is distributed widely in nature, but is found in rather small amounts in most unprocessed foods. An athlete, should not consume a low sodium diet and should always drink regular Gatorade to prevent sodium deficiency. Current guidelines for sodium intake is approximately 2,300 milligrams of sodium or around one teaspoon of salt (one teaspoon or six grams contains 2,325 milligrams.

►Potassium is a major electrolyte found inside all body cells, including muscle and nerve cells. It works in close association with sodium and chloride in the generation of electrical impulses in the nerves and the muscles, including the heart muscle. Potassium is found in most foods, but is especially abundant in fresh vegetables, potatoes, certain fruits (melon, bananas, berries and citrus fruit), milk and meat.

►Calcium found in the body is found in the skeleton where it lends strength to bones. Calcium is involved in muscle contractions, including that of the heart, skeletal muscles, and smooth muscle found in blood vessels and intestines, as well as the generation of nerve impulses. Blood calcium is tightly controlled and regulated by several hormones, including parathyroid hormone and vitamin D. Adding an extra glass of milk and yogurt for breakfast might prevent cramping as well.

►Magnesium plays an important role in stabilizing adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy source for muscle contraction, and also serves as an electrolyte in body fluids. Muscle weakness, muscle twitching and muscle cramps are the common symptoms of magnesium deficiency. For example, three ounces of broiled halibut, has 91 milligrams of magnesium and a serving of an artichoke has 101 milligrams, but grains are the richest in magnesium, as one cup of grain has anywhere from 100-300 milligrams of magnesium.

A registered dietitian, specializing in sports nutrition, can prepare an individual balanced meal plan, including all the proper nutrients to ensure an excellent athletic performance that is cramp free!

Irina Belfer-Lehat

Irina Belfer-Lehat of Nutrition Solutions Co. is a New York State-licensed dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist. Irina Lehat RD Nutrition Solutions offers group classes starting in September, for kids in kindergarten through high school. Small groups, affordable prices! Mention this article and receive 20 percent off any services. For more information, call (917) 769-8031, e-mail irinalehat@gmail.com or visit www.irinalehat.com.