Are there foods that help with muscle cramps? While medications exist that can offer almost immediate relief against leg muscle cramps, some people prefer trying a more natural route to find ways to prevent and relieve this pain. When it comes to almost many illnesses, eating a healthy and nutritious diet can go a long way in making sure that you are protected from these diseases – or if you suffer from them, your diet may increase your chances of recovery. The same applies to muscle cramps. So what are some of the foods that help with night leg cramps? Read on to find out.
What Are Muscle Cramps?
Not to be confused with restless leg syndrome, muscle cramps/spasms are a common, involuntary, sudden and painful tightening and contraction of muscles. While they can affect any muscle in the body, they often affect the legs, especially in the calf. Muscle spasms, while generally harmless, come with severe pain that lasts anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes.
While the exact course of this issue remains largely unknown, factors known to contribute to it include medical conditions and some medication, an electrolyte imbalance, intense exercise, dehydration and neuromuscular abnormalities (6).
Are Bananas Good For Leg Cramps?
Yes, they can be. If you have been dealing with this condition for a while, then you have no doubt heard about the benefits of potassium for leg cramps. Of all the foods that help with muscle cramps, bananas are the most popular choice for leg cramps relief because they work splendidly, according to some who have tried them. When compared to other fruits, bananas have the highest amount of potassium – a key nutrient that helps counter this condition, especially if it is caused by an electrolyte imbalance (8, 1, 7).
Other foods high in potassium include potatoes, beet greens, avocados, spinach, broccoli, and beans.
What Foods Get Rid Of Muscle Cramps?
While bananas are great for this problem, they are not the only ones that can work to help beat this issue. Some other foods that might help with muscle cramps include:
- Watermelon – With dehydration being one of the contributing factors to muscle cramps, finding something to hydrate can offer relief and act as a preventative measure against future spasms. Watermelons are 92 percent water which makes them great for hydration. It is also quite high in potassium (16).
- Sweet Potatoes – Not only are they a great replacement for regular fries, but they are among some of the best foods that help with night leg cramps. Like bananas, they are rich in potassium, calcium, and magnesium, minerals that are vital for muscle function (14).
- Salmon and sardines – Not only do they have nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, and potassium which may protect against cramps, but they also have antioxidants, omega-3 fats, and other anti-inflammatory properties that might protect you against this condition. Salmon and sardines are also great sources of protein – a macronutrient known for its muscle building and recovery abilities (4, 12).
- Turmeric – Not only does it have calcium, potassium and magnesium, but research also shows that this spice may help with delayed onset muscle soreness, improve recovery of muscle performance and reduce chances of injury. It could be a real asset to many athletes (13, 2, 10).
Pickle Juice For Cramps: Can It Work?
For years, athletes have sworn by the use of pickle juice as a muscle cramp reliever. Luckily for you, according to a popular 2010 study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise journal, this simple homemade remedy could work for you too.
In the comparative study, researchers took a group of dehydrated male participants and induced muscle cramps in their flexor hallucis brevis – a muscle of the foot that flexes the big toe. In the first round of tests, the men were not given anything to help relieve their cramps. In the second round of tests, researchers divided the group in two.
The muscle cramp in the flexor hallucis brevis was induced again but this time the participants were immediately given deionized water or pickle juice to consume. At the end of the study, researchers found that not only did the pickle juice relieve muscle cramps, but it worked faster than just letting nature take its course.
Researchers theorized that the success of pickle juice for cramps lies in the acidity in the vinegar in this drink. When the juice touches the back of your throat, it triggers muscular reflexes that shut down the misfiring of neurons in muscle all over the body, and in turn, ‘switches off’ the cramping feeling (11).
This was only one small study and it far from proves that pickle juice will work to relieve muscle cramps for everyone. Talk to your doctor before trying this remedy at home.
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What Can I Drink To Stop Cramps?
According to the Mayo Clinic, fluids not only help your muscles contract and relax but they also keep the muscle cells hydrated and less irritable. Here are some other drinks that could come in handy once your leg muscles start spasming and cramping:
- Water – One of the main causes of muscle cramping is dehydration and thus water is a very obvious safe care remedy that could help relieve and even prevent leg cramps. This is especially important if you have been working out on a hot day, sweating and losing the water from the body.
- Coconut water – For those people who find it hard to drink water, coconut water is another great option to drink. No only is is a great source of electrolytes, but it is also has nutrients such as calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, and phosphorus – all minerals believed to help decrease muscle cramping (9,15)
- Herbal Teas – Just as with regular period cramps, herbal teas can help keep leg muscle cramps at bay. Not only do they help hydrate you, but some of these herbs also have anti-inflammatory benefits. Some teas that could help with the condition include ginger tea and chamomile tea. While some sources claim that green tea can also help with cramps, Harvard Health Publishing warns against having caffeinated drinks as they are dehydrating and will worsen your issue (17). If you have any medical conditions or are pregnant, talk to your doctor about any herbal teas or supplements before trying them.
- Cherry Juice – According to a study published by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, tart cherries have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may protect against pain during strenuous exercise and reduce muscle damage (3). Cherry juice could come in handy for any runners currently on a marathon training plan.
- Smoothies – Nutrients such as potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium – which are known to help reduce and prevent leg cramps – are readily found in fruits and leafy green vegetables. Fruits and veggies are also rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which are good for your muscles and overall health.
Which Are Some Foods That Cause Leg Cramps?
As seen above, in many cases the main cause of leg cramps is often unknown. As for the known cases, none of them specifically point straight to certain foods as being the main culprit behind this condition. With that being said, it is always a good idea to limit refined carbs, too much alcohol, excessive caffeine, and processed meat, fried foods and those with too much salt, as well as foods with a high sugar content.
What Gets Rid Of Muscle Cramps Fast?
In terms of an ongoing muscle cramp, foods may not work as fast as you would like – they work best as a preventative measure. That aside, some quick home remedies for a leg cramp include
- Stretch and administer self massage – Stretching helps with loosening of the contracted muscle. A self massage can be done with a roller or just your hands.
- A heat pad – Heat helps relieve the pain.
- Use something cold – Cold helps loosen the tight muscle which stops the tightening and contraction.
- Take a painkiller.
Magnesium For Leg Cramps: Does It Work?
Like potassium, magnesium is another nutrient hailed for its benefits, especially in relation to leg cramps – and with good reason. A study published by the Nutrients journal revealed that not only does this nutrient have DNA and RNA synthesis, reproduction, protein synthesis abilities, but is also essential in the regulation of muscular contraction blood pressure, insulin metabolism, cardiac excitability, vasomotor tone, nerve transmission and neuromuscular conduction (5).
Foods rich in magnesium include dark chocolate, dried fruit, mackerel, avocado, dark leafy greens, natural yoghurt as well as nuts and seeds.
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The Bottom Line
Foods that help with muscle cramps are essential for anyone who already deals with such a condition, especially athletes and people who exercise regularly. The best thing about such foods is that they should be easily accessible to anyone without regard to economic or social status. With that being said, be sure to see a doctor if your cramps are exceedingly severe, come with swelling, don’t improve with at home remedies or happen frequently.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Bananas, ripe and slightly ripe, raw (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fish, salmon, Atlantic, wild, raw (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Muscle Cramps (2021, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Muscle Cramps Do Not Improve With Correction of Vitamin D Insufficiency (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Nocturnal Leg Cramps (2012, aafp.org)
- Nuts, coconut water (liquid from coconuts) (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Reduction of delayed onset muscle soreness by a novel curcumin delivery system (Meriva®): a randomised, placebo-controlled trial (2014, jissn.biomedcentral.com)
- Reflex inhibition of electrically induced muscle cramps in hypohydrated humans (2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Sardines, skinless, boneless, packed in water (2020, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Spices, turmeric, ground (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Sweet potato, cooked, boiled, without skin (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- The Chemical Composition and Biological Properties of Coconut (Cocos nucifera L.) Water (2009, mdpi.com)
- Watermelon, raw (2019, fdc.nal.usda.gov)
- Will tonic water prevent nighttime leg cramps? (2019, health.harvard.edu)