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Muscle cramps: Do they cramp your style?

Muscle cramps: Do they cramp your style?

     What causes muscles cramps? How can we prevent them? And why, when a group of athletes are doing the same amount of exercise in the same conditions, do some athletes cramp and others do not?

Speaking at the American Medical Athletic Associations’ Sports Medicine Conference prior to the Boston Marathon, exercise physiologist Bob Murray PhD reported those questions are hard to answer because studying spontaneous muscle cramps is difficult. It’s hard to make a muscle cramp on demand. Plus, cramps generally dissipate within seconds or minutes, before they can be studied.

We do know there are different types of muscle cramps: some are associated with exercise, others happen at night. Some cramps “twitch,” others as “stiff.” But all are painful and accompanied by a knotting of the muscle. About 68% of triathletes and 30% to 50% of runners complain about muscle cramps during exercise, and 50% of runners complain about leg cramps happening at night, at least once a week.

We also know that exercise-associated muscle cramps tend to occur in active muscles that are fatigued, hyperthermic (overheated), and dehydrated. The nerves that control muscle contractions seem to stop functioning normally. Hence, the current thinking is cramps are related to the nervous system failing to tell the muscle to contracting.

What are some ways to get muscle to stop cramping? In some people, some of the time, relief is found with stretching, better hydration, increased salt intake, massage, pinching the upper lip, and spicy/bitter/pungent foods like pickle juice, mustard, kimchi, apple cider vinegar, and quinine. How pickle juice and other pungent foods work is unknown, but believed to trigger an inhibitory neural (nerve) reflex that reduces activity in the cramping muscle.

Research with a product called #itsthenerve (www.itstheneve.com) suggests this combination of pungent foods can abate muscle cramps (fewer cramps, shorter duration). Cramp-prone athletes who have taken the product offer positive testimonials. Whether reduced cramping is due to placebo or the product, who knows! But the cramp-prone athletes they don’t care; their cramps are gone!

Hydration Update: Sports drinks, Sweat Rate & Caffeine

Hydration Update: Sports drinks, Sweat Rate & Caffeine

I always like to attend (and present at) sports medicine conferences. Before the Boston Marathon, I enjoyed the American Medical Athletic Association’s sports medicine meeting and particularly liked the hydration talk presented by Brendon McDermott PhD ATC, assistant professor at the University of Arkansas.  Here are some key pointers:

• The main audience for sports drinks is not athletes but the average person, especially kids. The selling of sports drinks is a big business, targeted to a much larger audience than athletes to get many more sales. Yet, proper hydration is indeed an issue for athletes. McDermott, who is chair of the upcoming National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Position Statement on Fluid Replacement for the Physically Active, reported that 65% to 85% of athletes come to a game or practice underhydrated.

• Athletes, particularly those who sweat heavily, learn their sweat rate by weighing themselves (nude) before and after a one-hour workout. Any weight loss reflects water (sweat) loss. Normal thirst prompts athletes to replace only 2/3 of what gets lost during exercise.

• If your weight drops two pounds during a workout, you have lost 32 ounces (one quart) of sweat. Some athletes may lose only half a quart (16 ounces) of sweat during an hour-long workout; others may lose four quarts. Your goal should be to lose less than 2% of your body weight during exercise (three pounds for a 150-pound athlete). Weighing IN and weighing OUT is a good way to learn how well you balance your fluid intake.

• The problem with inadequate fluid replacement is, as you get dehydrated, you feel worse, slow down, and perform worse. While many people think that dehydration causes internal body temperature to rise, McDermott said that is not always the case. The intensity of exercise is the main predictor of body temperature. You can be well-hydrated but still get over-heated.

• Caffeine is not dehydrating. Yes, caffeine increases short-term urine production, but it does not lead to dehydration. Here’s why: Caffeine stimulates the bladder to contract; this increases the urge to urinate. This water (urine) in your bladder has already been used by your body. Hence, coffee stimulates the bladder to empty sooner —but you do not need more fluid than if you had consumed a caffeine-free beverage.

 

For more information, read the chapter on Fluids in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook

Weight fluctuations

Weight fluctuations

Nancy, my weight fluctuates a lot — from 122 pounds in the morning to 127 pounds in the afternoon. Is that normal?

Yes, you can easily gain 5 pounds during a day — but it’s not 5 pounds of fat. It’s 5 pounds of water and food. Just drinking a 16-ounce bottle of plain water will contribute to one pound of weight-gain on the scale. That’s because your stomach is like a balloon: light when filled with air, heavy when filled with water. Hence, the only time to weigh yourself to get a true weight is first thing in the morning, after you have gone to the bathroom and before you eat or drink anything. Not at the end of the day.

If you compulsively weigh yourself two or three times a day, give it up! You won’t benefit from driving yourself crazy by seeing your weight go higher and higher during the day. You might want to hide the scale in the trunk of your car, and use it only once a week, if at all. Your better bet is to judge weight changes by how you feel, if your clothes are looser, and if you see less fat in the mirror.

What to eat the week before the Boston Marathon

What to eat the week before the Boston Marathon

Your training may be done, but your can still enhance your performance by eating wisely, Here are answers to some questions you might have about how to eat the week before the marathon.

Question: I’m getting nervous about what to eat the week before the Boston Marathon, as well as what to eat on race day. Should I be carb-loading or doing something different??? Continue Reading

Considering Quinoa ?

Considering Quinoa ?

Written by guest blogger Emily McGourty

Quinoa, pronounced keen-wah, originated in South America, and has gained popularity in the United States over the past few years. Though it is considered a grain, quinoa is technically in the same family as leafy greens such as spinach and Swiss chard. It looks and tastes like a cross between rice and couscous, but has a slightly nutty flavor. Continue Reading

Fueling during long runs

Fueling during long runs

Nancy, how many calories should I try to consume during my long training runs, in preparation for my first marathon? I will be out there for at least four hours…

Answer: Each person’s body is so different, so it’s hard to make precise fueling rules. In general, a heavier person needs more calories than a lighter person, and some runners can tolerate more fuel than others. Here is a target plan: Continue Reading

The dreaded weight-loss plateau…

The dreaded weight-loss plateau…

Nancy, I’ve lost 40 pounds and I want to lose another 10 pounds — but I have hit a plateau. I’m so frustrated… what should I do???

Yes, weight plateaus are indeed frustrating for dieters who can’t quite get to their desired weight. Those last five to ten pounds can be tough to shed. Yet, research suggests people do not hit a plateau due to metabolic issues (1). Rather, they find it hard to sustain a lower and lower calorie intake. That is, your body is now lighter than when you started dieting and it requires fewer calories. The lighter you are, the less you get to eat. That is not much fun, is it?

If you are battling a weight-loss plateau, these suggestions might be helpful:

—Assess if you really do have more fat to lose. Maybe what you see as “fat” is actually “flesh” (with empty fat cells)? This is particularly true for reduced obese people who have lost 100 pounds or so and they have a lot of skin flapping around their mid-section.

—Pay attention to how much you are actually eating. Baby carrots might be a healthy snack for dieters, but carrots are not “free.” If you eat the whole 16-ounce bag of carrots, you are eating 175 calories. Yes, even “healthy foods” have calories that add up and need to be counted…

— Perhaps you have become a “sedentary athlete.” That is, after you have fervently exercised for an hour each morning, do you then sit for the rest of the day? One hour of exercise does not compensate for a day dominated by sedentary behavior. Maybe an exercise tracker or a step counter could inspire you to move more during the entire day?

–Perhaps you could start lifting weights (if you do not already do so) to build muscle. Muscle is an active tissue that burns more calories than does body fat. During weight loss, you lose muscle. The less muscle you have, the less food you can eat. By lifting weights to curb further loss of muscle—as well as rebuild the muscle you lost while dieting, you will not only become stronger, but will also boost your calorie burn.

 

For more help with weight management, read the chapter on “How to Lose Weight and Have Energy to Exercise” in my Sports Nutrition Guidebook.

Wanted: Host sites for sports nutrition workshop near Miami, Orlando and Gainesville

Wanted: Host sites for sports nutrition workshop near Miami, Orlando and Gainesville

For our 2016-17 Fall-Winter workshop series, we are looking for a medical facility, health club or college that would enjoy hosting “Nutrition for Sports, Exercise & Weight Management: What Really Works and Why.” I co-lead this workshop with exercise physiologist John Ivy.

We are flexible, but ideally would like to hold the workshopa in the vicinity of:

Orlando

Tampa

Miami

Gainesville

If you know of a facility with a conference room/lecture hall that holds about 100 people for this workshop that goes from Friday (8:00 to 4:30) and Saturday morning (7:00 to 12:30), please contact me at nclarkrd@rcn.com. We trade the room for some free registrations for the staff at the facility.

Thanks for your help!

Nancy Clark

www.NutritionSportsExerciseCEUs.com

Post-workout beer….?

Post-workout beer….?

Nancy, I work hard, train hard, and want to enjoy a post workout beer. Can I enjoy it guilt-free?

Answer: I am not concerned about a post-workout beer (or two), as long as you consume them responsibly. That means:

–First drink some water to quench your thirst and replace sweat losses. (Beer has a dehydrating effect.)
–Consume some carbohydrates with the beer (pretzels?) to refuel depleted muscles. (Beer is a poor source of carbohydrates: only 50 calories of carbs but 100 calories of alcohol per can of beer)
–Consume a balanced meal either with, or soon after, drinking the beer (to buffer the alcohol and to offer protein to repair the muscles).

While I have few concerns about your enjoying one post-workout beer alongside a wholesome sports meal, I do not recommend you drink beer for your post-workout meal! Moderation is always the best policy.

Drink wisely, fuel your body well, and win with good nutrition.

Are fat-free foods, like skim milk and fat-free salad dressing, wise additions to a sports diet?

Are fat-free foods, like skim milk and fat-free salad dressing, wise additions to a sports diet?

Nancy, are fat-free foods, like skim milk and fat-free salad dressing, wise additions to my sports diet? Or should I choose 2% milk and olive oil dressings?

The answer to that question depends on what other foods are in the entire meal. The goal is to not eat fat-free meals! That is, a fat-free breakfast of cereal with skim milk can leave you feeling “unfed” and hankering for a donut or two by 9:30 a.m. In comparison, choosing 2% milk with the cereal could help you feel satiated. Better yet, add whole grain toast with all-natural peanut butter to the breakfast and you will be truly content.

Similarly, eating a salad with fat-free dressing can leave you hankering for cookies—unless you toss in some quality calories, such as avocado, chopped walnuts, tuna and extra-virgin olive oil. Including some health-promoting fat in each meal and snack can actually help save you calories in the long run if it calms the cookie monster.

Should I avoid peanut butter because it is so high in fat?

No! Research suggests people who eat nuts and peanut butter are not fatter than people who avoid those foods. While the majority of calories in peanut butter do come from fat, the good news is the fat is primarily poly- and mono-unsaturated (only 1 g sat-fat per tablespoon of all-natural peanut butter). Peanut and other nut-butters protect against heart disease and diabetes, two diseases related to inflammation. Like all fats, enjoy nut butters in portions that fit within your calorie budget.

I consider peanut butter to be one of the best sports foods (and diet foods) around, not just because it knocks down inflammation, but because it is yummy and satiating. That is, a lunchtime low-fat turkey sandwich leaves me hankering for dessert, but a peanut butter and honey sandwich leaves me feeling satiated for several hours; no snacks needed!

 

For more information: Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

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