It is estimated that the vast majority of athletes have suffered from cramping at some point. Here are some theories on what causes cramp, and tips on how to avoid muscle cramping during exercise. I have a strong personal interest in learning how to avoid muscle cramping during exercise, because I used to be a chronic sufferer of Exercise Associated Muscle Cramping (EAMC) back when I was competing.
Muscle cramps are very common, affecting between 40 and 95 percent of athletes at some point (depending on which survey you read). As a result, they have been widely studied, yet no one really knows the full story about why they occur.
Despite this, over the last decade I seem to have largely managed my issues with cramp by modifying my behavior, diet and expectations of my body. I did this over time through education and experimentation.
Here are some of the things I’ve picked up along the way in case they help you win your own war on cramping:
Why do I get muscle cramping during exercise?
THE “DEHYDRATION/ELECTROLYTE THEORY”
This theory speculates that a significant disturbance in fluid or electrolyte balance, usually due to a reduction in total body exchangeable sodium stores, causes a contraction of the interstitial fluid compartment around muscles and a misfiring of nerve impulses, leading to cramp.
In simpler terms, if you lose a lot of sodium and don’t replace it (as is common when you sweat a lot), this can cause fluid shifts in the body that in turn cause your muscles to cramp up.