Cramps are painful, involuntary contraction of muscles. In runners, a common site of muscle cramps is in the calf (gastrocnemius and soleus muscle). Cramping may occur either during a run or after it. Many people experience the onset of cramps hours after a run, especially while sleeping at night involuntary contraction of the calf muscle causes intense pain and may even cause the ankle to flex. Cramps cause the muscle to go into spasm, which inhibits blood flow to the area. The decreased blood flow makes it difficult for oxygen and nutrients to be delivered to the muscle.
- Low electrolyte levels
- Muscle fatigue
- Muscle tightness
- Hydration: water consumption before a work-out, during it, and after it. If a work-out is longer than one hour, then consider a fluid that contains either carbohydrates or a carbohydrate and protein blend. Weigh yourself before your work-out and after it, and consume 20 ounces of fluid for every pound lost during a work-out.
- Electrolyte replacement: electrolytes aid in proper muscle contraction and are lost through sweat. Sweat contains water and vital minerals, such as sodium, magnesium, and potassium, which need to be replaced in the body. Drinking beverages such as NUUN, and other sports drinks is a convenient way to rehydrate and replenish lost electrolytes during a work-out and after it. Energy supplements such as GU, chews, and Chomps also contain electrolytes. Salt tablets may also be beneficial during a prolonged work-out.
- Compression: the use either of a compression sock or of a compression sleeve during a work-out can help decrease the risk of cramping. Compression reduces extraneous movement of the calf muscles, which decreases the total effort of the muscle and helps to prevent fatigue. It also helps to increase blood flow to the area, which keeps the muscle in rich supply of oxygen.
- Arch support: an unsupported arch can cause the muscle of the calf to work harder than it should work, which may increase the risk of fatigue.
- Stretching: gentle stretching of the muscle at the time of the cramp can help to decrease it. Even after the cramp has subsided in the muscle, the muscle may remain tight and should be stretched.
- Massage: gentle massage at the onset of the cramp may help to increase blood flow to the area and break up the spasm. Once the cramp has subsided, the muscle may remain tight and should be massaged to help realign muscle tissue and restore normal function.
- Ice / Heat: at the onset of a calf cramp, the application of ice may help to reduce the pain and spasm. If muscle tightness continues for days after the initial cramp, then the use of heat may help to relax the muscle through increased blood flow to the area.