The warm weather is trying to break through to us and we’re all itching to run and/or bike. You may be at particularly at risk for cramping at this time of year though. Why? First some background on salts, muscles and muscular contractions.
Salts (aka electrolytes) specifically potassium, sodium, and especially calcium are key components of muscular contractions. Without them we may either experience muscular weakness or uncontrolled muscular contractions–cramping. We get these salts through our food and drink. We tend to lose these salts through sweating. Prolonged exercise and/or exercise in the heat typically requires us to consume more salts than we would during short bouts of exercise or exercise in the cold. Now, on to the particulars of cold-to-warm weather issues.
As it turns from cold to warm weather, our bodies are also adjusting the degree to which we sweat out our salts. During the cold, our bodies will fork over the salt quite readily. We retain more salts during the warm weather. So let’s say we get a nice warm day and we decide to get in a long run or ride. We may be exercising like it’s warm but we may be sweating out salts like it’s cold. This is prime time for cramping.
Here are some ideas to avoid cramps:
- Salt your food. You’re an exercising athlete and you need salt. Unless you have high blood pressure, you should be fine.
- Keep a sports drink with you. Drink when thirsty and stop when you’re satiated.
- Eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. These contain electrolytes.
- Don’t overhydrate. Too much water will dilute the salts in your body.
- Consume dairy products. Calcium is important for bones but it’s also massively important for muscular contractions. It’s rarely found in sports drinks though.
- Ease into warm weather activities. Your body will adjust to retain salts if given some time.