You could get leg cramps any time, though they are most likely to occur while you're working your leg muscles during exercise. Your muscles require more minerals when they're being used for physical exercise. According to Enette Larson-Mayer, author of "Vegetarian Sports Nutrition," muscle cramps occur when you are mineral deficient. Muscles require adequate amounts of sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium in particular to function without cramping. To prevent leg cramps, consume plenty of foods rich in these minerals.
Leg Cramps During Exercise
Leg cramps that occur randomly are usually caused by mineral deficiency, but those that occur specifically during exercise could also result from inadequate blood supply to the muscles. These cramps go away once you stop exercising, whereas cramps caused by mineral deficiencies typically don't go away until you've replenished your body with adequate minerals. Especially during long endurance training and sporting events, it's important to replenish with sports drinks, fruits or other snacks containing electrolytes.
Your body requires sodium to maintain normal fluid balance and regulate blood pressure. Sodium also works together with other electrolytes for muscle contraction and nervous system function. If you're sodium deficient, your body will most likely tell you by causing you to crave salty foods. In this case, you can eat salted tortilla chips or any other salty foods. After sweating during prolonged endurance workouts, you lose a lot of sodium as well as water, so wash down your salted foods with plenty of water.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, adults need 4,700 milligrams of potassium every day. Potassium is critical for proper nervous system and muscular function, which is why your muscles can cramp if you're deficient. Consuming too much potassium by taking supplements that greatly exceed the recommended daily value of 4,700 milligrams, however, also poses a threat to your nervous system and even the muscular functioning of your heart. Since most foods contain potassium, you should be able to get enough if you're consuming potassium-rich foods daily. Whole foods like fruits, vegetables, milk and fish are rich sources of potassium. Bananas, melons, citrus fruits and avocados are potassium-dense fruits, while potatoes, sweet potatoes and winter squash are your go-to veggies for potassium.
Calcium plays a crucial role in muscular contraction, including in your heart and blood vessels. It also plays a role in nerve impulse generation. If you're calcium deficient, you may experience muscle cramps or impaired muscle contraction. According to the National Institutes of Health, the average adult needs about 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. You can get 244 milligrams of calcium in a 200-milliliter glass of skimmed milk. The most calcium-rich vegetables are dark, leafy greens. Almonds, figs, yogurt and cheese are also good sources.
Magnesium is a mineral that stabilizes adenosine triphosphate, which is the energy source that fuels muscular contraction. Feeling weak, cramps and muscle twitches are signs of magnesium deficiency. Increase your intake by eating beans and legumes, nuts and seeds, whole grains, bananas and dark, leafy greens.