A variety of nutritional factors can lead to cramping in your legs, including hydration issues, vitamin or mineral deficiencies or an electrolyte imbalance. Provided the cramps are not caused by an underlying medical condition, such as multiple sclerosis or neurological injury, these issues are relatively simple to address by making adjustments to your diet.
Make Sure You're Hydrated
Dehydration, or having an insufficient amount of water in your body, is a common cause of leg cramps. According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, dehydration is likely to occur if you exercise in hot weather, as you lose a lot of water to sweating. This water loss also takes with it vital salts and minerals, which are also referred to as electrolytes, including potassium, magnesium and calcium, which regulate muscle fiber activity. Make sure to always have water on hand when you are exercising to help minimize your risk of cramping.
Calcium is an important regulator in muscle fiber activity. Calcium deficiency has myriad causes, such as a diet that is very high in protein or vitamins A, C and B complex. Some medical issues, such as kidney problems or celiac disease can cause you to need more dietary calcium. There are a wide variety of calcium-rich foods you can add to your diet to increase your intake: Collard greens, sardines, skim-milk ricotta, low-fat milk and yogurt, almond milk and fortified fruit juices all have significant amounts of calcium per serving.
Magnesium deficiency in the body often happens in tandem with a calcium deficiency. A lack of magnesium tends to occur when you eat a lot of refined grain products with the nutritious germ removed, or you don't include enough vegetables, meat or nuts in your diet. Nuts that are high in magnesium include almonds, cashews and peanuts, while legumes such as black beans, edamame and kidney beans are also good sources. Boiled spinach, avocado, potato, broccoli and carrot all have useful amounts, as does salmon, halibut and chicken breast.
Possible Potassium Problem
Eating a sufficient amount of potassium facilitates normal nerve function and muscle control. According to a report from Colorado State University, many adults do not eat sufficient amounts of potassium. If you are athletic and regularly involved in long training sessions, you should increase your daily intake of potassium, the report suggests. Good nutritional sources of potassium are nonfat milk, yogurt, apricots, bananas, cantaloupe and orange juice. Other potassium-rich foods include chicken, fish, nuts, leafy green vegetables, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots.
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Muscle Cramp
- Acu-Cell Disorders: Muscle Spasms and Cramps: Nutritional Causes, Treatment Remedies & Prevention
- National Osteoporosis Foundation: A Guide to Calcium-Rich Foods
- National Institutes of Health: Magnesium
- Colorado State University: Potassium and the Diet