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Muscle Cramps in the Legs and Nutritional Deficiencies

author image Laura Niedziocha
Laura Niedziocha began her writing career in 2007. She has contributed material to the Stoneking Physical Therapy and Wellness Center in Lambertville, N.J., and her work has appeared in various online publications. Niedziocha graduated from Temple University with a Bachelor of Science in exercise science. She also has her Associate of Arts in communications from the Community College of Philadelphia.
Muscle Cramps in the Legs and Nutritional Deficiencies
Young adult male with a leg cramp Photo Credit: blyjak/iStock/Getty Images

A muscle cramp with severe pain down the back of your calf can jolt you out of your sleep and cause you to leap out of bed in the middle of the night. Leg cramps can strike anytime, even in the middle of your workout. Sudden pain, muscular tightness and even spasms accompany the cramps. For a quick cure, stop your activity, stretch and massage the cramping muscle. Cramping muscles can signal something missing from your diet.

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Nutritional Deficiencies

According to NYU Langone Medical Center, a nutritional deficiency may cause muscle cramps in your legs. Deficiencies in minerals, such as calcium, potassium, magnesium or sodium, can lead to muscular cramping. Eating a healthy diet that provides adequate minerals can help reduce the occurrence of muscle cramps.

Causes of Mineral Deficiencies

In addition to eating a diet lacking in potassium, magnesium or calcium, medications, such as diuretics, can deplete your body of these essential nutrients. An intense workout can also cause of mineral depletion. Your muscles use minerals to help them contract. Working out hard and for a long period of time can use so much calcium, magnesium and potassium that your stores begin to run low.

Sources and Recommendations

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has recommendations for every vitamin and mineral in your diet. For potassium, the USDA suggests eating 4,700 milligrams per day. Potassium-rich foods include sweet potatoes, tomatoes, soy, yogurt and tuna. Your calcium intake should equal 1,000 milligrams per day. Good sources of calcium include sardines, soy, leafy green vegetables and dairy. A healthy diet also includes 420 milligrams of magnesium per day. Foods high in magnesium include nuts, squash, bran and lima beans.

Nutrient Deficiency and Nerve Damage

You body needs vitamin D to support calcium and phosphorous balance. Vitamin D deficiency causes cramping and muscle weakness, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. UMMC recommends taking vitamin D supplements under your doctor's supervision. Additional vitamin and mineral deficiencies that affect muscles include vitamin E, vitamins B-1, B-7, vitamin E and selenium -- a mineral. Peripheral neuropathy -- nerve damage -- can result from poor nutrition, according to the University of Chicago Center for Peripheral Neuropathy, and can lead to muscle weakness, cramps and spasms. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies known to cause nerve damage that may affect your muscles include vitamin B-6, B-12 and phosphorous. If you have persistent muscle cramping and weakness, speak with your doctor about testing for nutritional deficiencies.

Other Causes

Dehydration can contribute to muscular cramping. If you and you still experience cramping, though you eat enough minerals or have increased your intake of calcium, potassium and magnesium, try drinking more water. You can also try preventing muscle cramps with a regular stretching routine, specifically before and after you exercise. Warming up and cooling down your muscles can help them to recover from strenuous exercise.

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