Weight Lifting, Protein Shakes & Muscle Cramps

Man massaging shoulder, mid section
Muscle cramps can be painful and distracting during and after exercise. (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

As you follow your weekly weight lifting routine, it is likely that at some point you will experience annoying or even painful muscle cramps. Cramps, also called muscle spasms, are uncontrollable contractions of muscle fibers. These misfires are common after bouts of intense exercise, and they signal that something is wrong in the regulatory system that controls your muscles. Although they can inhibit optimal performance, most cases of cramps are harmless and easily treated.

Hydration and Electrolytes

Many factors can cause cramping, and one of the most commonly cited causes associated with weight lifting is dehydration. Excessive sweating, especially in hot weather or when not mitigated by proper diet and hydration, can deplete your muscles’ store of the water and electrolytes they need for energy, especially sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. If you lose too much fluid and salt, you will not only have lower performance and tire more easily, but also the ions in your nerves that regulate contraction will be disrupted, and cramps will become more likely.

Protein Shake Treatment

Drinking water during intense exercise routines like weight lifting or aerobic training is important, and sports drinks with carbs and electrolytes can be especially helpful. But it is just as important to get the right things in your body before and after exercise. Luckily, it is easy to combine these needs with your pre- or post-workout protein shake. For added sodium, you can sprinkle 1/2 teaspoon of table salt into the smoothie. Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale will blend easily and boost your magnesium and calcium, while bananas can give you potassium and flavor.

Muscle Fatigue

However, although hydration and electrolytes play important roles in muscle regulation, they are probably not the most common cause of muscle cramps. If, during or after weight lifting, you experience spasms in the muscles you have been working the hardest, such as in the thigh after doing squats, the cause is most likely fatigue. Your muscles’ reflex control can diminish as you grow tired, causing muscle twitching and spasms during exercise. Even in recovery, exhausted muscles are more likely to cramp because, counterintuitive as it may seem, your muscles need energy to relax.

Tips for Cramps

One of the simplest ways to prevent muscle cramps is to avoid overtraining. Spacing out your weight lifting sessions with at least 48 hours of rest in between will go a long way toward avoiding dehydration and fatigue. When you are experiencing cramps, try lightly stretching the muscle, which can signal to your brain and regulatory nerves that it is time to relax. In rare cases, muscle spasms can be a sign of metabolic or neurological disorders. If they persist or become excessive, seek the advice of a medical professional. If you experience frequent leg muscle cramps mixed with sudden episodes of shortness of breath, seek medical attention immediately.

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