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Supplements for Muscle Cramps & Spasms

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About Supplements for Muscle Cramps & Spasms

When a muscle locks-up involuntarily, particularly a large muscle in the leg like a quad, it can be downright painful to say the least. If you are right in the middle of a set at the gym, it can even be a little embarrassing. While waiting for the muscle to relax and the pain to subside, you might feel that it's a little undeserved, especially if you've been training hard and keeping hydration and a quality diet under control.


There are many reasons why a muscle cramps, spasms or twitches, the most common of which is magnesium insufficiency or deficiency—the former being a mild, yet certainly relevant, type of deficiency. To compare this in terms of finance, a deficiency is when you earn less than your regular weekly expenses, such as food, rent and fuel. Your expenses are greater than your income, meaning that you have a cash deficit (deficiency, meaning a lack or shortage).


A nutrient insufficiency can be compared to financially just getting by, with little room to move. There is enough money to cover the basics of food and rent, yet not enough to buy a coffee or see a film at the cinemas. To put it another way, a deficiency in any nutrient means that illness is likely around the corner. While with an insufficiency, optimal health and chronic disease prevention are not attainable. Magnesium levels are hard to assess, and to really understand if you are low in this important mineral requires checking the level inside the cell (such as red cells)—not serum as is commonly measured. 


One of the most common symptoms of low magnesium levels are cramps, spasms or twitches, which can range from a little twitch in the eyelid to a large muscle like the quadriceps (front thigh) locking up, which is uncomfortable to say the least. Dietary magnesium levels are often lower than they need to be for optimal health in developed nations. This is primarily caused by a high intake of refined grains and less green leafy vegetables. Research published in Nutrition Research in 1991 indicated that 39% of women and 50% of men, living in Australia, consume less than the RDI for this nutrient, setting the stage for deficiency.  


Some of the most valuable dietary sources of this mineral are nuts, cocoa, black beans and pumpkin seeds. In fact, a small palm-full of pumpkin seeds each day can work wonders for restoring magnesium and a host of other nutrients, including zinc. Magnesium helps to relax musculature and helps with the prevention of cramping. However, it takes many months to restore low magnesium levels inside the cell, making it important to supplement consistently over time. Using magnesium as a bandaid treatment for muscle cramps and spasms is unlikely to be effective. Prevention is key.


This mineral also supports calming pathways in the brain, and is known as a GABA-agonist and NMDA-antagonist, supporting the natural sleep molecule Melatonin, as reported in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences 2012. Anti-anxiety effects have also been reported for this nutrient.

Magnesium is generally the best nutrient to try first for muscular cramps, spasms and twitches, though other nutrients, such as potassium, sodium, chloride and adequate clean water may also be crucial. It's a very individual thing. Adequate stretching after exercise is also helpful to keep muscles relaxed. Interestingly, a frank calcium deficiency, which is rare in developed nations (as we do like cheese), can also cause muscle cramps. Taking electrolyte formulations during exercise, labour-intensive or whenever fluids are lost from the body can be a great way to stay hydrated and to keep muscle cramps and spasms away.