“Muscle cramps are part of the iron game—but preventable.”
THERE ARE NUMEROUS causes for muscle twitching and cramping, but the most common one is an imbalance of electrolytes, which often include sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. Electrolyte gradients are what charge nerve firing and muscle contraction just like in a battery. When these electrolytes are out of balance, the control of the nerve and muscle discharge becomes out of sync. Thus, muscles fire without the nerve, and nerves fire without being told to by your brain. Intense training, the type where you pour buckets of sweat, can cause electrolyte imbalances.
Training in excessive heat can exacerbate the fluid and electrolyte loss. The result can be muscle twitching, or an excruciating cramp or Charlie horse (if you’ve ever been awoken by a calf cramp, you know how bad that is).
So what’s your play? Consider replacing electrolytes and fluids with a sports drink, banana, or supplementation. If you get cramps regularly, a potassium and magnesium supplement might do the trick. Additionally, double check that you’re getting a daily dose of calcium and vitamin D, and salt your food as needed.
In some cases, the electrolyte loss can be due to medications, such as diuretics for blood pressure or beta-blockers for asthma. Some cholesterol medications (statins) can also cause leg cramps that tend to manifest at night. Your doctor should know if your meds might be contributing to your twitchy or cramping muscles. So when in doubt, ask. Sometimes the fix can be as easy as prescribing an alternative or adjunctive medications like potassium pills or coenzyme Q10.
Overtraining can be another culprit. Whether you’re using too much volume or intensity, or you’re not allowing for adequate recovery, the neuromuscular fatigue—fatigue of the muscle or nerve supply of that muscle—can lead to increased excitability of the muscle where the by-product is twitching and cramping. Change up your training and allow fatigued muscle groups to rest. Additionally, dedicate more focus to getting better sleep and whole-food nutrition. Eat more leafy, green veggies such as kale and spinach, which are rich in antioxidants and phytonutrients.