Has this even happened to you?
Maybe you’re relaxing in bed or sitting on the sofa watching your favorite show and BAM! Suddenly a painful muscle cramp grabs ahold of your leg, and you’re doubled over yelping in pain.
Most people experience painful muscle cramps, or Charley horses, from time to time. But for some folks it happens more often.
And while the activities that trigger them can be as varied as the colors in a Crayola box, the reason for frequent muscle cramps often boils down to one thing. And that’s diet.
Now an isolated muscle cramp may simply be the result of overworking a muscle, of course. But not getting enough potassium, magnesium or water is often behind chronic cases of cramping.
Potassium and muscle cramps
Potassium is the nutrient most often associated with those knotted up and painful muscles we all live in fear of. This essential mineral is an electrolyte.
That means it basically plays the role of messenger, helping your muscles and nerves communicate by conducting electricity. And it’s, also, essential for both skeletal and smooth muscle contractions.
While many folks get enough potassium through their diet, if you often get muscle cramps you may not be getting enough. Or if you’re taking a diuretic that makes you urinate often, your levels may have dropped too low.
Dehydration can play a role too. The loss of electrolytes, including potassium, can trigger muscle weakness and cramps. If you suspect this is what’s causing your case, be sure to have a chat with your doctor about it.
Luckily, you can easily raise your potassium levels by eating the right foods. I’ll have more on that in a moment. But first let’s talk about magnesium.
Magnesium and muscle cramps
Magnesium is another essential mineral. It’s involved in over 300 critical functions in your body including regulating your heartbeat.
But most folks don’t realize magnesium plays a crucial role in nerve and muscle health throughout your body too. In fact, if your magnesium levels dip too low your muscles lose flexibility and can’t relax effectively. This can trigger painful muscle cramps.
Magnesium deficiencies are quite common. One expert estimates that up to 80 percent of us may not be getting enough. But doctors seldom check for them, which is why they’re so often overlooked.
The good news is just like with potassium, you can typically raise your magnesium levels by eating the right foods.
Defeat muscle cramps with these 5 foods
Following are our picks for the top five foods for raising your potassium and magnesium levels to fight off painful muscle cramps.
1. Black beans:
You get a double dose of protection against muscle cramps whenever you choose black beans. You only need to eat a cup of these nutrient-packed beans to get around 610 mg of potassium and 120 mg of magnesium.
That’s equal to 13 percent of your recommended daily value (DV) for potassium and nearly 30 percent of your DV for magnesium.
Try tossing them into a green salad or mixing them into some brown rice with some cayenne pepper and cilantro.
Not a big black bean fan? No problem, try kidney beans instead. Like their kissing cousins black beans, they’re rich in both potassium and magnesium. One cup of kidney beans delivers nearly 16 percent of your DV for potassium (around 716 mg) and almost 18 percent of your DV for magnesium (around 74 mg).
2. Sweet potatoes:
When most folks think about potassium-rich foods bananas come to mind. And while bananas are a decent source of this important mineral, they’re far from the best. In fact, sweet potatoes contain far more of this critical electrolyte.
One cup of baked sweet potato contains an incredible 950 mg of potassium. That’s equal to nearly 21 percent of your DV. That banana will only get you to around nine percent or 422 mg.
You’ll also be picking up about 54 mg of magnesium, around 12 percent of your DV.
Like beans, watermelon can help build up your levels of both of these cramp-fighting minerals.
Load up on two cups, or a small slice, of watermelon and you’ll be getting a bit more than seven percent of your DV for potassium (about 340 mg) and around eight percent of your DV for magnesium (around 30 mg). And since watermelon is terrific for you go ahead and have a second slice.
Fight off those painful muscle cramps with creamy delicious avocado.
Depending on the size of the fruit, you could be loading up on between 30 and 35 percent of your DV for potassium. Around two cups of avocado contains about 1,454 milligrams of the mineral.
And a whole fruit will deliver around 86 milligrams of magnesium, or 20 percent of your DV.
Spinach is an excellent source of both potassium and magnesium. One cup of this delicious green veggie will provide around 17 percent of your DV for potassium (around 838 mg). And that same cup contains nearly 37 percent of your DV for magnesium, or around 156 mg.
For variety, trying mixing some of these “runner up” foods into your diet…
- Pecans: 205 mg of potassium, 60 mg of magnesium (1/2 cup)
- Cherries: 222 mg potassium, 11 mg magnesium (2 cups)
- Almonds: 162 mg potassium, 61 mg magnesium (1/2 cup)
- Asparagus: 403 mg potassium, 25 mg magnesium (1 cup)
Be sure to choose organic foods whenever possible. Poor farming practices have stripped our soil of many of the important minerals we need including potassium and magnesium. Organic foods typically have higher levels of these and other nutrients.
Remember to stay hydrated, especially if you’re doing something that makes you sweat a lot.
And don’t forget, since an underlying medical condition such as poor circulation can cause muscle cramps, your first order of business should be to check with your doctor to make sure you’re healthy. And if you’re interested in taking a magnesium or potassium supplement, he can test your levels and give you advice about how much to take.