“One should eat to live, not live to eat" -Benjamin Franklin
I have been a very busy therapist lately and my blog has taken a back seat, but now I am having a quiet spell its time to relax, rejuvenate and blog!
I will write a series of blogs about nutrition, focusing on common problems I encounter as a massage therapist. I’m not a nutritionist however, so the information I give is just a guideline, please see a qualified nutritionist or medic if you feel you are suffering from any deficiencies.
Most of us at some time or another will have experienced cramp in our muscles, characterised by an involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscle that does not relax. Commonly occurring at night, or at the end of a rigorous exercise session, they most often take place in the muscles of the legs or feet (though can effect any muscle in the body). They can last between a few seconds and up to around 15 minutes and they can be shockingly painful, often leaving the muscle feeling sore for days afterwards. If you suffer frequently with cramp then it may be time to consider looking at your diet and possibly supplementing it with certain essential minerals.
Potassium plays an important role in electrolyte regulation, nerve function, muscle control, and blood pressure. Primarily, potassium functions to regulate water and mineral balance throughout the body. Potassium deficiencies are rare, but can occur with conditions such as fasting, diarrhea, and regular diuretic use. In such cases, low blood–potassium concentrations, can lead to muscle cramps and weakness. Potassium rich foods include: Bananas, avocadoes, potatoes (with the skin), dried apricots, green leafy vegetables, fish, yoghurt, sweet potatoes, orange juice.
Magnesium helps all the muscles of the body to function optimally, and to contract in a normal, healthy way. It is also important for exercise performance. Magnesium levels are decreased by excess alcohol, salt, coffee, phosphoric acid in carbonated drinks, profuse sweating, prolonged or intense stress, chronic diarrhea, excessive menstruation, diuretics (water pills), antibiotics and other drugs, and some intestinal parasites. In the modern world we often reach for the fast food, and diets high in white flour, meat, and dairy (all of which have no magnesium), may lead to deficiency. Great sources are:
Sea vegetables, dark leafy greens (spinach, chard, kale) wheat bran, wheat germ, almonds, cashews, buckwheat, brazil nuts, millet, pecans, walnuts, rye, tofu, soy beans, brown rice, figs, dates, shrimp, avocado, parsley, beans, barley and garlic.
Magnesium is also absorbed through the skin- Epsom salts baths are therefore another great source!
Around 99% of the calcium in the body stays in the bones and teeth, but the other 1% stays in the blood and cells, where it affects muscle contraction and nerve transmission. High calcium levels can cause muscle twitching and weakness, while low calcium levels can prompt spontaneous muscle cramping that can lead to severe spasms. Low levels of calcium in our bodies can be caused by: the menopause, thyroid problems, some prescription drugs, being vegan or a low fat diet.
The average adult needs about 1,000 milligrams of calcium daily. You can get 244 milligrams of calcium in a 200-ml glass of skimmed milk. Other calcium rich foods are green, leafy vegetables such as kale, watercress and broccoli, almonds, figs, yogurt and cheese.
Without sodium, your muscles wouldn't work, as sodium is necessary for the body to generate nerve impulses. These impulses tell the muscle whether to contract or expand. Sodium is found in salt and we therefore tend to get most of what we need through the food we eat. However, sodium leaves the body in through our urine and also escapes through sweat. So if we tend to urinate or sweat frequently we can become deficient in sodium and hence get cramps. It is very unlikely that you would become deficient in sodium unless you are an athlete in training, in which case, some sports drinks contain electrolytes, such as sodium, to help prevent cramps and fatigue.
There are other factors that can be lined to cramps too, being very active or very inactive, drinking too little or too much water, and not stretching our muscles. Try doing regular stretching exercises of the muscles that are affected, don’t wear high heel shoes, drink around 2lt of water per day- more if you are sweating. Too much water can dilute the nutrients we are taking in through food, so listen to your body and it is far better to take regular sips throughout the day than to down a pint in one go!