If I were to ask a group of athletes to raise a hand if they have ever had a “cramp” before I’m guessing almost everyone would claim that it has happened to them at one point or another in their athletic journey.
Cramps are such a bummer! They can be excruciating and they can bring you to a screeching halt. I think it’s safe to say that over the years cramps have been the reason for many people’s missed PR’s and lost races.
Cramps are frustrating and they frustrate scientists as well. Lots of resources have been dedicated to uncovering the final and main cause of cramping. It’s been thought that over-exertion, dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, neuromuscular alterations, glucose deficiency, and more have contributed to cramps. It’s not my aim to be an expert in this particular topic, but rather to explain the two main theories in a digestible way and to give some personal insight into how we can try to avoid cramps.
First, it’s important to note that in this blog we are discussing Exercise Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) which differ from other cramps such as nocturnal muscle cramps. Two main theories exist to explain why EAMCs occur.
1. Fluid and Electrolyte Deficits
The cramps that theoretically would happen from this type of deficit would be considered a heat cramp. Heat cramps are often described as “locking up” and involve a large muscle group. What theoretically happens in this case is that when an athlete sweats a tremendous amount, the body will try to compensate for the electrolyte and fluid loss by moving fluids from outside of the blood vessels, through the capillary walls into the blood vessels to continue to feed normal body function. It is thought that it is this shift in fluid that confuses the body, specifically the neuromuscular junctions. When these neuromuscular junctions become too excited, the body’s electrical signals responsible for moving muscles become confused and can create muscle cramps.
2. Neuromuscular Control Becomes Altered
In this theory, neuromuscular control becomes altered and the muscle spindle (which monitors the stretch placed on our muscles) becomes excited and the golgi tendon organs (which monitors the tension in our muscles) becomes inhibited, in turn, the alpha motor neuron activity is abnormal. In other words, our body allows our muscles to create a massive contraction with limited feedback because the structures that normally limit that type of contraction are confused and functioning abnormally. This is the cramp.
What Can We Do?
Here’s the thing, the remedies to help with cramping aren’t going to hurt you. In fact, many of them help in other ways as well.
Stretch: Stretching helps increase tension in the Golgi tendon organ and thereby can help with that neuromuscular feedback mishap. Stretching has also shown to have other physiological benefits linked with recovery and mobility.
Hydrate w/Electrolytes: Even if this isn’t the cause of cramping, it is still definitely a way to improve performance so you should be aiming to optimize your hydration anyways!
HOTSHOT is an official partner of The Feed High Performance Team and they are really on the forefront of research when it comes to cramping and preventing cramps! If you notice in the above explanations of the trigger of cramps, both types of cramps, regardless of the trigger end up with some sort of neuromuscular miss-firing. This is where Hotshots comes in. HOTSHOT explains that cramps are at the nerve, not the muscle. HOTSHOT works by stimulating the Transient Receptor Potential in the sensory nerves in the mouth and upper GI tract, that would reduce the hyperexcitability of the motor nerves causing the cramps! Hotshots boasts that when using the product correctly they have seen a 50% decrease in cramps in heavy crampers!
Still skeptical? That’s ok. Why not try it? What excites me the most about Hotshots and why I was so willing and eager to give it a try is that I recognize the ingredients including organic lime juice, ginger extract, and sea salt AND the product is NSF certified meaning that the product has been tested and certified for quality, purity, and safety.
You can buy HOTSHOT on The Feed website using my landing page with a $15 credit. https://thefeed.com/teams/hannah-finchamp-the-feed