Eating These Foods Can Help Prevent Muscle Cramps

Medically reviewed by Simone Harounian, MS

Muscle cramps happen when your muscle tenses up, or contracts, involuntarily. They happen to anybody, but they can be painful and long-lasting, and sometimes, the muscle stays tight. It’s common to get muscle cramps in your legs, but they can happen anywhere in your body.

The exact cause of muscle cramps is unknown but risk factors may include poor physical condition, mineral and electrolyte imbalances due to dehydration and strenuous exercise, and tight, inflexible muscles. Muscle cramps may also happen with menstruation, pregnancy, heavy alcohol use, and certain medications.

Thankfully, there are some foods and drinks that contain a good deal of electrolytes-essential minerals that may make muscle cramps less likely. Here is a list of 15 foods and drinks to include in your diet to prevent muscle cramps.

Milk is high in calcium, which is a mineral that can help you avoid muscle cramps. Calcium is used by your body in many ways, one of which is allowing your muscles to contract and then relax. If you don’t eat or drink enough calcium, you can be more prone to muscle cramps. Milk is also high in vitamin D, which helps your body absorb calcium. Vitamin D found in animal foods, like milk, is absorbed into the bloodstream better than other foods.

Leafy Greens
Leafy greens, especially dark leafy greens, are known to be rich in nutrients. One of the reasons they’re so good for you is that they’re high in potassium, another electrolyte mineral that can help you prevent muscle cramps.

Leafy greens rich in potassium and other electrolytes include spinach, kale, Swiss chard, and collard greens. Potassium also helps your heart to beat normally, and it helps move nutrients into your cells and take the waste products out.

Bone Broth
Bone broth is great for hydration because it’s water-based. And secondly, it contains many electrolyte minerals, like potassium, calcium, magnesium, and sodium. They’re important for all body functions, like proper nerve signaling and muscle movements.

Bone broth is also high in sodium, an essential mineral. While it's dangerous to consume too much of it, you also cannot live without it—and there is some evidence that sodium guidelines are too low for the general population.

Seeds and Nuts
Magnesium is another electrolyte mineral that your body needs to work properly. It’s used to create over 300 enzymes in your body, and without it, you can’t make proteins, move your muscles, control blood sugar, or grow bones. Eating foods with plenty of magnesium can reduce your chances of getting a muscle cramp.

To get plenty of magnesium in your diet, focus on seeds and nuts. Try pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, almonds, cashews, peanuts, and more.

When you think of foods high in potassium, bananas may come to mind. Just one medium banana has over 400 milligrams (mg) of potassium. In addition to that, bananas contain other electrolytes to help you reduce your risk of muscle cramps, including sodium, magnesium, and calcium. Bananas are also a great source of fiber, healthy plant compounds, and vitamins like A, B6, and C.

Avocados have a lot of potassium—nearly 1,000 mg in just one avocado—not to mention healthy fats, calcium, magnesium, and sodium. There is quite a bit of research showing that avocados are superfoods, but it’s important to keep in mind that the majority of the research is funded by the avocado industry. Industry-funded research can be problematic as they have reasons for wanting the research to be positive.

Olives are a great choice if you’re trying to ease the pain of muscle cramps and keep them from coming back. Olives give you a good burst of sodium, which is a mineral you lose when you sweat. In addition, they’re rich in plenty of other minerals, like potassium, magnesium, and calcium. On top of that, olives and olive oil are famous for being heart-healthy.

These fruits meet all the electrolyte criteria and are delicious as well when served in many ways. If you’re not a fan of fresh tomatoes, you may like tomato juice, tomato sauce, or pizza sauce. Just one medium tomato has almost 300 mg of potassium, and plenty of calcium, sodium, and magnesium. In addition, tomatoes get their red color from an antioxidant called lycopene, which may reduce many types of diseases, including cancer.

Salmon is famous for its beautiful bold color and its wealth of nutrition. It’s a cold water fish that is packed with all of the electrolyte minerals you need to reduce your risk of muscle cramps. One 3-ounce (oz) filet of salmon contains all the important minerals like calcium, potassium, sodium, and magnesium, and has many other health benefits as well. Studies show that diets rich in fish, like salmon, are associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline.

Melons like cantaloupe, honeydew, and watermelon are about 90% water, which will hydrate you and protect you from muscle cramps. While each type of melon offers a slightly different nutritional profile, melons contain important minerals that can reduce your risk of muscle cramps, like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and sodium.

Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are about 80% water and contain over 400 mg of potassium in just 1 cup of cubed potato. They also contain protein, fiber, and plenty of vitamin C. All together, the water content and the nutritional value can help you prevent muscle cramps.

Coconut Water
When you sweat you lose both water and electrolytes, especially sodium. The water found naturally inside coconuts is a great source of sodium. Replenishing your water and sodium reserves with refreshing coconut water can be helpful if you’re trying to ease muscle cramps.

Electrolyte Drinks
Eating plenty of fresh foods, like fruits and vegetables, is a good way to get electrolytes in your body, but it might not be enough. If you live in a climate where you sweat a lot, or if you sweat during intense workouts or during your work day, you might have trouble with cramping. In that case, an electrolyte beverage might be the best drink to prevent muscle cramps. For your best bet, look for brands that do not have any added sugar.

All types of beans are high in phosphorus, which is an essential electrolyte mineral. It’s actually the most abundant mineral in your body, second only to calcium. Without phosphorus, you can’t contract and relax your muscles, which is why having plenty of it in your diet helps prevent muscle cramps. Also known for having a lot of fiber, beans are a good addition to your diet. Try some different varieties of beans: black, navy, pinto, red, kidney, Great Northern, and more.

Just like milk, yogurt is high in all of the great electrolyte minerals you need: calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, sodium, and potassium. Whether you like Greek yogurt or plain yogurt, you’ll be getting a good boost from these nutrients, strengthening your bones, and cutting down on your risk of muscle cramps. For a healthy option, look for a brand without added sugar.

Foods to Avoid
Natural foods, like beans, fruits, and vegetables, contain electrolytes to prevent painful muscle cramps. If your diet consists mainly of processed foods, you might be low on those helpful minerals. Heavily processed foods, like fast foods or packaged treats, tend to be low in nutritional value. Avoiding these types of foods, or at least reducing how often you eat them, will be good for your muscles and your overall health.

Other Ways to Reduce Muscle Cramps
The best way to reduce muscle cramps is to stay well-hydrated. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day is important, but if you sweat excessively during work or exercise, consider adding another source of electrolytes, such as broth or an electrolyte drink.

If you’ve tried adding plenty of fresh foods and electrolytes to your diet and you’re still having leg cramps, it’s probably a good idea to reach out to your healthcare provider.

A Quick Review
There are many delicious foods and drinks that are packed with electrolytes to help you prevent muscle cramps. Including a variety each day can give you a good balance of calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium, and sodium. Remember to drink plenty of water too since dehydration is a common cause of muscle cramps.

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