Leg cramp while dieting - can it be stopped?
May 27, 2008 11:58 PM   Subscribe

Whenever I diet I get cramp in my left calf at night. It's easily cured by standing up but makes me leap out of bed cursing. What's causing it? And is there any way of stopping it? If I've got to buy something, please bear in mind I'm in the UK.

I've tried wearing a support bandage/stocking but, while that makes it feel better, it doesn't actually stop it.
posted by humblepigeon to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you getting enough potassium?
Bananas and tomatoes. Works for my kids when they have growth spurt cramps.
posted by lilywing13 at 12:05 AM on May 28, 2008

Oh, and I'm already taking calcium tablets. They give me 100% of the RDA and I wonder if I should take more?
posted by humblepigeon at 12:07 AM on May 28, 2008

Bananas and tomatoes

You've just named two of my most hated foods (banana = fruit of the devil). Is there any other way of taking dietary potassium?
posted by humblepigeon at 12:08 AM on May 28, 2008

I'm male, had no major injuries/operations, and don't do sports beyond walking about. And I have to defend the UK as having a pretty good health care system, but I don't think this is something serious.
posted by humblepigeon at 12:09 AM on May 28, 2008

Are you watching your sodium (salt) intake? Low sodium can cause cramps and it could be that your 'diet' is low on salt compared to your normal diet.
posted by missmagenta at 12:38 AM on May 28, 2008

Avocados have more potassium than bananas. I know this because I too hate bananas and tomatoes and went looking for alternatives :) Here's a huge list of more sources of dietary potassium: http://www.essortment.com/all/potassiumfoodh_rkyn.htm
posted by blackunicorn at 12:38 AM on May 28, 2008

I used to get cramps all the time, especially at night and they were so painful I would scream/cry in agony until I met my boyfriend who taught me that you can just bend your foot up when you feel it coming - and I've had no problems with cramp since, if I feel cramp coming on I straighten my leg and bend my foot upwards (basically stretching the muscle out as far as it will go) until it passes.

I know that doesn't stop you getting cramp but it might give you some relief until you can identify the cause.
posted by missmagenta at 12:43 AM on May 28, 2008

I had a problem with debilitating leg cramps, until my doctor recommended drinking a Gatorade every few days. So perhaps you're low in sodium, one of the other electrolytes in Gatorade, or, I don't know, high fructose corn syrup?
posted by jtron at 2:20 AM on May 28, 2008

It's definitely a potassium thing. IANAD but I had the same problem. Eating bananas or drinking a large glass of orange juice a day will make a HUGE difference. Both are an easy thing to try and if you don't see a difference, you need to see a real dr and be checked out. Good luck!
posted by pearlybob at 4:15 AM on May 28, 2008

If you don't like bananas, make a banana sandwich, bananas, mayo and peanut butter on white bread!! Pure heaven!! :-)
posted by pearlybob at 4:17 AM on May 28, 2008

I have this happen on an off and on basis. It's usually potassium, but when I asked the doctor about it, he recommended that I drink a glass of tonic water every night. Tonic water has quinine in it, which helps treat nocturnal leg cramps. (He said it was up to me if I put gin in my tonic or not...) I don't drink it regularly, but the combination of vitamin supplements (for the potassium, I only like my bananas as part of dessert which sort of negates the whole dieting thing), occasional glasses of tonic water, and stretching well when I exercise has stopped them. Which is good, because man, did those suckers hurt!
posted by librarianamy at 4:51 AM on May 28, 2008

Or you could just be dehydrated. Drink more water.
posted by Shoggoth at 5:23 AM on May 28, 2008

Try stretching your legs before you go to bed - same stretching routine as pre-running or warmups before aerobic exercise. This may relax the muscles and prevent the cramping. Also second the quinine thing as I was once told I would have to eat something like 20 bananas to get the needed amount of potassium.
posted by worker_bee at 5:44 AM on May 28, 2008

This might sound weird, but I hear that drinking pickle juice relieves leg cramps. When I was working at a concession stand a long time ago, a baseball team always asked for cups of it to drink.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 6:48 AM on May 28, 2008 [2 favorites]

Nthing potassium! I know you don't like bananas, but for me just 1 or 2 a day relieves ALL my leg cramps. So find a potassium-rich food you enjoy. Good luck!
posted by iguanapolitico at 7:27 AM on May 28, 2008

missmagenta has it. I've been getting these cramps sporadically all my life, sometimes to the point of tears. I've learned that when I feel one coming on, just bend your foot up, stretching the calf muscle. The cramp pain doesn't go away entirely, but it's significantly reduced.

Of course, prevention is a much better solution.
Running off to find a banana...
posted by cgg at 7:33 AM on May 28, 2008

Bananas really don't have all that much potassium. Here is a PDF of a bunch of common foods, sorted by potassium level...bananas don't appear anywhere near the top.

What you want are potassium (you can get supplements but be careful; too much potassium is bad for your heart), calcium, magnesium (you may be able to find calcium/magnesium supplements) and vitamin E, and it's very important to drink lots of water.

Gin and tonics are nice, but you'd have to drink something like ten gallons of tonic water a day to get enough quinine to matter.
posted by bink at 8:06 AM on May 28, 2008

If your potassium intake is good, then are you drinking alcohol much or often? Or a heavy consumption of tea or coffee? Regular consumption of these three is a notorious cause of night-time leg and foot cramps.

If so or regardless, often a replenishing your electrolytes will help. Try something like a gatorade or some such before bed. (There are any number of these products on the market presently.)

Lastly, if you are not exercising regularly, or once did but have ceased, then try adding some light stretches along with water or the aforementioned gatorade-type drink.

Alcohol, coffee or tea, or a combination of the three, are likely the culprits.
posted by humannaire at 9:13 AM on May 28, 2008

When I was on the Atkins diet, I had the same problem which, iirc, was the result of not having the dietary potassium found in bread products. If you don't want to eat foods that are rich in potassium, look for an Atkins based vitamin - it was the only kind on the shelf that I could find that contains potassium (since there's usually plenty in bananas, bread, etc. to keep you cramp free).
posted by oreonax at 9:55 AM on May 28, 2008

Don't drink tea or alcohol. I drink decaff coffee, but only a few cups a day. I drink gallons of water. This, I think, is part of the issue.

Thanks for those who posted alternative sources of potassium. It's been an education.

oreonax is right -- I couldn't buy potassium vitamin tablets when I tried today, although I'm not sure if potassium is in multivitamin and mineral tablets. I can't take those because they give me a headache.

I think I've found a solution as an emergency quick-fix -- rehydration sachets, sold for kids who get ill. These contain the electrolytes people have been talking about. The problem is they taste yuck (basically fruit flavour with added salt).
posted by humblepigeon at 11:18 AM on May 28, 2008

Quinine is what finally helped me. A daily glass of diet tonic water, or quinine tablets brings me relief.
posted by NorthCoastCafe at 2:56 PM on May 28, 2008

Emphasizing what cgg said earlier. When I was vegan and unhealthy I used to get multiple leg cramps every single night.

It made a major difference in my life and quality of sleep when someone explained to me how cramps can be "hacked" to prevent them from getting off the ground.

If they are in the major muscle in your leg it's very easy. If you feel the beginning of numbing cramp pain it will get worse if you point your foot down and it will stop if you flex your foot up.

This will stop the middle of the night pain and buy you a little time to get to the bottom of the deficiency your body's telling you about.
posted by tinamonster at 10:07 PM on May 28, 2008

Coconut water is relatively electrolytic (heh), and contains a lot of potassium. (That link is for ONE brand coconut water, which I've been drinking a lot of lately. They apparently don't ship to the UK yet, but I assume other brands that exist in the UK have similar composition.)
posted by sentient at 11:03 PM on May 28, 2008

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