What are heat cramps?
Muscle cramps are painful spasms or sudden tightening of a muscle. Occasionally this muscle will twitch or jerk involuntarily.
Heat cramps are muscle cramps that are triggered by heat. When exercising in hot conditions the muscles have to work harder so they often become fatigued quicker. In hotter environments we also tend to sweat more, meaning we lose more water and salt during exercise than we normally would. This lack of salt contributes to cramping because salt, or more specifically sodium, is vital to proper nerve function – without it, messages can get mixed up and muscles can involuntarily begin to twitch, spasm or contract.
Heat cramps are often a sign that your body is struggling to cope with high temperatures – make sure you take steps to alleviate this before it develops into heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
How can I prevent heat cramps?
There are a number of ways you can prevent heat cramps from occurring.
The first thing you can do is try to reduce the temperature in which you exercise. This could mean opting for an air-conditioned gym rather than exercising outside on sunny days, or you could exercise outside earlier or later in the day to avoid the hottest part of the day.
Make sure you drink plenty of fluids as this will help keep you hydrated and allow your body to better keep you cool and feed your muscles with nutrients and oxygen. In warmer weather it is particularly important to keep an eye on your fluid intake to prevent dehydration.
Increasing your salt intake is important. This will replace the sodium that is lost when you sweat. However, you need to make sure you don’t go overboard, as consuming too much salt is unhealthy and can cause long term health conditions. Opt for a healthy alternative like Herbamare which contains fresh sea salt, alongside dried herbs and vegetables which season food without overloading it with processed salt.
Replacing salt is important because it contains the key electrolyte sodium, which is needed for muscle function.
However, calcium, potassium and magnesium are vital for muscle function too, so increasing your salt intake alone is often not sufficient to prevent muscle cramps. Sports drinks contain high levels of electrolytes – but they also contain lots of sugar and artificial chemicals so these are okay in an emergency, but we don’t recommend using them regularly.
Opt instead for natural hydration like coconut water or birch water. These plant waters naturally contain the electrolytes your body needs alongside natural sugars, so they taste great! Our own Balance Mineral Drink is great for rehydrating – it simultaneously provides magnesium, potassium and calcium and also balances the pH in our gut so we can absorb these nutrients properly.
What can I do if heat cramps strike?
The most important thing to remember is not to try and stretch the muscle while it is cramping, as this can cause damage.
Instead, try gently rubbing and massaging the muscle to encourage it to relax.
Venagel is particularly effective for leg cramps, as it helps relieve tired, aching and stiff legs. It also helps to cool the legs, which is important as we know that overheating plays a key role in cramps. I also recommend Atrogel arnica gel to relieve stiff, sore muscles.
Applying a heat pack may help to relax the muscle, whereas an ice pack will help bring down any inflammation, so it's up to you which one you try!