THE CLINIC: At Mile 12, Calf Pain

Thu, 6 June 2013 - 2:14 a.m. MT
Credit: ARA Staff - American Running Association

QUESTION:

At or just after mile 12 on my long runs, I experience pain and cramping in my calves. Is this an electrolyte issue? I have heard that potassium deficiency is one possible cause, but elsewhere I’ve read that the cause of this type of cramping is uncertain. I do not like electrolyte loading in general. In any event, even when I ingest sports bars and gels, the cramps remain. What do you think?

Mike Giampa

Nashua, NH

 

ANSWER:

Most research indicates exercise leg cramps are the result of fluid loss and the accompanying trace minerals and sodium. The reputable Gatorade Sports Science Institute has researched and written extensively on electrolyte/mineral replacement, and the various publications on their website are worth perusing: www.gssiweb.com. Cramps can occur when the body simply overheats as well. Meeting your fluid requirement to avoid cramping would certainly not be considered overloading.

Earl Carstensen, MD

Aurora, CO

ANSWER:

If your kidney function is normal, there is no harm in trying various sports drinks to see what might alleviate your cramping. Also keep in mind that if a person’s calcium intake is too low they may be vulnerable to calf cramping. This can occur in particular when their phosphorus intake is too high.

 

Sarah Harding Laidlaw, MS, RD

Glade Park, CO

 

 

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