You’ve just crushed a super-satisfying sweat sesh when — WHAM! — a muscle cramp comes on. Or maybe you’re just trying to get some sleep and the leg cramps take over.
Thankfully, there are remedies you can reach for right in your fridge or pantry. Research suggests that certain nutrients from foods may help ease or even stop muscle cramps.
Go-to foods that help with muscle cramps include:
- coconut water
- sweet potato
- greek yogurt
- bone broth
- pickle juice
- fermented foods
Here’s how these noms can help ward off those muscle cramps.
The avocado craze is here to stay. This delicious, versatile fruit is jam-packed with cramp-crushing nutrients, including potassium and magnesium. These minerals act as electrolytes, which are essential for important bodily functions like muscle contraction.
A killer workout can cause your electrolytes to become imbalanced, which can lead to muscle cramps. Eating electrolyte-rich foods can help maintain this balance and prevent or ease cramps.
So next time you nosh on a postworkout slice of avo toast, know that you’re doing both your muscles and your tastebuds a favor!
2. Coconut water
Along with being super hydrating, coconut water is a great source of potassium, magnesium, calcium, sodium, and phosphorus (all sources of our muscle cramp-fighting friends, electrolytes!).
In a small 2019 study, 10 male athletes drank either plain water or an electrolyte-rich drink (like coconut water) after intense physical activity. Researchers found that the athletes were less likely to experience electrical stimulation-induced muscle cramps when they hydrated with an electrolyte drink versus plain old H2O.
While more research needs to be done, these early findings suggest that coconut water and its electrolyte-rich counterparts could be effective in reducing muscle cramps when used for postworkout hydration.
Hydration is key for prime muscle function, including avoiding muscle cramps. Dehydration, on the other hand, can prevent your muscles from contracting properly, thus causing or even worsening cramps (yikes 😳 ).
Looking to jazz up your daily water intake? Snacking on a slice of watermelon can give you a sweet hydration boost. Besides being a great source of magnesium and potassium, this summertime favorite fruit is almost 92 percent water!
4. Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes are one of the healthiest veggies around, chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds.
You can count on them to deliver muscle function-boosting levels of potassium, magnesium, and calcium: One cup (200 grams) of mashed sweet potatoes alone can provide almost 13 percent of your daily recommended intake of magnesium and more than 20 percent of your daily recommended intake of potassium!
5. Greek yogurt
You know calcium is essential for bone health, but did you know it’s equally as important for muscle function? According to research from 2013, having too little calcium in your blood can cause muscle cramping and other muscle-related complications like irregular heartbeat.
Greek yogurt also packs a hefty dose of protein, which is essential for the growth and repair of muscle tissue.
Thanks to the many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients it contains, salmon has a bevy of awesome benefits, including preventing muscle cramps.
In addition to being rich in protein, anti-inflammatory fats, and other cramp-combusting nutrients, it’s high in iron. Research suggests iron works overtime to keep muscle cramps at bay by aiding in healthy blood cell production, muscle tissue oxygenation, and blood flow.
Salmon is also a great source of vitamin D, which is essential for proper muscle function. According to research from 2019, consuming too little vitamin D can have a negative impact on your muscles and put you at risk for muscle pain, weakness, or spasms.
7. Bone broth
Bone broth is a concentrated broth made by simmering animal bones in water. Making bone broth is easy, but it’s a long process: Those bones need to simmer for 8-plus hours. You can buy it premade if you don’t want to hang in the kitchen all day.
So how can bone broth help relieve muscle cramps?
Because it’s a liquid, it offers hydration (and your muscles love to stay hydrated!). It’s also a great source of cramp-blasting nutrients like calcium, sodium, and magnesium.
8. Pickle juice
A secret many athletes swear by to banish muscle cramps? Pickle juice.
While it’s unclear why pickle juice may help relieve cramping, high electrolyte content could be a factor.
In a 2010 study, men who drank pickle juice while experiencing muscle cramps had a 49.1-second reduction in cramp duration as compared to when they drank plain water.
However, the overall science around pickle juice for muscle cramps is limited and kinda murky. We need more research to know just how effective it is to chug from the pickle jar.
9. Fermented foods
Pickle juice’s fermented food cousins may also help lower your risk of muscle cramps. Fermented foods such as kimchi and sauerkraut contain high amounts of electrolytes like sodium, so they could help ease or reduce cramps.
But more research is needed to find out just how much chowing down on fermented foods might help with muscle cramps.
Another way to get that one-two punch of magnesium and potassium for healthy muscle function? Noshing on a tasty papaya.
An 11-ounce papaya can provide up to 23 percent of your daily recommended intake of potassium and 22 percent of your daily recommended intake of magnesium.
A 2017 study of 230 postmenopausal women found that those who consumed more potassium experienced less muscle cramping. While more research is needed, these results suggest that adding more potassium-rich foods to your diet could possibly lower your risk of muscle cramps.
There’s more to beets than meets the eye.
The leafy top part of the beet plant (aka the beet greens) is jam-packed with nutrients that can boost muscle health and help reduce muscle cramps, including potassium, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, and B vitamins.
Beets also contain nitrates. These compounds help blood vessel function to make sure blood flows properly to your muscles, which may help lower your risk of muscle cramps.
Guess it’s time to visit Schrute Farms (or maybe we just want an excuse to watch “The Office” again).
Small-but-mighty sardines are super high in cramp-blasting nutrients like iron, phosphorus, calcium, potassium, sodium, magnesium, AND vitamin D. (Whew! That’s a lot of nutrients!)
Sardines are also high in selenium, which is a major player in muscle function. Not getting enough selenium can cause problems such as muscle weakness. Be sure to include selenium-rich foods in your diet to prevent these muscular issues.
When muscle cramps make you want to go B-A-N-A-N-A-S, try eating one instead.
Bananas are rich in potassium (you know, that electrolyte your muscles love!). If your potassium levels start to dip, cramping is likely to occur. Noshing on a banana before your workout can help keep your potassium levels from getting too low and help prevent those muscles from seizing up.
This funny yellow fruit is also high in complex carbs, which may help give your insulin enough of a boost to drive protein into your muscles, stimulating muscle growth and repair.
When in doubt, leafy greens to the rescue!
It’s also high in calcium, which helps with primo muscle function.
Lentils and other legumes are loaded with magnesium, which, as we know, is a key nutrient for easing muscle cramps. In fact, 1 cup of cooked lentils contains 71 milligrams of magnesium, so it really packs a punch!
Lentils are also high in fiber, which can help with other bodily functions such as controlling blood sugar and keeping your LDL cholesterol (the “bad” kind) low.
Smoothies are great for easing muscle cramps and helping with muscle recovery after a workout. Here’s a smoothie recipe full of cramp-blasting vitamins and minerals that’ll keep your muscles in tip-top shape.
The Greatist cramp-busting smoothie
- Handful of spinach
- 1 cup coconut water
- 1/2 avocado
- 1/2 banana
- 1/3 cup frozen or fresh papaya
- 1/4 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 scoop protein powder of choice
- Ice (optional)
- Beet greens (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. If you use fresh fruit or prefer a thicker smoothie, add more ice. You can also add more coconut water or water as needed for your desired consistency.
Muscle cramps are a painful symptom of contracting muscles. While the cause isn’t always clear, intense exercise, an electrolyte imbalance, dehydration, or medication could be to blame.
Eating foods rich in certain nutrients, vitamins, and minerals may help ease cramps or even prevent them from happening. Stick to foods that have nutrients like:
- vitamin D
- certain B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, B7, B9, and B12)
If your muscle cramps continue or get worse, chat with your healthcare provider. They can help you figure out what may be causing your cramping and work with you to develop a treatment plan.