Influence of Hydration and Electrolyte Supplementation on Incidence and Time to Onset of Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps

J Athl Train. 2005 Jun;40(2):71-75.


Context: Exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMCs) are common among physically active individuals and are temporarily disabling; therefore, prevention is of great interest.Objective: To determine the role of hydration and electrolyte supplementation in the prevention of EAMCs.Design: Each subject completed 2 counterbalanced trials in a repeated-measures design.Setting: University of Alabama.Patients or Other Participants: College-aged men (n = 13) with a history of EAMCs.Intervention(s): In each trial, participants performed a calf-fatiguing protocol to induce EAMCs in the calf muscle group. Each trial was performed in a hot environment (dry bulb temperature of 37 degrees C, relative humidity of 60%). In the carbohydrate-electrolyte trial, subjects consumed, at a rate similar to sweat loss, a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage with sodium chloride added. In the hypohydration trial, subjects were not allowed to consume any fluids.Main Outcome Measure(s): We measured the incidence and time to onset of EAMCs.Results: Nine participants experienced cramps in the carbohydrate-electrolyte trial, compared with 7 in the hypohydration trial. Of the 7 individuals who had EAMCs in both trials, exercise duration before onset was more than doubled in the carbohydrate-electrolyte trial (36.8 +/- 17.3 minutes) compared with the hypohydration trial (14.6 +/- 5.0 minutes, P < .01).Conclusions: Consumption of a carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage before and during exercise in a hot environment may delay the onset of EAMCs, thereby allowing participants to exercise longer. However, it appears that dehydration and electrolyte loss are not the sole causes of EAMCs, because 69% of the subjects experienced EAMCs when they were hydrated and supplemented with electrolytes.