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Ask the Guru

Lyle McDonald BSc.
Lyle is a researcher and coach who has worked with bodybuilders, powerlifters and other athletes on all aspects of their training, diet, and supplementation.
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How To Reduce Muscle Cramps

Question: I’ve been following a very low-carbohydrate diet and taking the ephedrine/caffeine stack for the past four months. Recently I’ve been having problems with cramping in the gym. I find that if I get too close to failure on a set, I get very bad cramps. I’m drinking plenty of water and taking a multivitamin, and I can’t figure out what’s wrong. Please help.

Answer: Unfortunately, cramping is far more complicated than most people make it out to be. You can’t just eat a banana. Hydration plays a role, but cramping can ultimately be caused by imbalances in any of the major electrolytes: sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.

And all of this can be that much more pronounced on a low-carbohydrate diet. Between the dehydration that can occur (which often carries some minerals out of the body), along with the impact of training, cramping is quite often reported. All stimulants, including ephedrine, tend to make this worse.

This is even more likely if stimulants (especially ephedrine) are being used. At the very least, I would strongly suggest you supplement your low-carbohydrate diet with the following:

  • 3–5 grams extra sodium hydrochloride
  • 1 gram potassium
  • 300 milligrams magnesium

One way to get both the sodium and potassium is to use Lite Salt (which is half sodium and half potassium) liberally on your foods. Most potassium supplements are very low in dose (99 milligrams), and it takes too much of them to have an impact. Get magnesium citrate and you can take more; many find that 400–500 milligrams of magnesium at bedtime helps them sleep. Some have found that several grams of taurine can help with cramping.

Finally, if none of the above works, consider raising carbohydrates somewhat. Keeping carbs at around 1 gram per pound will avoid some of the dehydration that can occur on low-carb diets and may be the solution.

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