Q. “I often wake up in the middle of the night with painful leg cramps. I was once told it’s because I’m dehydrated — is this true? Are there any foods I should eat to avoid muscle cramps?”
— Cheryl, via email
A. Brooke Longfield, Healthy Food Guide Accredited Practising Dietitian responds:
Anyone who has suffered from leg cramps will know how excruciatingly painful they can be, not to mention the way they disrupt your sleep. These sudden, involuntary muscle spasms have a number of different causes, and one of these is dehydration. Muscles need fluid to help them contract and relax. And if you have exercised your muscles in hot weather, chances are you may be a little dehydrated. So try to drink plenty of water throughout the day, especially as the temperature heats up.
What you eat is also important, as not enough magnesium, potassium or calcium in your diet can also lead to cramping. Magnesium, in particular, plays a role in muscle contraction and nerve function. So you may want to increase your intake of magnesium-rich foods such as green, leafy vegetables, milk (which is also a great source of calcium), peas, nuts and wholegrain cereals. Foods high in potassium include bananas, avocados, dried fruit and potatoes.
Most muscle cramps are harmless, but if they occur frequently, and simple strategies like drinking more fluid, stretching before bed and improving your diet don’t help, it’s best to talk to your doctor.