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Electrolytes help reduce cramping, study suggests

They don't prevent muscle cramps, but they help

Are you skeptical about whether drinking electrolyte beverages helps with muscle cramps? New evidence says it doesn’t prevent muscle cramping, but that it does reduce your susceptibility.

It’s well established that we sweat out electrolytes during exertion, and the more we sweat, the more we lose. Moreover, the loss of electrolytes is believed to contribute to muscle cramping, which plagues many endurance runners. This study was designed to shed more light on the role of electrolyte drinks in reducing and controlling muscle cramps.

The study by four US researchers, published in the journal Muscle & Nerve on July 26, is admittedly small (nine well-hydrated, cramp-prone subjects), but suggests the use of electrolyte beverages does help, to some degree. The study assessed the test group’s cramp susceptibility before and after drinking an electrolyte beverage containing 840 mg of sodium, 320 mg of potassium, and 5 mg of magnesium. The control group drank a placebo beverage that was indistinguishable in taste and appearance from the test group’s drink. The intensity of cramps was measured using a verbal pain scale and electromyography, and researchers assessed the runners’ susceptibility by measuring the nerve stimulation threshold frequency.

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Here’s what they found: cramps still happened, but cramping came later and less frequently in the electrolyte group than the placebo group. Electromyography showed similar results between the two groups, but the electrolyte group reported less pain verbally than the placebo group.

The study considered electrolyte consumption independently of hydration.