Attack of the Charley Horse

By: SARAH DAVIS

Edited by: CHRISTINA COLAVECCHIA

Three nights ago, I had the unfortunate experience of being attacked by a charley horse in my sleep. All I could do was pathetically lie there as the twisting sensation in my calf got tighter and tighter. For all of those Harry Potter fans out there, experiencing a charley horse is as if you are under the Cruciatus Curse: you cannot escape it.

This grueling phenomenon is an intense, involuntary contraction of a muscle that usually occurs in the calf or in the arches of your feet. They are unexpected and many people, like myself, experience them during sleep (usually while clutching our pillows and gritting our teeth), while others get them during physical activity.

“For something this basic and common, it still is hard to understand,” says Dr. Neil Porter in an ABC News article. The most common explanation to why we get charley horses is because of dehydration or some kind of nutrient deficiency such as potassium or calcium. Whether you are an intense athlete, or someone who only exercises a couple of days a week, these tips will help you to avoid these sudden attacks.

Tip 1: It is important to replenish the water you lost when working out. To measure this amount, try weighing yourself before and after your workout. For every pound lost, The Running Times Magazine suggests you drink 16 oz (two cups) for recovery. On top of
that, you need to drink at least 8 cups of water to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Not only will water relieve leg cramps, but studies have also shown that hydration can reduce acne and relieve other minor pains such as headache and nausea.

Tip 2: Eat your bananas! Although it’s uncommon to have a potassium deficiency in your diet because so many foods contain potassium, it is still important to monitor your intake. According to the National Institute of Health (NIH), potassium plays an important role in muscle growth, heart activity, and protein synthesis. The recommended intake for people ages 14 and over is 4700 mg. Here is a list of some potassium-rich foods that can be the cure to your unexpected charley horse attacks:

• Baked potato + Sweet potato (with skin) – 1000 mg
• Avocado – 1000 mg
• Fish – 1000-1500 mg
• Tomato Sauce – 1000 mg
• Banana – 500 mg

Having a hard time getting enough potassium? Try incorporating these foods into your diet in fun and unique ways: bake banana bread and have it for breakfast; use avocados and fruit to create colorful, healthy salads; or roast the skins of potatoes with some cheese to create a yummy dinner appetizer.

Tip 3: Take a calcium supplement. NIH recommends at least 1300 mg of calcium per day for anyone over the age of nine. Women are more likely to experience calcium deficiency, usually only consuming 748 – 968 mg per day. Calcium deficiency is extremely important for female athletes, because it often leads to stress reactions and/or fractures as well as osteoporosis as they grow older. Try adding in a calcium supplement, such as VIACTIV, to make sure you get in an adequate amount of calcium. Milk is also a great source of calcium. Don’t like it? According to Runner’s World Magazine, chocolate milk has been proven to be a great post-workout snack because of its sugar and protein content.

If these tips don’t work for you, try taking my grandmother’s advice and keep a cork in your sheets – it’s supposed to fight off those charley horses for you!

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