Do you suffer from crippling leg cramps on your low-carb diet? Do you wake up in the middle of the night with a sense of fear as the pain starts to creep over your foot arch, calf muscle, or toes?
If you have ever experienced sudden severe leg cramps on a ketogenic diet, you should know that you are not alone.
While this low carb high-fat diet may assist you with weight loss and even help treat some conditions, it can lead to several health conditions, including leg cramps.
What Are Leg Cramps on Keto?
Leg cramps can be described as sudden involuntary contractions in the muscles. This condition can be both painful and alarming and can be caused by a keto diet.
These contractions frequently happen at night and can last several seconds or even minutes. While the exact cause is not always clear, several factors can lead to this.
Whether it’s caused by a keto diet or other nutrition-related causes, there are several simple ways to avoid this.
What Causes Leg Cramps
Painful leg cramps can come from a number of places. Most people associate leg cramps with athletes or those with medical conditions. Unfortunately anyone can get leg cramps. Several reason for these specific types of leg cramps on keto diets is due to the change in food intake and how your body processes it. Read on to understand what can cause leg cramps.
If you are new to a low carb diet, you may be experiencing leg cramps as a result of dehydration. While this diet is not necessarily dehydrating, you may have also suffered from keto flu symptoms at the start of your journey.
This condition occurs when your body flushes out sugars stored in your muscles. This also reduces the amount of water stored in your body.
So, until you fully adapt to the fat diet, the re-balancing and flushing are likely to lead to symptoms such as irritability, brain fog, excessive hunger, and headache.
Although shedding a few pounds of water weights is exciting, the best thing to do is to drink more water even as your body tries to adjust to this diet.
The added water will hydrate your body and help you curb hunger. Plus, if you are working out a lot, you must pay attention to the amount of water you take irrespective of how long you’ve been on a low carb diet.
Lack of Potassium
When it comes to the function of musculature and nervous system, potassium is an essential mineral. Studies have also confirmed that potassium deficiency may lead to so many types of cramping, including leg cramps.
Also known as hypokalemia, this condition is likely to occur due to vomiting, alcohol intake, diarrhea, and sweating.
Plus, some people don’t consume enough potassium since most foods rich in potassium are also rich in carbohydrates, which you are trying to avoid.
Fortunately, there are several ways to get potassium without eating carbohydrate-rich diets. These include:
- Eating avocados
- Consuming mushrooms -which contain about 359 grams of potassium per 100 grams
- Leafy greens such as spinach and Swiss chard.
While you can always take potassium supplements to help this situation, if you think you are suffering from a severe hypokalemia case, you need to talk to your doctor.
Lack of Salt
Although electrolytes play a significant role, most people often neglect them. As the most prevalent electrolyte in your cells, body, and muscles you require sodium chloride for your body to function well.
However, when you are new to the keto diet or sweat a lot, your body is likely to flush out these salts, which may be the cause of your leg cramps.
The best solution for this is to try adding salt to your diet. But is this safe? Well if you are deficient, then this is quite safe. Unless you are sensitive to sodium, its ok to consume an additional amount of sodium for short periods.
While you can add any type of salt, unrefined or natural forms of salts are tastier and contain other vital minerals. We enjoy pink salt and use it on our vegetables and meats.
Drinking Too Much Caffeine
Did you know that most caffeinated drinks can cause leg cramps? Over consumption of caffeine may lead to increased sensitivity of your muscles that may end up in muscle contractions.
When you drink a lot of coffee, it may flush out of your body and lead to dehydration. Moreover, since caffeine is addictive when trying to withdraw from it, you are likely to suffer pain, muscle cramps, and stiffness.
So, if you are drinking a lot of caffeine, the best thing to do is reduce the amount.
Deficiency of Magnesium
For your body to function well, you need magnesium. Thus, magnesium deficiency is likely to lead to leg cramps and other severe symptoms such as high blood pressure insomnia, and cardiac issues.
One thing that may lead to this is an excessive intake of water. So, even if you are already taking lots of magnesium, you may still suffer from this deficiency.
Research has shown that up to 30% of the entire world population suffers from some form of deficiency.
The best way to increase your magnesium intake is, therefore, to focus on keto-friendly foods. Some of these foods include pure cacao, almonds, and avocado.
Apart from this, you may take natural mineral water to boost your potassium levels. While magnesium citrate is the best supplement, it’s likely to lead to loose stools.
If it’s not the best for your body, try out magnesium threonate, magnesium glycinate, and magnesium acetyl taurate, among others.
Drinking Too Much Water
While dehydration is risky, drinking too much water is also not good. Water is essential for preventing dehydration and keeping your organs healthy. Its important should you develop the keto flu or hair loss on keto even.
Drinking water is always the best choice but if you drink too much then it might actually flush needed electrolytes and vital minerals out of your body.
Drinking too much water can actually be dangerous as well. You would have to drink an excess amount in order for it to be dangerous but just something to stay aware of. Flushing out proper nutrients and electrolytes can be a cause of leg cramps.
How to Avoid Leg Cramps While Starting Keto
Get the Right Kind of Hydration
One of the leading causes of leg cramps is dehydration. As you lose more water, your minerals and electrolytes go down, thus setting the pace for leg cramps. So you need to check if the color of your urine is yellow.
You should also pinch your skin and see if it snaps back in place quickly. If not, then you are dehydrated. Fortunately, if you get the right hydration, you can avoid leg cramps.
Supplement with Minerals
Minerals can affect electrolyte balance in your body. When your body lacks essential minerals, leg cramps will occur. Although there are several minerals that you need, sodium, potassium, and magnesium are the most important.
The key to balancing your sodium-potassium electrolytes is to take around 4000 milligrams of potassium daily. You can get the right potassium for your body by eating five servings of non-starchy vegetables, broth, and keto-friendly drinks.
Apart from these, you should consider eating mushrooms prepared in a microwave, portobellos, cooked broccoli, cooked mustard seeds, and spinach.
While our bodies need around 40 grams of magnesium, we rarely get enough. However, eating keto does not deplete your magnesium. So if you are eating the right diet you’ll still get enough magnesium.
Some of the best ways of adding magnesium are eating dark chocolate, cocoa powder, smoothie, and chia seeds. You may also include things such as almond, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, and avocado.
However, while doing this, you should steer clear of taking too much magnesium. Taking a lot of it may lead to nausea, loose stool, and eve heart palpitations.
Are you aware that you cannot survive without sodium intake for more than 3 weeks? If you are getting very little sodium, you will likely suffer from achiness, fatigue, and other symptoms.
Eating too little salt may cause your kidneys to produce aldosterone that conserves sodium in your body.
So ensure that you take 5000 milligrams of sodium every day if you are on a keto diet. However, you should know that excess sodium may lead to increased blood pressure.
Before adding sodium to your diet, make sure you consult your doctor on the best way to go about it.
Include Veggies in Your Diet
If your electrolytes and hydration are on point, and yet you are still faced with leg cramps, it’s time to consider checking your vitamin E intake. Vitamin E is responsible for boosting your oxygen flow to the muscles through blood cells.
The best way to get vitamin E is to go the natural way by focusing on food products such as avocadoes, asparagus, leafy greens, almonds, and raw sunflower.
Slightly Increase Carbs
The whole idea of a keto diet is to eliminate all the nasty nutrients. However, if you are suffering from severe leg cramps, then slightly adding cramps into your diet may help.
While this may decrease the process’s effectiveness, you may go this way as a last resort.
Stop Consuming Too Much Coffee
If you are a coffee lover, you need to eliminate coffee or cut back. As muscle stimulant coffee may significantly increase the contraction force of the skeletal muscles.
In the past few years, several studies have investigated the role of coffee in boosting muscle strength, enhancing performance, and increasing endurance.
While some people may find that it improves their muscles’ performance, others have realized that it undermines these functions. So the best thing to do is to reduce your coffee intake.
Situational Risk Factors for Leg Cramps
According to studies, some risk factors may trigger leg cramps if you are already on keto.
- Too much sitting. Spending the whole day sitting at the desk without taking a break or walking, a long airplane flight, and a long car ride may easily lead to leg cramps. So, if your job involves sitting down, ensure you take breaks to stretch or even walk around.
- Taking diuretic medications. Diuretic medicines may include flush outs and take fluids with it. If you need to take drugs for high blood pressure, change to another class of drugs.
- Too tight leg muscles. Hamstring muscles and tight calves may also lead to more leg cramps. Before bed stretching, regular yoga classes and foam rolling of legs may also help you prevent leg cramping.
- Too much booze. Research has shown that even drinking one alcoholic drink a week may trigger leg cramping. This is especially true for adults who are over 60 years.
- Travel. Since travel involves a lot of sitting down, there is a higher risk of dehydration. So if you can avoid long journeys.
When to See a Doctor
Although avoiding leg cramps with these remedies is effective and safe, there are instances when you have to seek medical attention.
If you suffer this frequently, then your body is telling you that something is wrong. Here are instances when you should see a doctor.
- If your cramps are constant, severe and painful
- If the cramps last longer than usual or you can’t realize any changes or other lifestyle adjustments
- If you see other physical symptoms with your leg cramps
- If you can’t sleep well because of these cramps
- If you are pregnant
- If you are on prescription medicine
While leg cramps on keto are unpleasant in most instances, they are nothing to worry about. If you are suffering leg cramps, they may be as a result of a ketogenic diet. Thankfully you don’t have to change your diet.
There are plenty of home-based measures and keto-friendly foods that you can try out. But if you are experiencing severe symptoms and painful cramps, it’s time to see the doctor.
For instance, if they last more than two weeks or you can’t just solve them, then it’s high time you scheduled an appointment with your doctor.