Does anyone have any info on Low carb/Paleo diet and leg cramps? I've been thinking about this since one Paleo-blogger stated that he gets leg cramps if he goes below 50g or carbs per day.
I've been lowish carb for almost a year, but a few months ago dropped the grains and this has forced the carbs lower. The other night I got a nasty night-time cramp - my calf is still tender 3 days later. I also have had small cramps when walking every day since. I have had those from time to time w/o any preceding nocturnal cramp and a friend advised me to get more carbs.
The thing is, I had issues with nocturnal leg cramps since first pregnancy and I was not eating low carb then (I was told to eat more bananas which did not help). Although over the next 10 years I was able to control them and it was not too much of an issue. I have never experienced day-time cramping until I cut carbs. These can be quite bad - they are small, but usually happen when I am out walking, so I still have to get home and my muscle will hurt for several days after. Also, I experience occasional muscle twitching in my legs.
I'm wondering what the mechanism would be if it is lack of carbs so I can rule it out (or not).
*update: Thanks for the responses. I am giving everyone a vote as I don't know which answer is best...but I have a lot to go on now! I'll try looking at magnesium/mineral and fluid intake... still wondering if it could be something else though as I have not lost any weight since changing my diet (hence no water loss?). I hate to measure and count, but I've given in and started using fitday to keep my carbs around 100g/day - no cramps since, but still feel things are not quite right with my calf muscles. I also noticed my protein was a bit high- could this cause cramps? *
I had the similar problems (neck and calf cramps) until I started supplementing Magnesium (ZMA) and Potassium. That has cured it and I now have no issues.
I have been dealing with this too since I went very low carb (20-40gc a day).I have been thinking about why this is happening, as I do get alot of minerals (shellfish, bone in sardines, seaweed, bone broths...), and also supplement magnesium and calcium. Two things I have come across are:
I have only been restricting my carbs this much for the past few weeks, and am going to try increasing my mg to larger doses to see if I can get this to let up. I am taking citrate right now, but just heard from a natruopath that malate is the best form for leg cramps, and may switch over to that when this bottle runs out.
I have heard it is the electrolyte/fluid balance in the body that causes cramps, primarily magnesium.
But I would never take a single mineral supplement in isolated form, I would prefer to have the synergistic benefits of a complete food/condiment, so I tend to use Celtic Sea Salt which has a full complement of minerals and electrolytes such as: sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, zinc, iodine, copper, manganese, magnesium, chromium, selenium, molybdenum, silicon, boron, and bromide.
I used to suffer with it constantly on the SAD diet, but since going paleo, using celtic sea salt instead of table salt and drinking more water, I have never suffered from leg cramps.
My wife and I use Magnesium Citrate from Olympian Labs along with Bone-Up Calcium from Jarrow, both available at www.vitacost.com I think any Mg supplement will make the cramps go away.
Paleo eaters seem to exhibit cramping. Since we have added a couple of yams a week for the past year, haven't had one cramp. I do remember the muscle locks in so hard that it seems physically impossible to force the leg back to normal.
And I have subsequently read about a lady who kept a glass of water with the product Natural Calm in solution by her bed in case of a leg cramp attack at night.
We also eat more organ meats now and I believe that has helped also.
High doses of Mg in any form will definitely loosen up your bowels. Dose up to looseness and then back off and you should be ok.
The mechanism is electrolyte imbalance, which can happen with low carbs, because of the diuretic effect: some electrolytes are lost with the water.
Potassium works for me very quickly. I take 2-3 99mg capsules. I've also heard of success using turmeric capsules. That said, I don't get them very often anymore, so it may be part of adapting to a low carb diet.
Dehydration can be a cause, also, so be sure to drink enough water.
I have a Paleo/Primal weight loss company, and I have several clients who experience cramps. I do as well (at times). Both in the feet and legs, and often it is preceeded by muscle twitching, similar to RLS (restless leg syndrome).
After doing much research, and also having my clients try various things, long-term, the potassium was helpful (I recommend 400 mg x 2/day), but didn't fully eliminate the problem. It wasn't until I did further research (in the body-building forums) that I found Taurine was recommended to work on relaxing the muscle (which is the source of the problem). A potassium/calcium/magnesium balance is crucial, but generally, that only seems to work at reducing symptoms and doesn't address the source.
The taurine has helped immensely (1000-2000 mg/day seems to do the trick, depending upon severity). ALSO, limit carbonated beverages! Not just soda, but anything carbonated. For me, club soda can set off a series of very painful muscle cramps in my feet. I have one client in particular who is a professor and spends a substantial period of time on his feet (lecture days). I find when he has a carbonated soda, these are the nights he will nearly ALWAYS experience severe leg cramps (so painful and intense, he can't sleep through the night).
We changed his shoes (to ensure proper fit and arch support), added the taurine to his regimen (2000 mg/day), and cut out the one carbonated diet soda he was drinking in the mornings. His cramps absolutely stopped. When he tried to just cut out the diet soda (and didn't take the taurine), it was hit and miss (i.e. some nights were cramp-free, but not all).
I too find this an interesting phenomenon with a Paleo/Primal diet. Not sure what sets off the cramps (I think the insulin/mineral-uptake theory is a good one). However, I can have a (good) carb rich day, and STILL get cramps, so I don't think just upping carbs is the only solution (at least not for everyone).
Try the taurine. It's worked for both my clients and myself. Make sure you have proper fitting shoes (go to a store that specializes in analyzing your gait so they can make a proper recommendation to correct any instep or pronation issues). And lastly, go easy or better yet, totally eliminate any carbonated beverages you are consuming.
Good luck. Cramps are not fun but you can manage around them....And the other benefits of Paleo/Primal are absolutely worth it!
I do carb cycling and that has gotten rid of the problem. It probably helps that the carb that I cycle are thai coconuts. I do about two of those a week (28 g of carbs each). No supplements and the cramps are gone.
This might be the issue with low-carb diet, described in detail in the book "The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living". Basically, it is a lost of electrolytes.
When you go low-carb, your kidneys will not keep that much sodium, and will release it. Along with it, if you don't eat enough salt (sodium), the body will keep maintaining the electrolytes balance, which means that other minerals will be flushed out of the body as well.
The authors, which also have a clinic where they treat people with low-carb diet, prescribe their patients 5g of sodium per day, along with mineral supplements. So this issue is easily fixable - you have to eat enough salt! Other minerals shouldn't be such an issue IMHO, since potassium for example is in almost all paleo foods...
I would recommend that book to anyone who wants to eat low-carb... you will realize that some mainstream dietary advices are related to high-carb diet only, and should be modified for low carb...for example, the authors say that you shouldn't drink too much water in low-carb diet...only drink when thirsty, etc.
To sum it up, eating low-carb is not difficult, but there are several issues to watch, which are not enough emphasized by the mainstream paleo authors. Eating enough salt is one of them.
Muscle Cramps During Exercise! 4 Answers