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How to Avoid Leg Cramps When Hiking

Leg Cramps
Flickr/Kristof Ramon

Leg cramps can be a common painful experience during physical activity leaving you temporarily debilitated. Here’s how to avoid leg cramps when hiking.

In most cases, hiking is an activity that is relatively injury-free, which is one of the reasons why it is a popular pastime that many people enjoy undertaking.

However, one aspect of hiking that people will encounter are leg cramps. As anyone who has experienced these knows they can be quite painful, often leaving the person hobbling even when the cramp has subsided. There are, of course, ways in which a person can avoid getting leg cramps, but these are no guarantees.

The Cause of Leg Cramps

It is believed that there are three main reasons why a person will get leg cramps: tiredness by pushing yourself too hard, dehydration or an imbalance of electrolytes, particularly during the warmer months when you need to replace the salts that your body loses through sweating. Cramps can take place in the front or back of the thigh or the calf muscles.

Typically, a person who suffers from leg cramps is someone who is not used to hiking and has done a long walk putting too much strain on their muscles at once. Instead, work your way up gradually to let your muscles get used to hiking and undertake regular exercise which will ultimately help to strengthen your leg muscles allowing you to get more enjoyment out of your hike rather than nursing a severe cramp.

One thing that people often forget when hiking, particularly during the colder months, is to drink plenty of fluids. Despite its relatively easy-going nature, walking will deplete your fluid levels, which will need to be refilled. One way to keep your electrolyte levels up is to drink sports drinks and to have food on hand to eat when you get hungry.

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Preventing Leg Cramps

In order to prevent leg cramps you need to make sure that you have taken in enough fluids to maintain your hydration levels. To check that you are hydrated your pee should be a pale straw colour, which indicates that you are well-hydrated. If your pee is a dark yellow then you will need to start drinking to ensure you don’t stay dehydrated.

You also need to make sure that you have eaten properly too to prevent leg cramps. Foods such as green leafy vegetables, brown rice, fruit such as bananas, slow-release carbohydrates such as oats, pickles, cheese, yoghurt, and nuts will provide the body with calcium and magnesium intake which are two important minerals that control muscle contraction and relaxation.

Another way to avoid your legs cramping is set off slowly so that your muscles have a chance of warming up first. Once you have sufficiently warmed up, take the time to do a few simple leg stretches to help stretch out any areas that may give you problems during your hike, such as calf or hamstring stretches.

On your lunch stop, try not to sit too long in one place as this will give your muscles a chance of cooling down and will tighten up your leg muscles and may cause cramp. After eating, set off slowly until you are ready to increase your pace so you can enjoy the rest of your hike cramp-free.

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How to Avoid Leg Cramps When Hiking