Muscles give an aesthetic appeal to your body. But more importantly, muscles play a vital role in supporting your overall health and wellness.
In fact, muscles aid in metabolic health, body weight control, bone strength, and resilience to stress and disease.
Muscle mass also helps improve blood sugar control, improve sleep quality, boost mental health, aid recovery from injury or illness, and maintain resilience and health into old age.
A 2006 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition highlights that muscle plays a central role in whole-body protein metabolism, by serving as the principal reservoir for amino acids to maintain protein synthesis in vital tissues and organs. This in turn plays a key role in the genesis and prevention of many common pathologic conditions and chronic diseases (1).
Another study published in Biogerontology in 2016 reports that increasing muscle protein synthesis through exercise or protein-based nutrition helps maintain a strong, healthy muscle mass, which in turn leads to improved health, independence and functionality (2).
The human body has over 600 muscles, which make up around 40 percent of our body weight. You can build a fair amount of muscle mass through regular exercise and eating healthy.
All muscles are made of a kind of elastic tissue that consists of thousands, or tens of thousands, of small musculus fibers. Each muscle fiber is commanded by a nerve, which makes it contract. The anatomy of muscles is complex, but its importance cannot be ignored.
The health status of your muscles can indicate several things regarding other aspects of your health. Hence, it is important to give proper attention to muscle ailments and look into why they might be occurring.
Here are some of the things that your muscles are trying to tell you.
1. Get Some Rest
Over-exercising can take a toll on your muscle health. If you have pain in your muscles after a workout, it is a clear sign that you need to rest for a day.
During a workout, tiny micro-tears can form in the muscles, which lead to soreness. When you rest, the body starts working on repairing those tears and building muscle. So, make recovery a vital part of your fitness regimen, always listen to your muscles and avoid pushing too hard.
Bear in mind that the higher the intensity of your workout, the more time your muscles need to recover.
Apart from resting, be sure to stay hydrated and try to do some light aerobic exercise like walking or jogging.
2. Drink More Water
Muscle cramps that happen when a muscle contracts involuntarily can be due to dehydration. Water comprises 75 percent of muscle tissue and helps them contract and relax easily. So, when you are dehydrated, you are at an increased risk of having muscle cramps more frequently.
Plus, water is important for proper circulation of nutrients in the body, without which your muscles will be deprived of important nutrients.
A 2005 study published in the Journal of Athletic Training reports that skeletal muscle micro-damage, indirectly evidenced by delayed-onset muscle soreness, was exacerbated in hyperthermic participants who were dehydrated from exercising in a hot environment.
Researchers noted that performing new exercises, particularly with a significant eccentric component, one should rest frequently and take rehydration breaks when training in a hot, humid environment (3).
Another study published in Physiological Reports in 2015 found that athletes training in a dehydrated state induce greater cellular and whole body stress, which in turn may elicit an enhanced training adaptation.
This can significantly decrease performance and attention needs to be paid to hydration status and cooling strategies during competitions (4).
If your muscles are painful or cramping, drink more water. To prevent dehydration, always drink an ample amount of water throughout the day.
3. Get Your Magnesium Level Checked
Regular muscle spasms and cramps can be a sign of a magnesium deficiency. Magnesium is important for muscle health, as it stimulates calcium reuptake and increases the absorption of potassium. Both these factors are important for strong muscles.
Plus, this mineral helps move sugar from your blood into your muscles and dispose of lactic acid, which can build up in muscles during exercise and cause pain.
If you often experience muscle cramps, get your magnesium level checked. A 2015 study published in the journal Nutrients points out that magnesium deficiency can contribute to symptoms of increased neuromuscular excitability such as tremor, muscle cramps, carpopedal spasm, tetany, and generalized seizures (5).
If you have a magnesium deficiency, all you need to do is increase your magnesium intake through a healthy diet or consult your doctor about taking a supplement. Some magnesium-rich foods include whole grains, nuts, beans, legumes, green leafy vegetables and fruits like avocado and banana.
4. Eat More Potassium-Rich Foods
If you are suddenly experiencing more muscle cramps, chances are high that your body lacks potassium. In fact, frequent muscle cramps are a common sign of a potassium deficiency.
Potassium helps maintain the fluid and electrolyte balance in the body, which is important for your muscles and nerves to function properly.
This mineral is principally involved in membrane potential and electrical excitation of both nerve and muscle cells and acid-base regulation. This helps control muscle contractions and functioning.
A study published in Advances in Nutrition in 2012 highlights the importance of increasing potassium intake and favorable effects on muscle function, overall muscle health, and potentially prevention of falls (6).
It is important to replenish your body’s potassium by eating more potassium-rich foods like bananas, Brussel sprouts, spinach and white beans, or by taking a supplement after consulting your doctor.
5. Limit the Amount of Alcohol You Drink
Excess alcohol intake is not good your health or for your muscles. Peripheral nerves can become damaged due to excess alcohol intake, causing alcoholic neuropathy. Muscle cramps are a common symptom of alcoholic neuropathy.
Also, drinking excess alcohol increases the lactic acid in your body, which can lead to cramps or pain in your muscles.
Moreover, excessive drinking causes dehydration due to the diuretic effect of alcohol, which can cause muscle soreness.
A 2005 study published in Sports Medicine suggested that alcohol consumption decreases the use of glucose and amino acids by skeletal muscles, adversely affects energy supply, and impairs the metabolic process during exercise (7).
A 2010 study published in Nutrients highlights that muscle cramps, pain and a loss of proprioception (perception or awareness of the body’s position and movement) are common symptoms of alcohol misuse. However, the underlying mechanisms remain speculative (8).
Another study published in PLOS ONE in 2014 reports that alcohol consumption interferes with muscle recovery and regeneration after training (9).
So, be careful about how much alcohol you drink, particularly when you are experiencing muscle problems or unexplained neuropathy.
6. Check Your Blood Sugar Level
Diabetes can also contribute to leg muscle cramping. In fact, uncontrolled diabetes can damage your nerves and cause diabetic neuropathy. Some symptoms of diabetic neuropathy include pain in the leg muscles, and tingling and numbness in the legs.
A 2016 study published in the Diabetes & Metabolism Journal reports that poor glycemic control in older patients with diabetes was associated with significant risk of decreased muscle quality and performance status. Glycemic control with an HbA1c of less than or equal to 8.5 percent might be needed to reduce the risk of adverse skeletal and functional outcomes in this population (10).
If you’re experiencing muscle cramps and have diabetes, check your blood sugar level. Also, consult your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.
7. Quit Smoking
Muscle weakness and poor grip are clear signs that if you smoke, it is time to quit.
The harmful toxins are bad for your whole body. In fact, nicotine can affect the skeletal, smooth and cardiac muscles, which can result in acute and chronic muscular dysfunctions.
Plus, smoking leads to poor blood circulation throughout the body, which means muscles are getting less nutrients and oxygen to function properly.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Preventive Medicine & Public Health reports that cigarette smoking might be negatively associated with muscle strength, especially grip strength, in Japanese men (11).
Another study published in the Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal in 2013 confirms the negative influences of smoking on muscles and tendons. The study further says that pathogenesis is complex, due to direct toxic effects on osteoblasts activity of nicotine, and indirect actions on vitamin D, intestinal calcium absorption, vessels and oxygen supply (12).
- underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease | The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition | Oxford Academic. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/84/3/475. Published December 01, 2006. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- Live strong and prosper: the importance of skeletal muscle strength for healthy ageing. Biogerontology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4889643/. Published 2016. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- Dehydration and Symptoms of Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness in Hyperthermic Males. Journal of Athletic Training. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1323290/. Published 2005. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- The effect of dehydration on muscle metabolism and time trial performance during prolonged cycling in males. Physiological Reports. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4562569/. Published August 2015. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- Magnesium in Prevention and Therapy. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4586582/. Published September 2015. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- Potassium | Advances in Nutrition | Oxford Academic. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/advances/article/3/6/820/4644562. Published November 06, 2012. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- Interaction between alcohol and exercise: physiological and haematological implications. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.). https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15730339. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- Alcohol, Athletic Performance and Recovery. Nutrients. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3257708/. Published August 2010. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- Alcohol Ingestion Impairs Maximal Post-Exercise Rates of Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis following a Single Bout of Concurrent Training. PLOS ONE. http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0088384. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- Hyperglycemia Is Associated with Impaired Muscle Quality in Older Men with Diabetes: The Korean Longitudinal Study on Health and Aging. Diabetes & Metabolism Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4853221/. Published April 2016. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- Relationship Between Cigarette Smoking and Muscle Strength in Japanese Men. Journal of Preventive Medicine and Public Health. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3514468/. Published November 2012. Accessed March 06, 2018.
- Cigarette smoking and musculoskeletal disorders. Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal. Muscles, Ligaments and Tendons Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3711704/. Published 2013. Accessed March 06, 2018.