By Kelsey Canon
Thinking stretching is all you can do to fight a cramp? Think again.In Game 1 of the NBA finals, Miami Heat star LeBron James was taken out by an ironic opponent: the heat.
The temperature in the San Antonio AT&T arena reportedly soared towards 35 degrees because the air conditioning stopped working. With four minutes left on the clock, James was carried off court with an intense leg cramp. He watched as the Spurs beat the Heat, 110-95.
"In a regular game, professional athletes lose an extraordinary amount of fluid and electrolytes," says Dr Michael Bergeron, executive director of the Sanford Sports Science Institute. "Playing in hot and humid conditions can push a player's fluid and electrolyte loss to a dangerous level." As dehydration sets in, subtle twitches or cramping can progressively turn into painful muscle spasms.
For James, it was too late to replenish his stores of fluids and electrolytes in the remaining minutes of the game.
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Just because you're not a professional athlete, doesn't mean you're off the hydration hook. Studies have shown that your central nervous system slows your muscle activation when you're not adequately hydrated. The result: your workouts suffer. Follow these tips to prevent heat cramps inside stuffy gyms and avoid being sidelined like King James.
If you feel spasming, stop exercising and head for the outdoors where it's cool. Consume a high concentration of electrolytes—especially sodium—from a salty sports drink or even a bouillon cube. "Without electrolytes, the majority of water you consume will pass right through you," says Bergeron. "When you cramp up, you need to replenish your electrolytes first." They'll help your muscles hold onto the hydrating fluids you consume.
A cramp means your muscle is contracting, and a natural reaction is to stretch the area to relieve tightness. However, that will only stress the muscle further, potentially causing damage, warns Bergeron. Instead, flex a muscle near the cramped offender to stop the stressed muscle from firing. For example, if your calf cramps up, flex your quad to relieve some of the tension from your lower leg.
"The best thing you can do in a situation like this is to rest," says Bergeron. Since you can't rehydrate yourself fast enough, you won't get rid of the cramp until you cool down, replenish your fluid levels, and stop putting stress on your muscles.