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Muscle Cramps & Jelly Beans – When a Sugar Isn’t a Sugar

It’s amazing how many very good athletes don’t consider pre-race nutrition as one of their strategies for winning or at least doing well, injury-free, in an event.

I was speaking to a runner on a few days ago before a race and his strategy was to load up on jelly beans 20 minutes before lining up for a half marathon . . . unfortunately I needed more than 20 minutes to prove to him why this wasn’t a good idea.

Fatigue is certainly an important factor to consider if you suffer exercise induced muscle cramps. The primary source of fuel for the muscle is from carbohydrates and one of the most basic forms of carbohydrate are sugars.

However, when we say ‘sugars’ – people think of sugarcane sugar like in a candy bar or jelly beans. But the truth is that there are certain building sugars for your body and you’ve got to learn to differentiate those.

There’s a family of sugars called monosaccharides, polysaccharides and oligosaccharides and these are the building sugars that you want – not sugarcane sugar, or fructose, or sucralose or syrup or any of those types of things.

A good source of carbohydrate from fruit, in particular, is important to provide muscles with important natural sugars – monosaccharides, oligosaccharides and polysaccharides – that assist with the storage and supply of glucose for the muscles.

And these monosaccharides and polysaccharides help you recover and repair your muscle faster after major exercise or an event. Your muscle basically works like an engine that needs good quality gasoline to perform well and those saccharides are like the gasoline for your muscles.

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So it’s very important to have those saccharides and the carbohydrates and electrolytes in those muscle areas so that you can perform more efficiently and prevent cramping.

It’s also so very important to have a carbohydrate meal with saccharides within 30 minutes after your performance. We’ve consistently found athletes that do that – even if it’s just eating some fresh fruit within the 30 minutes – recover faster than athletes that don’t do it.

To start any nutritional program the first place to start is to increase your intake of fruits and vegetables. Most people do not take in the recommended intake of 9 to 12 servings of fruit and vegetables per day and for athletes and people who train regularly this means 12 servings.

A serving is equivalent to a small banana, a medium sized apple, 1 cup of raw salad greens (about the size of your hand), ¾ cup of fruit or vegetable juice (6 oz), ½ cup cooked vegetables around the size of your fist or a baseball and ¼ cup dried fruit.

Just meeting the daily recommendations for fruit and vegetable intake will go a long way towards better health . . . and that extends into physical performance and reducing your overall risk of cramping.

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