8

votes

Paleo diet and leg cramps

Answered on January 14, 2015
Created March 26, 2010 at 10:56 PM

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? *

7fc82eebafd44badc73c520f44660150

(3275)

on February 18, 2013
at 03:27 PM

Would taurine be necessary if on paleo but not low carb?

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on June 03, 2012
at 09:47 PM

I don't know. This is what I experience. I would guess it is because it quickly modulates blood level, not whole body level. Capsules are limited in the U.S. to 99 m for safety, even though food levels can be much higher. I suppose this is for similar reasons.

7fc82eebafd44badc73c520f44660150

(3275)

on June 02, 2012
at 09:19 PM

3 caps is like 3% daily value. How could that help?

1ac8e976f84cb2566ecfbbcce1817351

(211)

on May 10, 2011
at 01:57 PM

I supplement with Mag (Natural Calm) and have high levels of potassium. I can't figure out why I have leg cramps?

828429fe885f42968c0519d5b84cec40

(608)

on October 19, 2010
at 03:05 PM

Seconded. It is usually low potassium. When my husband or I go to low on carbs we get these. A big bag of veggies usually does the trick.

95ab15c8ef50ff0daf87ccbdd52cd3b8

(2384)

on March 30, 2010
at 12:00 AM

I third this. I take corticosteroids for a chronic illness, and these kinds of cramps are a common side effect. Mag citrate is the standard recommendation and it works. I aim for 400 mg a day.

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on March 27, 2010
at 10:15 PM

Melissa, I understand that some folks that go off of Iodized salt when transitioning to Paleo and start using Celtic Sea Salt -- which has no iodine in it -- seem to develop thyroid issues. Just anecdotal

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on March 27, 2010
at 10:14 PM

Melissa, I understand that folks that go off of Iodized salt when transitioning to Paleo and start using Celtic Sea Salt -- which has no iodine in it -- seem to develop thyroid issues. Just anecdotal

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on March 27, 2010
at 10:12 PM

Melissa, I understand that folks that go off of Iodized salt when transitioning to Paleo and start using Celtic Sea Salt seem to develop thyroid issues. Just anecdotal

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on March 27, 2010
at 10:12 PM

Melissa, Melissa, I understand that folks that go off of Iodized salt when transitioning to Paleo and start using Celtic Sea Salt seem to develop thyroid issues. Just anecdotal.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 27, 2010
at 05:39 PM

that's a great tip. I recently tried mg supplements and they upset my stomach. I think I will stick with real foods like sea salt.

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21 Answers

7
149056f0f8fe87e592d3ead1826badb5

(248)

on March 26, 2010
at 11:48 PM

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.

828429fe885f42968c0519d5b84cec40

(608)

on October 19, 2010
at 03:05 PM

Seconded. It is usually low potassium. When my husband or I go to low on carbs we get these. A big bag of veggies usually does the trick.

1ac8e976f84cb2566ecfbbcce1817351

(211)

on May 10, 2011
at 01:57 PM

I supplement with Mag (Natural Calm) and have high levels of potassium. I can't figure out why I have leg cramps?

6
Medium avatar

(7073)

on March 27, 2010
at 07:49 AM

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.

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on March 27, 2010
at 10:12 PM

Melissa, Melissa, I understand that folks that go off of Iodized salt when transitioning to Paleo and start using Celtic Sea Salt seem to develop thyroid issues. Just anecdotal.

9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 27, 2010
at 05:39 PM

that's a great tip. I recently tried mg supplements and they upset my stomach. I think I will stick with real foods like sea salt.

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on March 27, 2010
at 10:12 PM

Melissa, I understand that folks that go off of Iodized salt when transitioning to Paleo and start using Celtic Sea Salt seem to develop thyroid issues. Just anecdotal

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on March 27, 2010
at 10:15 PM

Melissa, I understand that some folks that go off of Iodized salt when transitioning to Paleo and start using Celtic Sea Salt -- which has no iodine in it -- seem to develop thyroid issues. Just anecdotal

06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on March 27, 2010
at 10:14 PM

Melissa, I understand that folks that go off of Iodized salt when transitioning to Paleo and start using Celtic Sea Salt -- which has no iodine in it -- seem to develop thyroid issues. Just anecdotal

6
245c53790116339bcc79fb789f6f9c9d

(744)

on March 27, 2010
at 12:13 AM

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:

  1. Being in ketosis has a diuretic effect on the body. Anything diuretic tends to flush out minerals from the body, raising requirements.
  2. Insulin transports magnesium into cells. I have seen my insulin requirements drop so much (I'm a type 1 diabetic) that I'm wondering if there isn't enough insulin to help me absorb a large dose of magnesium (500).

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.

4
E9798942dfaa0cda97a8f9a71c128c5d

(168)

on May 28, 2011
at 08:11 PM

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!

7fc82eebafd44badc73c520f44660150

(3275)

on February 18, 2013
at 03:27 PM

Would taurine be necessary if on paleo but not low carb?

4
100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on March 27, 2010
at 12:22 AM

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.

7fc82eebafd44badc73c520f44660150

(3275)

on June 02, 2012
at 09:19 PM

3 caps is like 3% daily value. How could that help?

100fd85230060e754fc13394eee6d6f1

(18706)

on June 03, 2012
at 09:47 PM

I don't know. This is what I experience. I would guess it is because it quickly modulates blood level, not whole body level. Capsules are limited in the U.S. to 99 m for safety, even though food levels can be much higher. I suppose this is for similar reasons.

4
5d5196906f34a512af252aeb596fc678

(40)

on March 27, 2010
at 12:10 AM

I second magnesium. Take citrate, taurate, or glycinate

95ab15c8ef50ff0daf87ccbdd52cd3b8

(2384)

on March 30, 2010
at 12:00 AM

I third this. I take corticosteroids for a chronic illness, and these kinds of cramps are a common side effect. Mag citrate is the standard recommendation and it works. I aim for 400 mg a day.

4
06d21b99c58283ce575e36c4ecd4a458

(9948)

on March 26, 2010
at 11:59 PM

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.

3
9d43f6873107e17ca4d1a5055aa7a2ad

on March 27, 2010
at 03:29 AM

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.

2
3432683fc74c2d2a40efe1e8f16ac1f6

(1130)

on October 08, 2011
at 02:57 PM

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.

1
A7768b6c6be7f5d6acc76e5efa66464c

on August 19, 2012
at 01:47 PM

I'm seconding the sodium suggestion above. Going off processed foods can dramatically reduce our sodium intake, and low sodium is as likely--if not more likely--to cause cramps as potassium or magnesium. I get sodium depleted easily, and get cramps not just in my legs, but all sorts of places.

1
Cbda678b2a6bf0537d8c4ea0ce8aa9ad

(4319)

on August 19, 2012
at 09:44 AM

I started using shark cartilage and my constant morning stretching cramps went away almost overnight. No idea why it works

1
93ae9f2d376e5426e891a9b58d8302fa

(2936)

on October 08, 2011
at 01:54 PM

I used to get leg cramps at night after too much chocolate. At the time, I swore that a capsule of vitamin E was the cure, but now I think it was just cured by letting a couple hours lapse, that's all. Anyway, I don't do chocolate anymore, unless I'm cheating, and then it's not much.

1
C2450eb7fa11b37473599caf93b461ef

on October 08, 2011
at 11:26 AM

I started getting them with my first pregnancy, too. They got worse just before I got serious about paleo. I started eating more paleo and also started supplementing magnesium and then, like I always do, I fell off the supplements. After a little while being serious about paleo, though, they didn't come back. I know that phytic acid chelates magnesium, so I wonder if it took a bit of time not eating grains and some major supplementing before my body's stock was up to snuff. Of course, I'm an English teacher and not a scientist, so what do I know? ;)

1
A64ed062eb5e2c3407122fcf16c5de6b

on October 08, 2011
at 07:06 AM

I found this great article that says all of the above and more. It's from the low-carb, not paleo camp.

http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/nutrition/whats-causing-my-muscles-to-cram.html

I think I may have to stop drinking coffee for a bit :(

1
4d10a09dadeb266681418f5fe06c3f00

(115)

on March 29, 2011
at 01:13 PM

Glad I found this; I'm my 2nd week into eating more Paleo than in the past and I've had several wake-me-up calf crampings...not fun at all

0
13b40c07d0aab810f48eec3d04877010

(410)

on January 14, 2015
at 07:42 PM

thought I should post as I started this thread.  I wrote a long post, but unfortunately it got erased...So, I will just cut to the chase and say that the only thing that worked for me (no cramps for over a year!) was switching to a lower fat diet.  Eating high fat (esp at night) seems to have been the cause for me;when i up the fat my symptoms return.   I will say though that I think nocturnal leg cramps are one of those annoying ailments that may have multiple causes, so many folks can swear by different cures and all be correct...

0
2bd9b3115b00a175fdbdb1c9ec462de8

on January 14, 2015
at 04:02 AM

 Well, it's 3:30 am and I'm sat here researching why I'm getting these terrible leg cramps. I get them day and night, most commonly at night but recently whilst out running, causing me to fall... As sit here I can feel my calfs twitching away and I frightened to sleep. This is a real problem but there's plenty of advice here for me to begin with, I hope your particular issue is resolved!

0
727e5134442aee1c225712a2ec38792f

on October 01, 2013
at 02:21 PM

I use Himalayan salt a lot but I have been experiencing three or 4 leg cramps a night. I will try the Taurine some mentioned.

0
6f9cfa9d2c635ab4dcc6c6b5efa8ed77

on September 03, 2013
at 01:26 AM

On paleo for about a month. I have been getting leg cramps at night so strong I have to get up for a couple of hours, went on a fast for 3 days for other reasons, not a single cramp, then as soon as I start eating again, cramps. Can't understand it, you'd think i would be more mineral deficient when fasting.

0
49484bf1e841e73568c90911b2876752

on March 30, 2013
at 03:38 AM

I've been doing a workout called Bodypump for about a month and a half. I started paleo about half a month ago and noticed that my legs cramp up right above my knees more now to the point I'm not able to do as many squats now. I drink lots of water and eat lots of broccoli, tomatoes, and zucchini as they are my favorite as well as plenty of meats. I dont use a lot of salt but i figure there's probably plenty in the seasonings i use. Any input? Please help!

0
C0c839648b31512515daaffe8e4e9ad1

on August 19, 2012
at 12:50 PM

Vitamin D deficiency lists state muscle cramping as a symptom. I have Vit D deficiency and muscle cramping :) About to fix it.

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