Leg cramps are painful, but they usually go away fairly quickly after the onset of the pain. Cramps can occur for a number of reasons, including muscle or nerve disorders and electrolyte imbalance. In some cases, simply adding certain nutrients to your diet can help prevent them. Look for food sources of these nutrients, and always ask your doctor before taking nutrient supplements.
Potassium is an electrolyte that resides in all the cells of your body, including those in your muscles. Potassium works with other nutrients to create an electrical impulse that helps muscles, including the heart, work properly. A potassium deficiency may not necessarily be the cause of leg cramps, but getting adequate amounts of the nutrient can help prevent the painful condition. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, dairy foods, fish and meat to help you get the 4,700 milligrams of potassium you need each day. Potassium deficiencies are rare. If you get muscle cramps often, speak to your doctor before drastically increasing your intake of the mineral, because too much isn't good for your heart.
Magnesium is another mineral that acts as an electrolyte in your body. The mineral plays a role in providing the energy you need for your muscles to contract properly. Individuals with a magnesium deficiency can experience muscle weakness and muscle cramps. Adult men need between 400 and 420 milligrams of magnesium each day, and adult women require between 310 and 320 milligrams on a daily basis. Food sources of magnesium include nuts, seeds, leafy green vegetables, whole wheat flour, baked potatoes, and herbs and spices such as basil, sage, fennel and poppy seeds.
Although consuming too much sodium can be harmful to your health, your muscles rely on a small amount of the mineral to function normally. Sodium deficiency isn't common, however, and many people consume far more than the 2,300 milligrams recommended as a safe upper limit, according to the Human Kinetics website. Athletes experiencing leg cramps who were tested for sodium levels after exercise often showed lowered blood sodium levels, indicating that sodium plays at least some role in the prevention of cramps.
Usually associated with bone health, calcium is the final of the four most important nutrients for muscle function. Calcium plays a role in the smooth contraction of all your muscles, including your heart, digestive system and skeletal muscles. A calcium deficiency alone isn't likely to cause muscle cramps, because the bones release calcium if you're low. But a temporary imbalance in your calcium level might be partly responsible for leg cramps. You need at least 1,000 milligrams of calcium each day, and good food sources include low-fat dairy foods, such as milk and cheese, as well as leafy green vegetables and canned fish.