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Atkins Diet & Leg Cramps

By Julie Boehlke ; Updated August 14, 2017

The Atkins diet is a type of low=carbohydrate diet. Because of the restriction of carbohydrate intake, your body might begin to experience cramping in the extremities, such as the legs. The reason for this is mainly due to carbohydrate restriction but also might have other diet-related causes. Leg cramps can be painful and finding a solution is a priority.

Signs

If you are following the Atkins diet, you might experience a change in how you feel throughout the first three to four days on the program. A common symptom is leg and muscle cramping. A leg cramp can be something as mild as a light discomfort from a pulled or pinched muscle to a cramp that causes muscle spasms and extreme pain. Most leg cramps begin in the calve area and feel like the muscle is extremely tense, making it hard to move or put pressure on. In some cases you might be able to see your muscle distort or twitch under the skin. A sharp, piercing pain might start in the muscle and branch out through the foot and leg. Your sciatic nerve, which lies in your upper hip, also might become aggravated, resulting in piercing nerve pain that can make walking challenging. Other areas that are prone to cramping include the hamstrings and quadriceps.

Causes

There are several causes of leg cramps when you are on the Atkins diet. One of the main causes is ketosis. As your body makes the switch from burning carbohydrates for energy to using its own stored body fat, the body can start to turn to the muscles for added energy. Once your body adjusts to using fat as a fuel source, muscle cramping should subside. If you are exercising with the Atkins diet, you might increase your risk for leg cramping. Making sure you stay hydrated while on Atkins can help prevent leg cramps. Severe and even slight dehydration can cause a loss of salts, minerals and electrolytes, causing muscle spasms and cramping.

Solution

Because the pain of a leg cramp can be intense on Atkins, getting the muscles to relax is a priority. Stop your physical activity immediately and take a break. Make sure that you take your entire body weight off of the leg until the cramp subsides. Your first response might be to stretch the muscles to relive the cramp; instead, try to relax and keep your leg still until the cramping subsides. Once the spasm or cramping is over, slowly begin to stretch the area muscles – hold for a few seconds and repeat until you feel comfortable enough to walk again.

Prevention

Make sure you are following Atkins properly and taking a daily vitamin supplement that includes potassium and vitamin E. Drinking at least eight 8-oz. glasses of water will help keep electrolyte levels up and keep fluid in your muscles and joints. Cramping should subside once your body adjusts to a low-carb lifestyle. If incidences of leg cramps persist beyond a few days or cramping last more than 30 minutes, seek medical attention.

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