Q: I’m pregnant and have been waking up every night with horrible leg cramps. My researching online says I maybe need more magnesium. Do you have any suggestions how to work this into my diet?
A: Ouch! That is no fun. I had leg cramps with my second pregnancy, and I can remember how much those hurt.
The hard fact is that no one 100% knows why leg cramps happen, because there are lots of things that can lead up to them. Here are four common nutrients that are suggested or that I have seen be helpful. The good news is that many of these are found in the same foods (another reason it can be hard to identify exactly the cause/solution). Also good news, the same answers apply to pregnancy leg cramps or non-pregnancy related leg cramps.
1) Magnesium. As your researching suggests, magnesium is commonly recommended for leg cramps. In general, good sources are nuts, dark leafy greens (like spinach), and whole grains.
2) Potassium. Potassium rich foods are bananas, citrus fruits/juices, potatoes, tomatoes, yogurt, and dark leafy greens.
3) Calcium. Calcium rich foods are dairy products, dark leafy greens, and broccoli.
All three of these nutrients are part of normal muscle function. If one is depleted, it can cause cramps. Since all three work together, it can be hard to know exactly which one is missing, unless you are on a specific medication that we know depletes that nutrient.
4) Water. Water requirements in pregnancy can be hard to determine. You need a lot. Most say at least 8-10 cups a day, others will say up to 16 cups. I personally found that if I was better hydrated, my leg cramps went away. It’s hard, because we tend to not drink water late in the day so we aren’t up in the night using the bathroom. But I’d rather have to go to the bathroom than be up in pain.
Good luck! Hope this helps!
Have any nutrition questions? Need help with meal planning or a special dietary need? Send your questions to me at kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com, and I will answer them in upcoming posts!