Many athletes suffer from cramps. Cramps will prevent you from competing or training pretty much immediately. Once you get a cramp there isn’t much you can do about it, no amount of stretching or massage will get you back to 100% to be able to compete or train at your best. Even if you do manage to play on, your chances of serious injury are increased, so unless it is an important competition there is no real point of pushing through the pain. Your best bet then is preventing cramps in the first place.
There are different types of cramps you may suffer. You may have a prolonged type of cramp or one where the muscle spasms. They can occur while you train or after training or competition while you are lying around trying to recover.
Dehydration is a major cause of cramps. So the most common advice for preventing cramps is to stay well hydrated. It is too late to try and catch up once you begin training or competing so it is important to sip on water throughout the day. See this article for more details http://www.totalhealthperformance.com.au/single-post/2015/11/23/Hydration-for-Optimal-Performance
It is also important to ensure you are getting enough electrolytes. Electrolytes help muscles contract so if you are deficient in them your muscles aren’t able to contract properly. The reason why you want to add or drink fluids with electrolytes in them is that plain water actually dilutes the electrolytes in your tissues. To restore electrolyte balance, your body will try to get rid of the water, so you will start to urinate a lot and this carries the electrolytes out with it.
Now, when people think of electrolytes they immediately think of commercial sports drinks. These are not the best option to replenish electrolyte levels. They are basically sugar water. They also contain high levels of sodium which prevents the water from being able to enter the cells. Instead of sports drinks we use coconut water. It works out cheaper and is much more effective. You could also buy an electrolyte powder and add that to your water but they tend to be a bit more expensive and you have to buy a quality brand.
Another thing to consider when trying to prevent cramps is magnesium levels. Many people will take a magnesium capsule before a game but I feel this is pointless and ineffective. Magnesium has to be taken regularly so that it can reach high concentration levels in the tissues. Taking one cap here or there will do nothing. Magnesium is the most common deficiency in athletes so it is one of the most important supplements they can take. It should be taken along with other supplements such as vitamin D3 and you have to ensure the athlete has good gut function so they are able to absorb their nutrients properly. Adding in some potassium is also beneficial for preventing muscle cramps and because it is an alkalizing mineral it can also help increase your work capacity.
One last thing to consider when it comes to cramping is how physically prepared you are as an athlete. If you haven’t trained hard enough to prepare yourself for the demands of your sport then you are more likely to suffer from cramps. Cramps occur when the muscular demand is higher than the level the muscle has been trained for. That is why you often see players go down with cramps in very hard games or at the start of the pre-season when they are under done physically. It is important then to make sure you maintain a general level of fitness and progressively increase your training throughout the offseason to make sure you are ready for the highest levels of competition. If you are a 20 minute player then prepare as if you are going to play 40 minutes so that you know you have enough in reserve.