Soccer cramps can affect different parts of the body including the stomach or the legs. They usually happen suddenly and, inasmuch as they are usually non-fatal, they come with excruciating pain that can paralyze the player.
In some cases, the technical crew may be forced to take the player out and bring in a substitute. Constantly having cramps during every game can lead to career stagnation.
When big clubs are scouting for players, their level of fitness and how often they get injured are some of the factors they consider. Cramps are usually worse when you start playing soccer for the first time.
Every soccer player should have experienced cramps at one time or another. Thankfully, muscle cramps are avoidable and usually require minor behavioral and dietary changes.
If you are reading this, it is probably because you have been hit by cramps before while playing soccer. We will tell you the steps you can take to prevent cramps before you ever step onto the field to play.
How do you prevent cramps before soccer?
Calf cramp is the most frequent among all the forms of cramps. If you have been a soccer fan for up to a decade, you must have seen a game where a player limps and falls to the ground and holds one of his or her legs while screaming in pain.
At the Euro 2020, Declan Rice collapsed with cramps as he tried to celebrate Harry Kane’s second goal against Germany. Although cramps happen more among amateur soccer players, professional soccer players are also not immune to cramps too.
Stomach cramp rarely occurs among male soccer players and is usually more common among female soccer players. The two main causes of cramps are excessive use of muscles or impact with either the ball or with other players.
Unlike calf cramps, stomach cramps can be a direct consequence of what you ate. Calf or stomach cramps usually resolve on their own after a few minutes—if you can endure the pain.
However, since the pain is usually too intense to be ignored, the medical team will use different techniques like stretching, massage, and ice packs to try to relieve the cramp. When available, the application of heat is also effective in relieving cramps.
If you are the type that cannot complete 90 minutes of soccer without having one form of cramp, do the following before soccer to avoid cramps.
Proper hydration before the game
If you are constantly having cramps in your stomach or calf during every soccer game, it may likely be because you enter the pitch without proper hydration. When we talk about hydration, it goes beyond consuming water alone.
The right liquid like sports drinks should contain electrolytes and nutrients (potassium, magnesium, chloride, and sodium) to maintain the body’s balance. Electrolytes regulate muscle contraction, nerve conduction, and fluid balance which makes them directly linked to cramping.
Soccer players lose a lot of water alongside these electrolytes through sweat during the game which eventually leads to a deficiency of these electrolytes. Also, it is important to mention that drinking a liter of water a few minutes before the game may not be enough to get you hydrated.
Instead, hydration should be a continuous process that happens daily even before the game. Soccer players, like every other athlete, are advised to drink water that is half their body weight in ounces.
For example, a soccer player who weighs 180 pounds is expected to take 90 ounces of water per day to stay hydrated.
According to the guideline on Fluid Replacement for Athletes by the National Athletic Trainers Association, athletes are required to take 500 to 600 ml (17 – 20 fl oz) of sports drink or water 2 to 3 hours before exercise or game and 200 – 300 ml (7 – 10 fl oz) of sports drink ten to twenty minutes before the commencement of the game or exercise.
Another smart thing you can do in this regard is to consume extra sodium before your game or training since the body loses a lot of it through sweat. The average sodium the body loses per liter of sweat is 900 mg. That should guide you to determine the quantity of additional sodium you need to take.
It is important to mention that this hydration technique will work better if you have been drinking enough water before the match day. If you are already dehydrated, the fluid replacement guideline may not be enough to correct the deficiency.
One of the ways that you will know that you are properly hydrated is by looking at the color of your urine. When properly hydrated, your urine should be the color of lemonade. If you experience darker colors, take more sports drinks or water.
By staying properly hydrated before the game, you will decrease your chances of having cramps.
Watch what you eat
If you only take water for hydration, then you need to eat food classes that will help to replenish your electrolyte balance. Fruits such as bananas, orange juice, and apricots are good reservoirs of potassium.
Baked potatoes, potato chips, broccoli, and brussels sprouts are also other important sources of potassium. Yogurt is another important source of virtually all important electrolytes including magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
Muscle fatigue which happens when your body runs out of fuel can also lead to cramping. To avoid this, it is important to include adequate carbohydrates in your pre-game meal.
Make sure you eat 1 to 4 hours before the game and snack 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. If it is training, make sure you consume 30 grams of snacks every hour.
Avoid playing soccer on a full tummy because that can easily lead to stomach crap as you run around the pitch. Dietary adjustments like changing the time you eat and what you eat before a soccer game can go a long way in preventing stomach and leg cramps during games.
Proper stretching and warm-up before playing soccer
If you are familiar with soccer, one thing that you should have noticed is that soccer players run up and down the side of the touchline before their substitution. Proper warm-up may just be all you need to stop that cramp you always get when playing soccer.
Stretching and other pre-game routines help to warm up your muscles, making them more resistant to cramping. Experts advise that you warm up the muscles first through activities like jogging or short sprints before stretching.
Warm muscles are more resistant to cramps than cold muscles. During your stretching routine, pay more attention to the quads, calves, and hamstrings because they are usually the muscles that are most prone to cramping.
Wear the right soccer gears
Cramps can also occur from a traumatic blow to the muscles. Since soccer is a contact sport, it is almost impossible to prevent a clash with other players.
The potential for running into other players is higher for defenders and forward players. For example, wearing a leg guard or impact slider in addition to your shin guards can cushion the impact of any blow to your lower limbs and limit the chance of cramping.
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In terms of wearing the right gears, you also have to watch the tightness of your gears. Gears that are too tight can interfere with proper blood circulation.
We all know that blood carries oxygen and nutrients around the body as well as takes away waste. So, anything that affects the proper flow of blood will disrupt the flow of nutrients to the muscles and also lead to the accumulation of wastes like lactic acid which will increase the chance of cramping.
If you have a pair of socks that is too tight, consider stretching them. Also, if your soccer cleats are too tight, let’s stretch them right away.
This will allow blood to flow around the body with ease and reduce the chance of getting cramps when you step onto the pitch. In the nutshell, make sure nothing around your legs is too tight to the point of cutting circulation.
The mind controls the body. The source of your cramping may be mental exhaustion. It is not surprising that the majority of cramping in soccer happens when the game heads into extra time after the 90 minutes regular duration.
That is because most soccer players don’t condition their minds to go beyond the 90 minutes’ regular duration. Unfortunately, only 5 substitutions are currently allowed in soccer which means that the majority of other soccer players that start the game will play to the end.
Conditioning your mind for the extra time might just be the difference between getting a cramp and playing to the end of the game.
Just wait it out
Cramping seems to be common among soccer players between the ages of 17 and 21. There is no known explanation for this.
Mo Gimpel who was one of Premier League’s longest-serving medical practitioners having spent 23 years at Southampton explained that soccer players in this category have to just wait it out. Players in this category will eventually grow out of it.
Take a break
Muscle overuse is one of the leading causes of cramping. It is always a good idea to give your muscles a rest 24 hours before a major game.
This period of dormancy will help your muscles to relax and repair any tear that you may have sustained from the last intense training.
Once cramping starts, it is paramount that you stop whatever activity that you are doing and stretch out the cramping muscle. Ice treatment can also help to ease the pain and stop the involuntary contraction of the muscles.
Even when you adhere to all the instructions that we outlined above, there is still no guarantee that you will not experience cramping. However, these tricks should significantly lower your chances of getting cramps during a soccer game.
If for any reason there is a huge imbalance of potassium, sodium, magnesium, and chloride in your body, you can turn to supplements to help restore the balance.
If after all your efforts to prevent cramping during a soccer game and it still happens to you frequently, then it is time to see a doctor for a thorough examination to see if other underlying factors are exacerbating your cramping.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!