Common advice tells us to drink water after exercising to avoid cramps.
Now, research by scientists at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Australia have debunked the habit as an old wives' tale, saying drinking water after exercise could actually make you more likely to suffer painful leg spasms.
“There have been many theories proposed as to what causes muscle cramps in the past,” says the author of the study, Professor Ken Nosaka. “But this is the first time that we have conclusively shown that electrolyte depletion is the primary cause of muscle cramps.”
Scientists asked a group of 10 men to run on a treadmill in a hot room until they sweated out two percent of their body weight. Then, they gave the men different types of drinks and measured how susceptible they were to cramping in the legs.
The men who drank water were more likely to experience muscle cramps, whereas those who were given drinks containing electrolytes had a 'significantly reduced' likelihood of pain.
However, the study, published in the journal BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, shouldn't put you off drinking water while you exercise - as long as you do it right.
Here are some tips for enjoying a refreshing drink of water at the gym:
• Drink a little water before you exercise, but don't drink afterwards if you're susceptible to leg cramps, and definitely don't drink while you exercise - especially during cardio such as running on a treadmill. Apart from getting hiccups, you also run the risk of choking or damaging the equipment.
• Don't be tempted to switch to high electrolyte drinks such as Lucozade to avoid cramps - many contain high levels of sugar and additives that will undo all your hard work. Instead, opt for filtered water. You can flavor your filtered water with your favorite sugar-free squash or fresh fruit.
• You can also buy flavored electrolyte sachets that will add the minerals to your water that you need.
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