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Spicy Tastes Can Prevent Muscle Cramps, New Finding Says

Spicy Tastes Can Prevent Muscle Cramps, New Finding Says

Muscle cramps can be a huge problem for athletes and for those who try to keep themselves in shape – and athletes of the caliber of Rafael Nadal and LeBron James have been challenged by this problem in recent years. But the Wall Street Journal reports that new findings by a team of award-winning researchers (Nobel-prizing winning neuroscientist Rod Mackinnon and Harvard neurobiology professor Bruce Bean) have found new answers to the puzzle of what causes muscle cramps – and more importantly how they can be stopped in a healthy and natural manner.

Knowledge of Muscle Cramps Evolves

For most of the 20th century, Outside Online (a site dedicated to health and fitness), notes that doctors and researchers believed that muscle cramps happen when an athlete’s fluid or electrolyte levels become unbalanced or too low or when an athlete overuses his or her muscles while performing. However, for researchers that came later, that did not explain why cramps could occur when an athlete is at rest or stretching before or after a workout.

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In the 1990’s, South African physician Martin Schwellnus theorized that muscle cramping is actually a neurological problem: when the muscles get overused, the signals between the brain and the muscles get confused: signals get sent that tell muscles to contract when they should be telling them to relax. As a result, cramping and pain occurs.

Flex Pharma is Born

Bean and Mackinnon were intrigued by the idea that muscle cramping is neurological in nature and began to do research on the subject. In doing so, they came across several studies that showed a connection between the ingestion of spicy or pungent foods (such as mustard and pickle juice) and an easing in muscle cramps.

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The scientists realized that both mustard and pickle juice contain compounds called ion channel activators. These compounds appear to be able to, at the same time, stimulate nerves in the digestive system while relaxing nerves in other parts of the body.  The two men then decided to experiment and see which spicy or pungent foods appeared to be able to ease muscle cramping, sometimes even experimenting on themselves to gauge the effects of the different foods.

What was born of these experiments is a patented supplement which will be available sometime in 2017 by the company Flex Pharma, that Bean and Mackinnon founded together.  And this supplement has possible implications for more than just athletic performance: its creators are now in the process of applying to the FDA to be able to use this product to help treat the painful muscle cramping and spasms associated with serious conditions such as multiple sclerosis (MS) and Lou Gehrig’s disease, also known as ALS. While neither condition is curable, this kind of product could at least bring some relief to patients trying to manage their conditions from day to day and may even be able to improve quality of life.

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The Study in Context

It shouldn’t come as too big a surprise, however, that spices (or rather, the active compounds that these spices contain) should be able to help with cramping or pain. After all, capsaicin, the compound which gives hot peppers their actual heat, is now widely used to treat pain and inflammation in joints and muscles both. It is well-known for both its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Turmeric, too, has an active ingredient called curcumin which has been shown to help reduce pain naturally and is widely used for this particular property.

In short, when the new supplement from Flex Pharma hits the shelves in America some time next year, it should give athletes, bodybuilders and others who stay fit and active a new way to help with the sometimes debilitating pain of muscle cramps. What’s more, it will be a way that is safe, natural and, above all, effective.

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Brian Wu

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Last Updated on September 18, 2020

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

7 Simple Rules to Live by to Get in Shape in Two Weeks

Learning how to get in shape and set goals is important if you’re looking to live a healthier lifestyle and get closer to your goal weight. While this does require changes to your daily routine, you’ll find that you are able to look and feel better in only two weeks.

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to get in shape. Although anyone can cover the basics (eat right and exercise), there are some things that I could only learn through trial and error. Let’s cover some of the most important points for how to get in shape in two weeks.

1. Exercise Daily

It is far easier to make exercise a habit if it is a daily one. If you aren’t exercising at all, I recommend starting by exercising a half hour every day. When you only exercise a couple times per week, it is much easier to turn one day off into three days off, a week off, or a month off.

If you are already used to exercising, switching to three or four times a week to fit your schedule may be preferable, but it is a lot harder to maintain a workout program you don’t do every day.

Be careful to not repeat the same exercise routine each day. If you do an intense ab workout one day, try switching it up to general cardio the next. You can also squeeze in a day of light walking to break up the intensity.

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If you’re a morning person, check out these morning exercises that will start your day off right.

2. Duration Doesn’t Substitute for Intensity

Once you get into the habit of regular exercise, where do you go if you still aren’t reaching your goals? Most people will solve the problem by exercising for longer periods of time, turning forty-minute workouts into two hour stretches. Not only does this drain your time, but it doesn’t work particularly well.

One study shows that “exercising for a whole hour instead of a half does not provide any additional loss in either body weight or fat”[1].

This is great news for both your schedule and your levels of motivation. You’ll likely find it much easier to exercise for 30 minutes a day instead of an hour. In those 30 minutes, do your best to up the intensity to your appropriate edge to get the most out of the time.

3. Acknowledge Your Limits

Many people get frustrated when they plateau in their weight loss or muscle gaining goals as they’re learning how to get in shape. Everyone has an equilibrium and genetic set point where their body wants to remain. This doesn’t mean that you can’t achieve your fitness goals, but don’t be too hard on yourself if you are struggling to lose weight or put on muscle.

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Acknowledging a set point doesn’t mean giving up, but it does mean realizing the obstacles you face.

Expect to hit a plateau in your own fitness results[2]. When you expect a plateau, you can manage around it so you can continue your progress at a more realistic rate. When expectations meet reality, you can avoid dietary crashes.

4. Eat Healthy, Not Just Food That Looks Healthy

Know what you eat. Don’t fuss over minutia like whether you’re getting enough Omega 3’s or tryptophan, but be aware of the big things. Look at the foods you eat regularly and figure out whether they are healthy or not. Don’t get fooled by the deceptively healthy snacks just pretending to be good for you.

The basic nutritional advice includes:

  • Eat unprocessed foods
  • Eat more veggies
  • Use meat as a side dish, not a main course
  • Eat whole grains, not refined grains[3]

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Eat whole grains when you want to learn how to get in shape.

    5. Watch Out for Travel

    Don’t let a four-day holiday interfere with your attempts when you’re learning how to get in shape. I don’t mean that you need to follow your diet and exercise plan without any excursion, but when you are in the first few weeks, still forming habits, be careful that a week long break doesn’t terminate your progress.

    This is also true of schedule changes that leave you suddenly busy or make it difficult to exercise. Have a backup plan so you can be consistent, at least for the first month when you are forming habits.

    If travel is on your schedule and can’t be avoided, make an exercise plan before you go[4], and make sure to pack exercise clothes and an exercise mat as motivation to keep you on track.

    6. Start Slow

    Ever start an exercise plan by running ten miles and then puking your guts out? Maybe you aren’t that extreme, but burnout is common early on when learning how to get in shape. You have a lifetime to be healthy, so don’t try to go from couch potato to athletic superstar in a week.

    If you are starting a running regime, for example, run less than you can to start. Starting strength training? Work with less weight than you could theoretically lift. Increasing intensity and pushing yourself can come later when your body becomes comfortable with regular exercise.

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    7. Be Careful When Choosing a Workout Partner

    Should you have a workout partner? That depends. Workout partners can help you stay motivated and make exercising more fun. But they can also stop you from reaching your goals.

    My suggestion would be to have a workout partner, but when you start to plateau (either in physical ability, weight loss/gain, or overall health) and you haven’t reached your goals, consider mixing things up a bit.

    If you plateau, you may need to make changes to continue improving. In this case it’s important to talk to your workout partner about the changes you want to make, and if they don’t seem motivated to continue, offer a thirty day break where you both try different activities.

    I notice that guys working out together tend to match strength after a brief adjustment phase. Even if both are trying to improve, something seems to stall improvement once they reach a certain point. I found that I was able to lift as much as 30-50% more after taking a short break from my regular workout partner.

    Final Thoughts

    Learning how to get in shape in as little as two weeks sounds daunting, but if you’re motivated and have the time and energy to devote to it, it’s certainly possible.

    Find an exercise routine that works for you, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and watch as the transformation begins.

    More Tips on Getting in Shape

    Featured photo credit: Alexander Redl via unsplash.com

    Reference

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