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Ask Dr. Gourmet

What could be causing my husband's muscle cramps?

My husband has been working extra hard lately. He is a lineman and he has been working a job that requires him to actually climb up and down the power poles instead of using the bucket truck.

For the past few days he has been having terrible muscle cramps. How can he help this? It is extremely hot outside, so he is sweating and trying to stay hydrated, but like I said it is very hot where we live and it is very humid. Could he be depleting his system of what it needs to keep his potassium levels good?

He eats a banana at lunch every day. He also takes a multi vitamin. I'm not sure what else we can do. He wakes up in the middle of the night with horrible Charlie horses. He really needs his sleep to stay sharp. He can't risk being drowsy or cramping up while he is up on the pole. He deals with electricity.

Please advise me as to what we can do or what options are out there. We were hoping there are some foods or fruits or vitamins that would give him some relief. He is not a big fan of medications.

Dr. Gourmet Says...

a bunch of yellow bananas

It's hard to say exactly what might be causing your husband's cramps. There are a few possibilities for you and him to consider. It's very important that you check with his doctor, because there are some issues, such as narrowing of the arteries, that could be serious.

It is more likely that your husband's dehydration and loss of electrolytes is leading to his cramps. This is often not just potassium but also sodium, and it's important to replace this as well. In the heat having a sports drink like Gatorade is a good idea. The best choice is the lower calorie versions without as much sugar: it will have all the essential electrolytes that can help him from becoming dehydrated.

In the sun the rule of thumb is to drink at least a liter of water an hour, with 1/3 to 1/2 of that liquid as a sports drink. Every other or every third bottle of fluids as a sports drink can help prevent dehydration.

Thanks for writing,

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, FACP, CCMS
Dr. Gourmet