Best Foods to Help Treat Muscle Cramps


While a common cliché, the saying of “an apple a day keeps the doctor” holds true when it comes to living a healthy lifestyle. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks poor diet as the second greatest risk factor in developing chronic diseases [1].

Globally, over 4 million deaths are attributed to dietary patterns high in salt [1]. Another 3.3 million global deaths are related to excessive alcohol intake [1]. Following a healthy dietary pattern does not just reduce risk of death, but helps ward off chronic diseases, nutrient deficiencies and ultimately helps people live longer, and higher quality lives.

While muscle cramps are not considered a chronic disease or serious illness, they are an inconvenience that can impair your ability to live life to the fullest. Science shows that muscle cramps can be triggered in those living with a chronic illness or with nutrient deficiencies [2].

As muscle cramps are common in the older adult population [3] and evidence suggests that older adults are at a higher risk of nutrient deficiencies [4], it is important to consume enough essential nutrients each day. This may not only decrease muscle cramping, but also decrease your risk of chronic disease.

Foods to treat muscle cramps

While science shows that there is not one single food that is effective in treating muscle cramps, following a healthy diet pattern rich is vegetables and fruits, whole grains and lean proteins will provide a variety of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients to keep your body happy and healthy.

Of note, a few specific vitamins and minerals are associated with helping prevent or treat muscle cramps or chronic diseases, such as diabetes, high blood pressure or thyroid diseases which are sometimes associated with muscle cramps.

These include magnesium, zinc and B vitamins.  Ultimately, all these foods work together to bring about health benefits and deliver good nutrition, which may help treat muscle cramps.

Let’s dig in.


Vegetables & Fruits

Vegetables and fruits are the classic food group you may think of when it comes to eating a healthy diet. A diet rich in vegetables and fruits is rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, compounds that have been associated with lower deaths from all causes [5].

Vegetables and fruits are also great sources of magnesium and potassium. Magnesium has been found to reduce muscle cramping [6], while potassium is important to support a healthy blood pressure [7], which may reduce cramping.

Spinach, sweet potatoes, bananas and avocados are high in magnesium and potassium. Per one cup (250 ml) serving, all these foods contain around 10% of the daily value of magnesium. Avocados are the highest in potassium, where a ½ portion of the fruit contains 10% of the daily value.

These foods are also high in water, with foods such as watermelon, berries, and leafy greens containing 70-99% water [8]. Consuming enough water per day is essential for proper hydration, which is linked to healthy muscle and blood pressure functioning.

Whole Grains

Whole grains, including oats, rye, barley, rice and cereals are an excellent source of B vitamins. B vitamins are essential to help convert the food you eat into molecules that are usable by your body. There are a total of eight different B vitamins [9].

Some B vitamins, including vitamin B1 (Thiamin), vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine) and vitamin B12 (Cyanocobalamin) have been shown to help improve muscle cramp frequency and duration [10].

A one cup serving (250 ml) of brown rice contains 117% of the daily value of vitamin B1 [11]. Similarly, a one cup serving of oats, such as in a bowl of oatmeal delivers 85% of the daily value of vitamin B2 [12]. Vitamin B6 is most commonly found in fortified breakfast cereals, where a one cup serving can provide up to 25% of the daily value of Vitamin B6 [13].

On the other hand, Vitamin B12 is almost found almost exclusively in animal foods. It may be found in small amounts of fortified grains and cereals, so always be sure to read the label. 

Plant-based Proteins

Plant-based proteins, including nuts, seeds and legumes are packed with not just protein, but several nutrients essential for optimal health. Rich in nutrients like zinc, magnesium, potassium and B vitamins, plant proteins are a powerhouse of nutrients that may help reduce muscle cramps.

For example, a one cup serving (250 ml) of chickpeas contains 24% of the daily value for zinc, 28% the daily value for magnesium and around 66% of the daily value for vitamin B1. This nutrition profile is similar for other legumes, including black beans, kidney beans, lentils and green peas.

Both cashews and pumpkin seeds are great sources of zinc, providing 15% and 20% of the daily value per 30 gram serving, respectively [14]. Pumpkin seeds are one of the richest sources of magnesium, where one 30 gram serving provides 37% of the daily value [15].

Plant-based proteins are also rich in antioxidants. While antioxidants are not directly linked to muscle cramps, consuming a diet rich in antioxidants combats inflammation that can help support the immune system and ward off metabolic diseases that are associated with muscle cramps [5].

Animal-based Proteins

Animal based proteins are the most bioavailable sources of zinc, a mineral that has been shown to help reduce muscle cramping [16].

The highest source of zinc is found in oysters, where a 30-gram portion provides over 900% of the recommended daily intake of zinc. Another great source of zinc is beef and chicken, delivering 33 and 85% of the recommended daily intake per 30-gram portion, respectively. [14].

On the other hand, dairy products, including milk, cheese and yoghurt are also great sources of magnesium, B vitamins and zinc. For example, a one cup (250ml) serving of yoghurt provides 10%, 46% and 15% of the daily value for magnesium, riboflavin and magnesium, respectively.

While zinc is an essential nutrient, it’s important to not consume too much zinc, especially if you are consuming a nutritional supplement containing zinc. It is recommended to avoid regularly consuming over 25-40 mg of zinc per day [14].


Sample 1-day meal plan to meet average nutrient recommendations

Foods shouldn’t be eaten in isolation, but rather incorporated into your favorite meals and recipes to get all the nutrients you need each day. Eating foods together is important as science suggests that nutrients have a synergistic effect on each other, meaning that one nutrient can maximize the health benefits of another [17].

This following meal plan provides an example of meeting the nutrient targets for magnesium, zinc and the B vitamins over an average day of eating. These nutrients have been linked to improving muscle cramps.


Breakfast - Yoghurt & Berry Parfait

Lunch - Veggie + Chicken Bowl

Dinner - Vegetarian Burrito


●     250 ml plain yoghurt

●     60 ml berries

●     15 ml pumpkin seeds

●     1 chicken breast

●     125 ml boiled spinach

●     60 ml sweet potato

●     250 ml brown rice

●     1 large tortilla

●     125 ml black beans

●     60 ml avocado

●     30 ml salsa

●     60 ml cheddar cheese

●     125 ml cottage cheese or 10 cashews


However, some people struggle with eating this amount of food each day or may have troubles absorbing nutrients from foods, especially vitamin B12. As older adults often have decreased sensations of hunger and decreased production of stomach acid [4], consuming a nutritional supplement can help ensure you reach your recommended daily intake of all these nutrients.


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  2. Bordoni, B., Sugumar, K., & Varacallo, M. (2020). Muscle Cramps. StatPearls [Internet].
  3. Maisonneuve, Hubert, et al. "Prevalence of cramps in patients over the age of 60 in primary care: a cross sectional study." BMC family practice 17.1 (2016): 1-7.
  4. Kehoe, L., Walton, J., & Flynn, A. (2019). Nutritional challenges for older adults in Europe: Current status and future directions. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 78(2), 221-233.
  5. Medina‐Remón, A., Casas, R., Tressserra‐Rimbau, A., Ros, E., Martínez‐González, M. A., Fitó, M., ... & PREDIMED Study Investigators. (2017). Polyphenol intake from a Mediterranean diet decreases inflammatory biomarkers related to atherosclerosis: a substudy of the PREDIMED trial. British journal of clinical pharmacology, 83(1), 114-128.
  6. Sills, S., Roffe, C., Crome, P., & Jones, P. (2002). Randomised, cross-over, placebo controlled trial of magnesium citrate in the treatment of chronic persistent leg cramps. Medical Science Monitor, 8(5), CR326-CR330.
  7. Filippini, T., Violi, F., D'Amico, R., & Vinceti, M. (2017). The effect of potassium supplementation on blood pressure in hypertensive subjects: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International journal of cardiology, 230, 127-135.
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  9. National Institute of Health. (2020, June 03). Thiamin. Dietary Supplements Factsheet.
  10. Chan, P., Huang, T. Y., Chen, Y. J., Huang, W. P., & Liu, Y. C. (1998). Randomized, double‐blind, placebo‐controlled study of the safety and efficacy of vitamin B complex in the treatment of nocturnal leg cramps in elderly patients with hypertension. The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 38(12), 1151-1154.
  11. National Institute of Health. (2020, June 03). Thiamin. Dietary Supplements Factsheet.
  12. National Institutes of Health. (2021, January 06). Riboflavin. Dietary Supplements Factsheet.
  13. National Institutes of Health. (2020, February 24). Vitamin B6. Dietary Supplement Factsheet.
  14. National Institutes of Health. (2020, July 15). Zinc. Dietary Supplement Factsheet.
  15. National Institutes of Health. (2020, September 25). Magnesium. Dietary Supplement Factsheet.
  16. Kugelmas, M. (2000). Preliminary observation: oral zinc sulfate replacement is effective in treating muscle cramps in cirrhotic patients. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 19(1), 13-15.
  17. Widmer, R. J., Flammer, A. J., Lerman, L. O., & Lerman, A. (2015). The Mediterranean diet, its components, and cardiovascular disease. The American journal of medicine, 128(3), 229-238.