Last week I wrote about my first ever Spartan Race experience…
Now that everyone is caught up, you may have noticed that I give a nod to yellow mustard for alleviating muscle cramps. Did you find that weird? Did you have to re-read that sentence? Yes it was weird and yes you did read that right.
Leading up to the race, a friend of mine let me know that she got advice from her BF (a Spartan Beast finisher) that my group should stock up on yellow mustard to help alleviate muscle cramps. I was like “Shut the front door!” I was skeptical, hesitant and in all my hours “doing fitness,” I had never heard of such a thing. Well, seeing as how the source was credible, I relayed the info to the team and it was met with similar emotions.
Regardless, we went into the Spartan Race stocked up with more mustard packets than a fast food restaurant and we dared our muscles to cramp up … Well they did and often. We cracked open more mustard packs than a Sunday afternoon baseball game and low & behold – our cramps were cured. MINDS WERE BLOWN!
So what gives right?! Does yellow mustard actually cure cramps? Perhaps this was just the placebo effect? Lots of questions … I know! Well, before we get into that, maybe lets explain what a muscle cramp is exactly. Honestly, there is nothing fancy or complex about a muscle cramp. It is a sudden and involuntary of one or more of your muscles. Muscle cramps can make it temporarily impossible to use the affected muscle. More often than not, muscle cramps are caused by dehydration, muscle fatigue, being active in hot temperatures and or the misfiring of nerves which then don’t send proper signals to the muscles. We most likely checked off every single one of those.
Back to mustard. The way mustard helps muscle cramps is actually different than what you may think. Yellow mustard is such a strong flavor that it triggers nerves in the mouth, throat and stomach. As mentioned, one of the causes of muscle cramps is the misfiring of nerves. The neural stimulation caused by mustard is enough to overwhelm the other misfiring nerves and provide you with some temporary relief. The effects do wear off and are temporary, as there are most likely other factors building up to the muscle cramps (fatigue, dehydration, etc) but we are walking testaments that we saw the positive effects.
Ever see people use smelling salts before a big set in the gym? It’s a similar concept to mustard. Smelling salts release a small amount of ammonia gas (potent stuff) which in turn irritates the blood vessels through the nasal passages. This causes them to open up and create a rush of oxygen to the brain which leads to instant clarity and consciousness.
Both smelling salts and mustard have created no immediate absorption of any chemicals or nutrients. Rather, they have immediately and temporarily altered our neurological composition and in turn allowed us to perform optimally for a limited amount of time.
There you have it folks, next time you feel a slight muscle cramp creeping up … Grab that delicious yellow mustard and squirt some in your mouth and get back in the game!