The vast majority of calcium found in the body is found in the skeleton where it lends strength to bone. Calcium, however, is involved in muscle contractions, including that of the heart, skeletal muscles, and smooth muscle found in blood vessels and intestines, as well as the generation of nerve impulses. Blood calcium is tightly controlled and regulated by several hormones,including parathyroid hormone and vitamin D. Although impaired muscle contraction and muscle cramps are commonly listed as symptoms of calcium deficiency, many exercise scientists feel that low calcium intake is not likely to play a role in most muscle cramps.
This is because if dietary calcium intake were low, calcium would be released from the bones to maintain blood concentrations and theoretically provide what would be needed for muscle contraction. This thinking, however, does not completely rule out the possibility that muscle cramping could be caused by a temporary imbalance of calcium in the muscle during exercise. Certainly, we know that people with inborn errors in calcium metabolism in skeletal muscle (which will be discussed later)are prone to muscle cramping.
Despite so little being known about low calcium intake and muscle cramps,calcium is one of the nutritional factors people most associate with relieving cramps, second only to the potassium-rich banana. Although to my knowledge studies have not assessed whether dietary or supplemental calcium affects exercise cramps in athletes, a recent report found that calcium supplementation was not effective in treating leg cramps associated with pregnancy.On the other hand, anecdotal reports from athletes are common. Nancy Clark tells of a hiker who resolved muscle cramps by taking calcium-rich Tums and of a ballet dancer whose cramping disappeared after adding milk and yogurt to her diet. Because calcium intake can be low in the diet of some vegans and vegetarians, inadequate calcium should also be ruled out in vegetarians experiencing muscle cramps.
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