Even less is known about what causes or triggers a muscle cramp. Causes of muscle cramps proposed in the past include extreme environmental conditions of heat or cold, inherited abnormalities of carbohydrate or fat metabolism, and exercise-induced imbalances in fluid or the major electrolyte concentrations in the body, which include sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium.An imbalance of the major electrolytes is suspected because these electrolytes are involved in generating electrical currents in the body and occur during muscle contraction and when sending a nerve impulse.More recently, however, researchers have suggested that cramping is simply caused by fatigue. A recent analysis of published scientific findings on the triggers of muscle cramps found that few studies support the idea that any of these disturbances—other than possibly fatigue—are the underlying cause of the typical cramping that occurs during endurance and ultra endurance events. 

It is nevertheless important to mention that the cause of muscle cramps may be different for each athlete and that muscle cramping is not necessarily associated with fatigue that is more pronounced than it was at times that muscle cramping did not occur.Thus, studies that compare athletes who cramp during a race or event to those who do not might be missing valuable information if only average group rather than individual data are compared and food and fluid intake are ignored.In addition, because the body defends its concentrations of certain electrolytes in the blood—mainly those of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium—serum electrolyte concentrations may not reflect muscle electrolyte concentrations.

Hence, it is possible that the concentration of certain electrolytes may below within the muscle cell, but appear normal or just slightly lower in the blood.Of course, as you can imagine, gathering such data in muscle and blood is precluded for practical reasons because the only way to measure muscle-electrolyte concentrations is by taking a muscle biopsy. As dedicated as I am to science, I cannot imagine undergoing a muscle biopsy during or following an exercise associated cramp. Muscle biopsies can themselves induce cramps, making this a very difficult area to investigate.

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