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I need help! I am 25, and I work out often- 5-6 times per week/60-90 minutes. I eat well, and I dont smoke or drink. I'm 5'1 108 lbs. Over the years I've worked with several trainers and dieticians, so I'm pretty familiar with the rules of living a healthy life. I've been running since I was 14. Now I only run for 20 minutes most of the time ( I mostly lift weights), and I'll run 4-5 miles one day a week. My problem is that sometimes I cant work out for several days and the cramps I get from NOT running are so severe it interferes with my daily life. I've talked to other athletes and they admit that they "get a little cramped" if they dont work out. My cramps and pains are not little. My legs cramp so bad from not running I thrash horribly in my sleep and sometimes wake up on my floor. The only thing I can do to fix the cramping is run. I'm in the military and I'm an aircrew member (which is why I cannot workout sometimes). I've literally had to get out of my bed and sprint around my hotel at 2:00am just so I can sleep. Stretching, jogging in place, and fitness videos dont help. Being military also means I dont get to choose my primary care doctor, and my doctor happens to speak very poor English. He insists I need to drink more water ( I drink around 100oz a day). My endless google searches for help have been futile. Does anyone know what this is or if there is anything I can do about it? There are going to be days when I'm in places/conditions where I cant run, and I need to be able to keep my sanity! Please help me!!
Unless you are in an extremely hot or arid climate 100 oz of water is probably too much, which can lead to an electrolyte imbalance. You could be peeing out your minerals.
The general rule of thumb is 1 oz water for every 2lbs of body weight, adjusting for climate and activity level. With that much exercise and high heat and/or low humidity, maybe 70-80oz tops, but I'm not sure if an extra 20oz or so would cause these kinds of problems.
Do you have any other symptoms? Sodium and Potassium have to be in balance for muscles to work right. Some people cut back on sodium for their health, though I wouldn't with your schedule unless your chow is too salty. Potassium is easy, but I find I have to supplement with Magnesium to avoid cramps during my runs (7 of 10 Americans have a dietary deficiency in magnesium). I have heard of and experienced cramping when not running, but not of the severity you describe, especially in an obviously healthy individual.
I would try soaking ace bandages with Epsom Salts (magnesium sulfate), and wrapping them on your cramping limbs at night to see if it will relax the spasms (magnesium relaxes muscles). Allow time for the effect. It's not a drug, it's a nutrient. Other than that, there could be a circulatory issue or other dietary deficiency to consider. I assume you are getting enough calcium, which needs magnesium, phosphorus and boron to improve bone density, something weight-bearing exercise tends to do.
One possible explanation in a fit individual may be the elasticity of your arteries is so great from working out that your body has adapted to the consistent vasodilation your running once delivered. You may just be too healthy for a sedentary existence. One reason why the other exercises might not be working is that the calf muscle acts as a "second heart" to boost circulation. Only running can deliver the kind of workout for the main calf muscle (soleus) that accomplishes this. I suppose a treadmill is out. Maybe pitching your bed downward slightly would compensate by diverting circulation to the legs.
I would try the Mag (it's cheap and common in oxide form) first, because I know it has a direct effect on cramps. You body will eliminate the excess through urine and the laxative effect Mag is famous for (you may need some extra water to compensate for this). I even use Milk of Magnesia on my legs on really long runs of a few hours or more, and drink 3-8oz every 30 minutes depending on the weather (Sunday I ran 27mis, drank a swallow (1oz) every 10mins in the cold and dry, weighed the same 121 after the run as before).
See if you can get some canned pineapple for the Bromelain enzyme, which is probably hard to get (in purified form) in the military. Enzymes in general are good for muscle problems and are probably lacking in military food. Beans, spinach, sweet potatoes, and bananas should help, too. If you are in an exotic climate look for some native fruits like melons that are rich in enzymes. Water ain't the only way to hydrate. Fruit is time-released if you swallow small chunks of it rather than juicing or blending it. Avoid over-use of drugs or stimulants like caffeine that dehydrate your muscles.
One possible suggestion for the heck of it. At 25, you are still borrowing forward from what you were born with. Deficiencies start showing up later. Try eliminating wheat products for a couple weeks to see if the gluten is interfering with absorption of some key nutrient. Yes it's a fad and I'm not saying you are Celiac, but you won't know for sure if there is a problem there until you try - just another idea that may be worth the trouble before you go medical.
I know you probably know a lot of this stuff, but I don't know what you don't know either. You probably can't get a daily massage, so order in a foam roller to flush out your muscles twice a day. Somehow, you have to simulate the circulation you are not getting from 1 run a week.
That's my 2 cents, though I heard of a simple cure for restless leg that I can't recall at the moment (my cure is to run, too).