When the weather gets warm, our bodies want to get outside and get active. This is especially true for any avid runner whose body has been cloaked in cold weather running attire for months. But the body also needs to adjust to warmer weather after winter.
Stepping out for your first long-distance run in the sun can end in severe leg cramps. These muscle cramps are often caused by a loss of electrolytes, specifically potassium. Potassium is one of the best natural resources to prevent muscle spasms and cramps. This mineral is naturally occurring in fruits and veggies. And it works to keep your muscles hearty and cramp-free!
Potassium is one of the body’s essential macrominerals — seven essential minerals made up of calcium, phosphorous, magnesium, sulfur, sodium, chloride, and, of course, potassium — in which the human body requires at least 100 milligrams a day. Potassium, also referred to as an electrolyte, helps to balance minerals and fluids in and out of cells, blunts the effects of sodium to regulate blood pressure, and helps to contract muscles.
A balanced, potassium-rich diet has a wide-range of health benefits from muscles to bones to your heart. Proper potassium consumption has been shown to lower blood pressure and therefore reduce your risk of stroke, prevent kidney stones, aid in sustaining bone density, protect muscles, and reduce the risk of overall mortality.
Potassium and Muscle Cramps
For many runners, cold temperatures don’t stop their exercise routine. But it’s important to consider the effects of temperature changes on your body as spring and summer roll around. Warmer temperatures cause your body to sweat more, meaning that you’re losing higher amounts of salt and electrolytes such as potassium.
While potassium has many functions, one of the most critical is its ability to work with sodium to create the membrane potential, “an electrical and chemical system across cell membranes.” When your body loses electrolytes, especially potassium, the membrane potential is disrupted and muscles tend to spasm, contract, and cramp.
Boosting your intake of potassium is a great way to balance electrolytes and avoid painful cramps!
Finding the Right Balance
The adult body requires at least 100 milligrams per day just to keep bodily functions running. The daily recommended amount of potassium for adults is 4,700 milligrams, yet, per the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, only two percent of American adults reach that quota.
With that said, you also want to be careful to not over consume potassium. Too much potassium can lead to severe health issues including a condition called hyperkalemia. This condition is caused by an imbalance in your potassium levels, specifically when they are too high.
For optimal potassium intake, Mayo Clinic recommends to stay within 3.6 to 5.2 millimoles per liter of blood. By implementing a balanced diet, proper potassium intake should be easy. As with any diet change, it’s important to consult a medical professional to figure out how much is right for your body.
Foods with High Potassium
One of the safest and easiest ways to boost potassium levels is through your food! Potassium can be obtained from a wide range of fruits and vegetables. While there are many options, the food below have been shown to have the highest levels of potassium.
Caramelized Banana Porridge/One Green Planet
These tasty fruits not only have between 420 to 806 milligrams of potassium, but they also offer a host of other essential vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, folate, choline, magnesium, phosphorous, and omega fatty acids. While bananas won’t immediately relieve the pain and discomfort of a muscle cramp, they are an important step to preventing them. If you’re suffering from constant muscle cramps, adding a banana a day to your diet is a great start to ridding yourself of them!
Bananas can be eaten raw or used in recipes in a myriad of ways. Try a few of these plant-based, banana bursting recipes: Easy Almond Banana Blondies, Energizing Coffee Cacao Smoothie Bowl, Healthy Banana Bread, Caramelized Banana Porridge, or these Light and Fluffy Banana-Nut Muffins.
Sesame Roasted Beets and Greens/One Green Planet
This unusual source of potassium is one of the most abundant sources! One cup of cooked beet greens provides a whopping 1,309 milligrams of potassium. As well as 247 milligrams of sodium and 97.9 milligrams of magnesium. All of which help to boost and balance electrolyte levels. With that said, beet greens are a rarity in the recipe world, therefore some creativity’s required!
Instead of discarding those beet greens, try integrating them into some of your recipes such as in salads, like this Beet and Lentil Salad With Beet Greens, stir-fry’s, such as this Beet Greens With Garlic and Toasted Almonds, Sesame Roasted Beets and Greens, or this Sautéed Beet Red Greens, or substitute beet greens for other leafy greens like in this Beginner Green Smoothie, Tofu Scramble, or this Vegan Spinach Dip.
Asian Eggplant Stir-Fry/One Green Planet
Eggplant is a staple in plant-based diets. This dense veggie offers a thick, steak-like texture making it a great substitute for meat or pasta. On top of that, it’s yet another great source of potassium. While in its raw form, eggplant offers 189 milligrams of potassium, one cup of cooked eggplant still offers a generous 122 milligrams.
The diversity of eggplant in plant-based cooking is truly endless. Yet, some of the most popular dishes use this veggie as a substitute. Try out a few of these tasty, meatless recipes: Pulled Soya Lasagna, Eggplant Burger, Asian Eggplant Stir-Fry, or this Middle Eastern-Style Veggie Bake.
Loaded Potato Omelet/One Green Planet
One large, cooked potato with skin offers an amazing 1600 milligrams of potassium! Not only do potatoes outrank other veggies in potassium levels, they’re also a great source of vitamin C, folate, choline, magnesium, calcium, and sodium. Potatoes are a wonderful filler for many plant-based recipes. They satiate hunger while keeping you feeling full longer.
Their many uses make potatoes a staple in any kitchen, from stews and soups. Try Sweet Potato, Cauliflower, and Peanut Stew and Chipotle Sweet Potato Soup — to pizza and pasta — Potato Pizza With White Bean Garlic Sauce and Sweet Potato Noodles With Garlic Cashew Cream — to hearty breakfast recipes — Loaded Potato Omelet and Potato Hash and Tofu Scramble Skillet.
White, Soy, and Lima Beans
Mediterranean Baked Lima Beans/One Green Planet
Beans are also a great source of potassium. With that said, not all beans are created equal with potassium levels. One cup of raw white beans has 3,626 milligrams of potassium. One cup of roasted soy beans has 2,346 milligrams of potassium. And one cup of cooked lima beans has 955 milligrams of potassium.
These three bean varieties are true potassium powerhouses and are a great ingredient for various plant-based recipes. Try a few of these bean-rich meals: Quinoa and White Bean Burger, Green Goddess Bowl, Mediterranean Baked Lima Beans, Baby Lima Beans and Oats Dosa, or these White Bean Arepas With Spiral Veggie Sauté.
Potassium is a common essential mineral found in a variety of fruits and vegetables. Get creative and experiment with plant-based recipes by downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!