Cricket World Cup, nutrition and muscle cramps

On Thursday we were treated to the lavish spectacle of the opening ceremony of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup (CWC) in Bangladesh and by today, this major cricket tournament is in full swing (pardon the pun!). While I am not exactly a cricket fundi, I do enjoy watching these fast one-day internationals while cheering on the Proteas. I’m not sure that I am going to watch every one of the 49 matches that are scheduled before the final on 2 April 2011, but as a nutritionist I am fascinated by the varied nutritional implications of such a vast sports spectacle.

Some of the points I find interesting are: What will the teams from other countries eat? What can players do for muscle cramps? and What effect will the CWC have on the health of South African spectators?

What will foreign teams eat?

If you consider that 9 of the participating teams, including the Proteas, don’t usually eat curry on a daily basis, then finding familiar food for our players may be a problem. According to some reports, certain teams take along every item of food and drink that their players consume in foreign countries. This is probably the only way to ensure that the team are not struck down by ‘Delhi belly’ and have to spend the day confined to their quarters. So far, I have not read any articles in the media that our team has taken along an air-freight container filled with South African food, but I hope that the team stick to the general dietary rules for travellers to exotic countries.

These general rules, which may also be useful for ardent spectators who plan to visit the Indian sub-continent and Sri Lanka during the CWC, are as follows:

  • drink only bottled water
  • don’t have ice in your drinks
  • don’t eat any uncooked food (this is probably the only time I would encourage readers to avoid fresh fruit and raw vegetables!)
  • don’t eat any fruit that you don’t peel yourself
  • always ask for the mildest curry on the menu (it’s worth a try)
  • keep a few anti-diarrhoea pills in your kitbag for emergencies
  • make sure that you are well hydrated by drinking lots of bottled water or diluted caffeine-free energy drinks
  • drink boiled milk in tea and coffee

What can players do for cramps?

We have all seen cricket players doubled up with painful leg cramps that necessitate the use of a runner, but what can players do to avoid getting cramps? To answer this question, I consulted a recent edition of the Arbor Clinical Nutrition Updates which was devoted to ‘Muscle Cramps’ (2011). Surprisingly the scientific fraternity have not yet come up with an answer to treating these agonising muscle contractions.

According to the Arbor update, muscle cramps are very common, not only in sportsmen and women, but also in pregnant women, patients on dialysis, the elderly and certain medical conditions. Many different approaches have been tried to alleviate or prevent muscle cramps, but the general conclusion at this point in time, is that we don’t know what causes them and we don’t really know how to treat them.

In athletes, such as cricketers, the nutrients that come under suspicion are water and electrolytes (sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium). It stands to reason that an athlete who is dehydrated will not be able to function optimally. So the first important aspect of sports medicine is always to ensure that anyone who is taking part in strenuous sport, particularly in very hot and humid conditions, must be adequately hydrated. According to experts, athletes should drink to satisfy their thirst, but not drink so much liquid that they deplete their electrolyte levels. By now, we must assume that the Proteas have worked out how to pace their liquid intake - not too little to cause dehydration and not too much to cause electrolyte depletion.

The problem of keeping electrolyte levels constant so that each one can assist with muscle and nerve function (e.g. magnesium is a cofactor that assists a muscle enzyme called Mg++ATPase), is that athletes who sweat profusely, as will be the case during the CWC, may lose considerable amounts of these electrolytes in their sweat. Standard sports drinks like Powerade, Energade, EnerG, Lucozade, etc, provide fluid, readily available carbohydrate and 2 electrolytes (i.e. sodium and potassium) to hydrate players. It may also be a good idea for  cricketers to take some form of magnesium (e.g. Magnesite granules) and calcium on a daily basis. Magnesite is soluble and a number of calcium supplements are availalable in a soluble form which can be added in small doses to standard caffeine-free energy drinks.

Other potential dietary cures for muscle cramps that have been suggested, but not scientifically tested, are carnitine, creatine, zinc, and vitamins E, C, B1, B2, and B6.

Then there is quinine, which is used to reduce muscle excitation and muscle cramps, but can have nasty side-effects such as nausea, vomiting, headaches and allergic reactions (Medicine Net, 2011). Tonic water contains quinine and if you should see our cricketers sipping G&Ts, they may well be trying to combat muscle cramps!

The general consensus is that muscle cramps should be treated by stretching the affected muscle and warming up thoroughly. But the jury is still out when it comes to using the plethora of nutritional remedies that have been suggested for the treatment of muscle cramps.

What effect will the CWC have on the health of South African spectators?

The answer to this question is that watching 49 matches each lasting at least 7 hours, will probably lead to a surge in weight gain among South African cricket fans. If you slump on your couch for a total of 343 hours and eat 30 g of nice, fatty biltong (430 kJ) and drink one can of lite beer (413 kJ) per hour while watch the CWC on TV, then you will consume a whopping extra 843 kJ per hour. Multiplied by 343 hours, this adds up to an additional 289,149 kJ of energy or about 7.8 kg of fat that you will be adding to your waistline.

So be prudent when enjoying the CWC, don’t munch fatty snacks non-stop and pace your alcohol intake carefully. How about only having one snack and one beer per match and only if the side you support wins? It could save you endless weight problems after the final match is played at the beginning of April!

* For additional information on the energy, fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium content of your favourite snacks see The World Cup & The Super Couch Potato Syndrome.


- (Dr IV van Heerden, DietDoc, February 2011)


(Arbor (2011). Muscle cramps. Arbor Clinical Nutrition Updates, Jan 2011, Issue 328:1-4; Medicine Net (2011). Muscle cramps.

Any questions? Ask DietDoc 

Read more:

Snack-fest: you've been warned
Common cricket injuries
Cricket coaching batting tips

Sign up for our weekly healthy eating tip here.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Show Comments ()
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.