After an intense workout, you might experience muscle tightness as a result of dehydration. Insufficient water consumption can lead to a decrease in blood flow to your muscles, causing them tighten or cramp. According to Pennsylvania physical therapy group PT Pittsburgh, prolonged dehydration or continuing to exercise while dehydrated can increase your risk of muscle damage.
Causes of Dehydration
One of the most common causes of dehydration and muscle tightness is excess sweating combined with not drinking enough water during your workout. You may be tempted to guzzle an energy drink to hydrate, but despite the energy boost it offers, it can contribute to dehydration because it likely contains caffeine, a diuretic that can be used as a performance-enhancing stimulate. Like caffeine, certain medications such as antihistamines, other diuretics and blood pressure pills will also dehydrate you, as can an electrolyte imbalance in your body. A loss of sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium through sweating causes your muscles to lose water, tighten and cramp.
If your muscles tighten as a result of dehydration, you might find your athletic performance suffering. As your muscles lose water, the blood flow decreases, reducing your normal physical capacity and making you feel weak. When muscle tightness is severe, you could experience a muscle spasm or cramp, commonly referred to as a "charley horse;" the most common cause of this debilitating cramp is dehydration, according to the National Institutes of Health.
When your muscles become dehydrated, flexibility and elasticity are lost, making them more susceptible to strains and tears if you push your body too hard. You may experience a delay in muscle tightness as much as 24 to 48 hours after an intense workout, particularly if you don't consume enough water after working out. If your muscle tightness goes beyond a little discomfort and to the point of becoming painful, you run the risk of muscle damage if you continue or resume exercising with that tight or cramped muscle.
Drinking plain water before, during and after your workout is the best way to stay hydrated to minimize muscle tightness. Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if any of prescriptions you're taking can cause dehydration. If you're taking a prescription that can cause dehydration, you need to drink extra water. Eat a balanced diet so that you have an adequate amount of sodium, potassium and other electrolytes at the start of your workout, and then replenish your stores afterward with a healthy snack such as orange juice, nuts or a banana.
- MayoClinic.com: Dehydration: Symptoms
- PT Pittsburgh: Dehydration Can Lead to Muscle Injuries
- MayoClinic.com: Performance-Enhancing Drugs: Know the Risks
- MayoClinic.com: Dehydration: Causes
- IDEA Health and Fitness Association: The Science of Water: Nature's Most Important Nutrient
- National Institutes of Health: Medline Plus: Charley Horse
Kris Heeter is a research scientist specializing in basic cancer and disease research. Her work has appeared in several scholarly journals and online publications. Heeter has also been a wellness professional for more than 15 years, teaching healthy cooking courses and fitness classes. She holds a Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology.