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If you’ve ever developed a tortuous calf spasm during a neighborhood run or suddenly woken up at 3 a.m. with a toe-curling charley horse, you know that muscle cramps are one of life’s most hellish experiences. But based on the recent reactions of National Women’s Soccer League players Michelle Cooper and Alyssa Thompson, drinking a HOTSHOT to relieve a muscle cramp may actually be more excruciating.
Late last month, Cooper (of the Kansas City Current) and Thompson (of the Angel City Football Club) each suffered what appeared to be raging leg cramps in the middle of their games against the Orlando Pride and Houston Dash, respectively. To stop the pain, both players seem to down a bottle of HOTSHOT for Muscle Cramps, a spicy-tasting liquid concoction that’s marketed as a fast-acting muscle spasm reliever.
And the results weren’t pretty. In footage of the games — which was shared in a now-viral TikTok by @justwomenssports — both Cooper and Thompson make the same twisted expression, along the lines of a toddler tasting a lemon for the first time. Moments after the liquid hits their tongues, they both gasp and squirt water into their mouths with full force.
After her gruesome experience, Cooper says she texted Thompson to tell her just how “shocking” the HOTSHOT was. Unsurprisingly, Thompson wanted nothing to do with the beverage — but her body had other plans. “I watched that video today and I texted [Cooper] and I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve never had one of those. Thank God I won’t have one,'” Thompson said after her match, according to USA Today. “And then today I cramped, and my trainer was like, ‘You want one?’ and I was like ‘No.’ And they were like, ‘You need to have it.’ So then I had it and it was really gross. I did not like it at all.”
So, how does HOTSHOT work, exactly, and why does it seem to taste so terrible? Ahead, an orthopedic surgeon breaks down those, ahem, burning questions.
What Are Muscle Cramps?
First things first, a quick physiology lesson. Muscle cramps are sudden, involuntary, often painful contractions or spasms in your muscles that can last a few seconds to several minutes, according to the National Library of Medicine. And there isn’t one clear cause, says Micah Lissy, MD, PT, ATC, CSCS, a board-certified orthopedic surgeon, certified athletic trainer and strength coach, and team physician for Michigan State University student-athletes.
Muscle cramps can be brought on by muscle fatigue (which is why athletes tend to experience them later in a game) or a lack of conditioning, meaning you’re working at a higher intensity than what your muscles are used to, Dr. Lissy tells POPSUGAR. Dehydration can play a role, as can genetics — some people are simply more prone to muscle cramps, he says.
Some research suggests that exercise-associated muscle cramps may also be tied to abnormal motor neuron activity, which is where the idea of Hotshot stems from, Dr. Lissy says. The theory is that premature muscle fatigue can interfere with sensory receptors in your muscle that control stretch and tension, according to an article published in Sports Medicine; in turn, some of your motor neurons become hyperexcitable. The result: A highly activated muscle that develops a painful cramp, according to Sports Medicine. Ultimately, though, multiple factors may be contributing to muscle cramps, says Dr. Lissy.
How Hotshots Can Help Relieve Muscle Cramps
An unpalatable blend of cinnamon, ginger extract, capsaicin (a compound found in chili peppers), and lime juice, among other ingredients, Hotshot works to ease muscle cramps by stimulating the sensory nerves in the mouth, throat, and stomach. These nerves then send a signal through the spinal cord to stop the hyperactivity of motor neurons in fatiguing muscles during exercise, according to the company’s website.
And there is some validity to these claims, says Dr. Lissy. “It’s not necessarily designed to be delicious — it’s a shock to your system,” he explains. “The same nerves that go to your calves, there are nerves that go to your mouth. If we can make the nerves in your mouth so out-of-their-mind shocked at what we’ve just done, then the calf nerves calm down significantly. That’s a big part of the treatment from this product.”
What’s more, athletic trainers have historically given players pickle juice, mustard packets, and hot sauce — foods that, when eaten alone, jolt your tastebuds — to soothe muscle cramps. Hotshot is just one new, commercialized way athletes can get the same effect, according to Dr. Lissy. “Anything you can do to sort of snap somebody out of it, snap the nervous system out of spasming that muscle, is a benefit to the athlete,” he adds. (FTR, Dr. Lissy is speaking from his perspective as a medical professional and does not advocate for or endorse Hotshot.)
Thanks to the shock factor of these stomach-turning methods, athletes might experience relief fairly quickly so they’re able to get back on the field, says Dr. Lissy. In fact, Hotshot claims its products can work in as little as 90 seconds (and hundreds of Amazon reviewers back that up, saying it “works like a charm!”). However, muscle cramps can certainly come back; once you develop a cramp, you’ll typically need to deal with it for the remainder of your game, he adds.
The Bottom Line
Stretching the affected muscle, properly rehydrating, taking a break from exercise, and consuming not-so-tasty products such as pickle juice, mustard, or Hotshot for Muscle Cramps can all help athletes recover from mid-workout muscle cramps, says Dr. Lissy.
But your best bet is to try to prevent muscle cramps from developing in the first place. “You want to hydrate really well the day before and the day of, you need to acclimate to the weather, and you need to be training — you can’t just show up and play a big game and expect everything to be alright,” he explains. “You need to have an adequate level of fitness so that your muscles can tolerate it and then you avoid getting a cramp.”
But once the spasm hits, anything designed for recovery — even a drink that tastes like the worst spicy margarita on the planet — is fair game.
Image Source: Getty / Icon Sportswire