TOPIC: How Can You Prevent Muscle Cramps?
Now that the summer is approaching people may become more susceptible to muscle cramps. Everyone gets muscle cramps, but that does not mean that they cannot be prevented.
How can you prevent muscle cramps?
What causes muscle cramps?
What should you do if you experience a muscle cramp in the middle of a sports game?
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Most of us have experienced muscle cramping at one point or another. They can range from small annoyances lasting a few seconds, to agonizing spasms that last for several minutes.
Some people think that getting cramps are just an unlucky break, and that there is nothing the can be done. An occasional, minor cramp here and there is probably inevitable, but for the most part, muscle cramps can be prevented with proper care and attention to a few details
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How Can You Prevent Muscle Cramps?
A dehydrated muscle is very prone to muscle cramps. In addition to making the muscle much more susceptible to cramping, dehydration has a huge effect on performance, and nearly every other function in the body. Most athletes do not drink nearly enough water.
Most people in general do not drink nearly enough water. Many athletes who think they drink enough water do not drink enough water. Drink more water!
The most common method for determining if you are dehydrated is by using the color of urine. As a general rule, the darker the urine, the more dehydrated you are. Urine should be clear, or a light yellow most of the time.
Another method to track dehydration is to keep close track of your body weight. If you get on the scale before a workout to see that your bodyweight has dropped 3-5 lbs or so over the past few days, this is most likely due to dehydration. A small portion of it could be from fat/muscle loss, but this will be a very, very small amount. Tissues do not get burned nearly that fast.
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Dehydration will cause the body/muscle tissues to overheat much more rapidly. This dehydration/overheating combination is another factor in causing muscle cramps. When active in high temperatures, make sure to stay hydrated.
A Note On Water 'Intoxication'
On more than one occasion when I have suggested to someone that they drink a lot more water, I have received a response somewhere along the lines of, "I try not to drink too much water, because I heard that you can get water intoxication."
Water "intoxication" happens when electrolyte levels, primarily sodium, are dangerously low in the body. Drinking a lot of water will flush a certain amount of substances, including electrolytes, out of the body via urine.
If these mineral are not replaced, problems occur. However, this is very rare, and if one is paying proper attention to getting sufficient electrolyte minerals, the chances of it happening are basically none. Drink plenty of water!
Sodium and the other electrolytes are essential for retaining water in the bodily tissues, including muscle. If you are deficient in these minerals, you may remain dehydrated & at risk for cramps, no matter how much water you drink.
Prevent Mineral & Nutrient Deficiencies:
Sodium, or salt, is one of the key electrolytes. Electrolytes play a key role in water retention, as well as muscle function. During exercise, electrolytes are depleted via sweat. Low sodium levels are often a factor in causing muscle cramps. A pre workout drink that contains protein, carbohydrate, and electrolytes is usually a good idea, whether it be for a sports game or a weight training workout.
Some Good Sources Of Sodium:
The RDA for sodium varies, but is between 1.6 and 2.4 grams per day. However, people that are highly active will need much more. For each hour of moderate/high intensity exercise, 1.5+ grams of sodium is lost via sweat.
- Unrefined sea salt is the best, because is still has a host of other trace minerals that are beneficial to the body. Unrefined sea salt is often slightly grayish in color.
- Sports drinks.
Potassium is another one of the electrolytes that is lost while sweating. Potassium deficiency is believed to be a major factor in causing susceptibility to muscle cramps. A deficiency can also affect strength performance. If one uses diuretics, this can flush a large amount of potassium and other electrolytes out of the body.
Some Good Sources Of Potassium:
The RDA is approximately 4700 mg per day. However, active people usually need significantly more electrolytes/nutrients than less active/sedentary people.
- Sweet Potatoes (much of the mineral content is in the skin)
- Potatoes (much of the mineral content is in the skin)
- Many kinds of fish
- Beets & Beet Greens
- Many sports drinks have potassium
View Potassium Products Sorted By Top Sellers Here.
Magnesium is another electrolyte, and deficiency can also contribute to muscle cramps. Deficiency can also affect strength & performance, as well as many other health related issues.
Some Good Sources Of Magnesium:
The RDA is approximately 420 mg per day for adults However, highly active individuals will need much higher amounts of electrolytes, due to minerals lost during sweat.
- Halibut, Pollock, Yellowfin Tuna
- Oat Bran
- Many sports drinks have magnesium
View Magnesium Products Sorted By Top Sellers Here.
Calcium is important for bone health, and it is also an electrolyte which is important for muscle function. Calcium plays a direct role in muscular contraction. Deficiency can affect muscle performance, and can increase the risk of cramps. Statistically, calcium deficiency is very common among female athletes. Vitamin D is essential for calcium absorption, so it is indirectly related to muscle cramps.
Some Good Sources Of Calcium:
The RDA for regular adults is 1000 mg per day. However, the amount of calcium that is actually absorbed depends largely on the availability of vitamin D, and the source of the calcium. Active people place much more stress on their bones, and probably need quite a bit more than the average person.
- Fortified dairy products
- Turnip & Beet Greens
View Calcium Products Sorted By Top Sellers Here.
Vitamin D is essential for the absorption of calcium. Without sufficient vitamin D, much/most of the dietary calcium goes to waste. Vitamin D also plays a role in magnesium absorption, and probably plays a role in the absorption of other mineral as well, to a smaller degree.
Some Good Sources Of Vitamin D:
- Exposure to sunlight
- Fortified Dairy Products
- Sardines & salmon
View Vitamin D Products Sorted By Top Sellers Here.
Other Vitamins & Minerals:
New nutrients are constantly being discovered. Current, well-known nutrients are constantly being found to have more effects in the body than was previously thought. While electrolyte deficiency is a very common cause of muscle cramps, I am confident that there are many other nutrients, discovered & undiscovered, that also play a role in preventing muscle cramps.
Thus, it is very important to ensure that your body is getting a wide range of nutrients. The easiest way to do this is to eat a wide variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables. Many people take a multi vitamin to help with this.
I feel that this is better than nothing, but I strongly believe that natural, unprocessed sources of nutrients are FAR superior to any man made product. Natural foods which our bodies are designed to process are better than synthesized sources. Plant based powder blends are outstanding supplements, something that I feel every athlete should consume.
My Personal Recommendation: Green Food
Best Sources Of Other Vitamins, Nutrients, & Minerals:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables
- Plant based powder blends
Maintain Decent Flexibility:
A decent amount of flexibility should be maintained in order to prevent cramps. If an activity is constantly causing a muscle to stretch beyond its comfortable range of motion, this can be a factor leading to cramping. Maintain enough flexibility to comfortably perform any activities which you engage in.
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The best method to maintain flexibility is through a combination of stretching work once or twice per week, and by keeping a close eye out for any muscle strength imbalances.
If you have a constantly tight muscle, and constant stretching seems to be the only way to alleviate it, then a strength imbalance probably exists. The opposing muscle needs to be strengthened. So, if your hamstrings are constantly tight, and you think that it is playing a role in cramping, your quads, abs, and hip flexors probably need to be strengthened.
Types Of Muscle Cramps:
The most common type of muscle cramping is referred to as "true" cramping. This is a strange choice of wording in my opinion, as any cramps that cause discomfort are 'true' cramps. This is the type of cramping discussed in this article, and is the type experienced in the majority of cases.
Tetany Type Cramps:
Tetanus cramping occurs when the nerves are signaling the muscles to constantly contract. Cramping caused by the disease tetanus is sometimes placed into this category. However, other types of cramps are also placed into this category. Given that the term "tetany cramps" covers variety of cramping, the causes and symptoms are numerous. Some forms of 'tentany' cramps are closer to 'true' cramps, and are caused by nutrient deficiencies.
This could also be called 'overuse cramping' or 'repetitive motion' cramping. This type of cramping occurs when a movement is performed repetitively, or when a contraction is maintained for a very long time. Writer's cramp, which may occur after holding a pen for hours is an example of this type of cramping.
What Causes Muscle Cramps?
Muscle cramps are defined as an involuntary contraction of a muscle. These can last anywhere from a few seconds, all the way up to several minutes. Most experts say that muscle cramping is associated with the hyper-excitability, or hyperactivity of the nerve endings within muscle tissue.
The exact mechanism of how cramping occurs is not fully understood, but there are several factors that are known to play a role in muscle cramps. The most common are dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and mineral & nutrient deficiencies. Vigorous activity can also increase the likelihood of a muscle cramp when any of these factors are present, or if the body is not very well conditioned for the activity being performed.
The 4 main electrolyte minerals are sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium. These minerals play a direct role in muscle activity. Deficiency in one or more of these can lead to cramping, especially if the body is deficient during exercise. This is one of the leading causes of cramping.
The majority of the body's weight consists of water. Water plays a role in just about every bodily function, including muscular activity. Dehydration is extremely common in athletes, even in those who do not think they are dehydrated.
It is easy to become dehydrated unless you specifically make an effort to drink enough water. In my opinion, dehydration, along with nutrient deficiency is the second leading cause of muscle cramping.
The thirst mechanism is usually not a reliable means of measuring dehydration. In my opinion, thirst usually is a signal for increasingly severe dehydration, rather than mild or moderate dehydration; by the time you feel thirsty, you have been dehydrated for some time.
Restricted blood flow to a working muscle is also a factor that can cause muscle cramping. While it is probably not nearly as common as water & nutrient deficiencies, it is still important to be aware of the possibility. This would play a much larger role in older individuals, rather than younger ones.
Tight clothing or bands during an activity could potentially restrict blood flow to a certain degree, which could or could not be enough to trigger cramping.
Lack Of Necessary Flexibility:
A muscle that is overly tight can also be a factor in causing muscle cramps. When flexibility is not sufficient for the activity being performed, and it is interfering with the desired movements, then it becomes a factor in causing cramping. However, if the flexibility of the muscle is not imposing on the range of movement, I do not think it would significantly affect risk for muscle cramping.
In my opinion, having an above average amount of flexibility does not do much to prevent muscle cramps. In most cases, I do not think that a lack of flexibility is a major problem. I think nutrient & water deficiencies are much more common factors.
Muscle Cramps In Sports
What Should You Do If You Experience A Muscle Cramp In The Middle Of A Sports Game?
The best thing to do is to do your best to ensure that you do not get cramps in the first place. Make sure that you are fully hydrated before beginning an athletic activity. This requires drinking enough water all the time, not just drinking a big glass 41 minutes before the game.
Make sure that you have optimum levels of electrolytes in the body. Sipping a few ounces of concentrated sports drink before the game is often a good idea. Again, remember that you should strive to maintain sufficient levels all the time, and not just before a game.
However, if you are unfortunate enough to experience cramping during a sports event, there are a few things you can do to minimize/eliminate them. You may or may not be able to use all of these methods, so do what you are able.
If you feel that the cramp is severe enough to hinder your performance, don't be afraid to let your coach know what is going on. Any good coach knows that athletes get muscle cramps, and has dealt with them.
Stretch The Muscle:
Stretching a cramped muscle out can help to temporarily relieve a muscle cramps. Use a slow, sustained stretch, rather than quick and forceful ones. In some events, where resources and time are limited, stretching may be the only thing you are able to do.
View The Bodybuilding.com Stretching Guide Here.
When a muscle is cramping, circulation may be restricted to that area. Vigorously massaging & kneading the affected muscle will help to boost circulation to the area. The application of a heating balm can help to increase blood flow.
One of the best ways to quickly boost circulation is with the use of alternating hot and cold applications. Apply the cold application tightly for 10-15 seconds, then alternate with the hot application for 10-15 seconds. Repeat until you notice relief. Hot packs are often not available during sports events, so do not count on being able to use this method.
Restore Electrolytes & Fluids:
Restoring electrolytes can help to eliminate the cramp, if deficiency was a cause in the first place. Sip on a sports drink that will help to replenish these. Ideally, a sports drink will contain sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium.
If having fluids in your stomach will upset you during the rest of the activity, choose a concentrated sports drink that has a high amount of electrolytes per unit of liquid. If this is not an issue, then consume a larger amount of liquid. The greater the amount of liquid, the faster the minerals will be absorbed. Drink as much liquid as you can without causing stomach pain.
The application of ice can help make a cramp subside. This can be applied while stretching, or separately. Alternating hot and cold applications were mentioned before. I would suggest using an ice pack, if it is available, for 1-2 minutes. If this does not help, then try alternating with hot pack, if that is available. Otherwise, the ice application can be alternated with vigorous massaging & rubbing.
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It's one of the worst things that can happen to any athlete, bodybuilders and runners alike. It's the middle of your competition (or marathon for those who like to do cardio), you are feeling great, looking great, and you are lifting (or running) with more confidence than you have ever had.
Suddenly, a splitting pain runs up your calf, across your foot, or down your back. You know the feeling. A muscle cramp. You try to fight it but the pain gets worse. You try to ignore it, but the feeling of a million tiny needles running up and down your muscles is driving you crazy. Finally, it beats you.
Having to stop, you feel beaten, angry, and wish you could have done something to prevent that "oh so familiar" pain that all of us have experienced. But what can you do?
How are you suppose to stop something that comes just as suddenly as it goes, hurts more than breaking a finger, and makes even a 300 pound, 12 percent body fat bodybuilder to his knees? I'll tell you what you do. You fight it. Using physical and mental strength, with the help of Mother Nature's remedies in vitamins and minerals, you can beat muscle cramps forever.
Preventing muscle cramps is much easier than many people make it out to be. It is as simple as taking five minutes of extra time before or after your workout, drinking an extra glass of water, or even buying a 5 dollar vitamin and taking one once a day. Here's how---
You would think that everyone knew to do this, but many people go straight into the gym and start pumping those heavy reps without getting their muscles ready. DOING THIS IS DANGEROUS! Not warming up your muscles puts you at risk for tearing muscles, pulling muscles, and yes, MUSCLE CRAMPS.
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How Important Is Warming Up?
Much of the time you will see people stretching out their legs before a run, or stretching out any body part before they train it. It's also very popular for people to begin warm-up sets before they really get into the workout.
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So how could you stretch and warm up better? First, no matter how much time you have, where you have to be, or how much of a hurry you are in, take the time to stretch and warm-up. Before you even start pumping those heavy weights, take 2 mins to pick up a 15-20 lb weight and get the blood pumping in the muscles you are about to work.
You want great circulation in order to help prevent muscle cramps. BUT REMEMBER - YOU DO NOT WANT TO WEAR YOUR MUSCLES OUT! You just want to get the blood flowing. Also, you might want to try doing stretches with the muscles you are working between reps. Take 30 extra seconds to rest between your 5-6 sets and stretch those muscles well. This will help greatly in preventing muscle cramps in the long run.
Finally, stretch after your workout. Take 2 extra minutes and get in a cool-down. Doing a cool down and stretching (in other words "helping relax") your muscles will prevent muscle cramps even more, and yes, help you greatly in the long run by making your muscles hurt less the next day.
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All bodybuilder's and runners do it. Some drink 8 glasses a day, some down 3 glasses at every meal, but there are also some who don't drink any at all. Drinking water throughout the day helps greatly in the fight to prevent muscle cramps.
You have to stay hydrated ALL DAY in order to excel in bodybuilding (and cardio) and in order to build muscles and prevent muscle cramps. But how do you know if you are properly hydrated and drinking enough water?
It sounds weird, but look at your urine. If it is a dark yellow (or some other color -*if in which case you should call a doctor*-), then you are not drinking enough water. If your urine is clear, then congratulations! You have been drinking the water that your body needs!
REMEMBER, drinking 8 glasses of water a day will help keep the doctor away, but drinking that much plus more could help get rid of your usual muscle cramps.
As I sort of mentioned in the "stretching" paragraph, you need to give you body time to rest in order to help prevent muscle cramps. If you just go straight into the gym pumping the weight, wait ten seconds, and pump the weight again, this could cause your muscles to hurt, cramp, and/or spasm.
The best time to rest while making sure not to overexert yourself is in between sets. Usually, a minute or two is very adequate time to give you muscles time to rest. REMEMBER-THE MORE WEIGHT (OR MORE REPS YOU ARE DOING) THE LONGER YOU NEED TO REST. If you have never done 250 on squats, you might want to take 2-3 minutes of rest just to make sure you keep from getting muscle cramps.
Overheating Your Muscles:
One of the most common causes for muscle cramping during the summer is excessive heat. This method for preventing cramps is the sister to staying hydrated. When your body temperature goes above more than it can cool down, you will overheat your muscles and cramp them up.
Drinking more water when it gets hotter is a great way to help from overheating and cramping your muscles. Also, if you are working out on a day when it is WAY hotter than normal, it may help you to slow down the pace of your workout in order to help prevent those nasty muscle cramps.
Finally, the moment you have been waiting for. What vitamins can I take to help prevent muscle cramps? Well, there are numerous amounts, but I will give you a couple that will help the most in your fight to destroy muscle cramps.
This is probably the number one supplement that you can take in order to help you fight muscle cramps. The easiest way to get your daily need for potassium is to eat more fruit and vegetables. Bananas and carrots are the best way (for me) to get the potassium you need to help prevent muscle cramps.
Make a fruit smoothie or a veggie shake, and you get what you need to fight those cramps. You could also take a vitamin, but before you do this, TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR.
Taking a potassium vitamin can influence the potassium levels in your body, and taking to much of a supplement could cause you to develop hyperkalaemia (excess of potassium in the blood) which could be harmful to your body. So to me, your best bet is to eat more fruits and veggies. This keeps you safer, and helps you get your other vitamins and minerals.
Most people are not aware that calcium helps the contraction of muscle tissue. They also don't know that it can help prevent muscle cramps. The best way to get the calcium you need is to drink milk and eat more dairy products.
Drinking one extra glass of milk a day will greatly help in preventing muscles cramps (Even eating a piece of cheese once in a while!). Also, you could take many other supplements to help get the calcium you need to prevent muscle cramps.
Though this is a mineral that most people get good (sometimes great) amounts of. This is one that works just as calcium does to help prevent muscles cramps. In order to get the amount you need, you can eat leafy greens, or dairy products, or even take vitamins that contain calcium and magnesium in one pill to help improve absorption.
DANGER!! -- Magnesium, if taken in excess, can cause diarrhea. So you might want to take a Magnesium supplement every other day.
HAHA! And they said salt was bad for you! (Well, it is in excess-REMEMBER THAT) All I can say about this one, is if you get muscle cramps, and you don't eat any salt, try adding a pinch or two of it to your meals and see if it helps.
You need sodium to help your muscle recovery. One way to get some of the sodium you need (and help prevent further muscle cramps) is to drink a sports drink after your workout. It has a good amount of sodium while not giving you too much, and helps you recover.
Vitamins B1, B5, B6 (Thiamine, Pantothenic, Pyridoxine):
The link between these vitamins and muscle cramps is unknown, but taking them greatly helped me and my muscle cramps. I believe that it will greatly help you to.
These are just some vitamins that help you prevent muscle cramps. The best way, I believe, to get all of your vitamins and minerals is to take a supplement that helps you get a great percent of all of your daily vitamin and mineral (plus all of the BCAA's *amino acids* that you need) needs. I would suggest some kind of multivitamin or vitamin stak. I do this, and have seen a great decrease in muscle cramps, and a great increase in muscle.
What Causes Them, And What Are They?
Now that you know how to prevent them, you want to know what causes them AND WHAT THE HECK THEY ARE! Muscle cramps usually make you stop in your tracks and seek help in stopping the pain. Really, the person is unable to use that muscle while it is cramping and at the time of cramping, the muscle is usually knotted, tight, and very tender.
There is no real cure for these cramps such as a special "thing" you can do at the doc's office, but if someone is near by, such as a doctor, when a muscle cramp occurs, they can usually see the muscle bulging, and feel it knotting up as it cramps. Ok, so now that I have told you exactly what many of you have already felt before, WHAT CAUSES THEM?
Click Image To Enlarge.
What Causes Them?
Well, as I mentioned before, muscle cramps are often caused by a deficiency in vitamins and minerals, overexertion, a lack of water and hydration, and not stretching before or after your workout.
But is there anything else you could do that would cause muscle cramps? Yes, many things can cause cramps; not just making sure you did all of the above. Even your everyday activities can cause you to feel the pain of a cramp during your workouts. But with so many things above that cause them, what else could there be?
Bad circulation is a normal cause for muscle cramps, especially in the legs. Mostly in the calf muscles, the pain may feel exactly like a cramp, but the pain may not be because the muscle is actually "cramping". Some of the pain may be due to the buildup pf lactic acids and other chemicals in the muscles tissues. How do you prevent this? Well, try stretching, drinking plenty of water, and taking your vitamins and minerals.
Many medications can cause cramping. Very diuretic medications, such as Lasix, are the most common cause for muscle cramping. Other examples of medications that can cause cramping are: Aricept (for Alzheimer's), Albuterol, Procaria (for high blood pressure), Valium, Xanax, many anti-anxiety agents, and narcotics. Also, substances that most of the time have sedative effects such as alcohol are a great way to get cramps.
Smoking causes bad circulation of the blood to the muscles. Bad Circulation causes muscle cramps. Enough said.
So What Happens If I Cramp During A Game?
First things first, if you cramp during a game, you are going to know it. When you realize that you are getting a muscle cramp, you need to get off the field, take a break, call a timeout, or do whatever you have to so it does not get worse. After getting off the field, while sitting or standing, get a friend to help you stretch out the muscle that is cramping.
The best way to help stop cramping is to get the muscle stretched in order for blood to get to it easier. Think of a knotted hose. When your muscle knots up and tightens, or put simply, cramps, it is harder for blood flow to get to the muscle just as it is harder for water to get out of a knotted hose.
Click Image To Enlarge.
If You Are Getting A Cramp
You Need To Get Off The Field.
After stretching for (I would say) about 3 to 5 minutes, the muscles will usually feel better. But remember, you have to take the first step in treating the muscle by getting off the field. No matter how much you don't want to, or even if it is the championship game, you need to know that in order for it to get better, you have to take a break.
Another method for helping with cramps is to throw and icy pack on it, or an iced towel. While this constricts the blood vessels, it makes the cramp go away. It takes a little while longer than stretching, but helps nonetheless.
REMEMBER! Always make sure your cramp is better before you go back out on the field. You do not want to overdo it and hurt yourself more. I know you want to get back to the big game, but your body I more important then getting in a few extra minutes.
In order to help prevent muscle cramps:
- Drink More Water! (8 To 12 Glasses A Day)
- Do not overheat your body and your muscles.
- Stretch and rest properly! Make time before and after your workout to stretch.
- Maintain your Nutrition so you get essential vitamins and minerals.
- Everyone gets muscles cramps! Do not let them tear you down. Just make them better, and keep at it.
More Useful Info On Muscle Cramps:
There is now a medication out that helps severe, recurrent muscle cramps. It is called quinine, and can be found as a pill, or a water supplement in many drug stores. It works to decrease the excitability of your muscles in order to help prevent the cramps.
For those who maintain the drug properly, it has been scientifically proven to help prevent muscle cramps and their reoccurrence. DANGER: Talk to your doctor before taking this drug!! It has been known to cause birth defects, miscarriages, and may be responsible for some blood clotting. PLEASE! MAKE SURE YOU TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR!
What Are Nocturnal Leg Cramps?
These cramps are sudden, involuntary contractions of the calf muscles that occur during the night or while at rest. Occasionally, muscles in the soles of the feet also become cramped. The sensation can last a few seconds or up to 10 minutes, but the soreness may linger. The cramps can affect persons in any age-group, but they tend to occur in middle-aged and older populations.
Types Of Muscle Cramps:
- "True" Cramps - which are the normal cramps where you work the muscle to much and it tightens and bulges.
- Contractures - which is a cramp when the muscle is unable to relax.
- Dystonic Cramps - In which muscles that you are not even using are stimulated to contract.
I really hope that this was informative and helped you all learn more about cramps. Now go out and exercise, build muscle, and fight the things that keep us down.
By: Zac E. (AKA ike88zb)
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