The big causes of muscle cramps are dehydration, electrolyte deficiency and muscle overuse/tension. Electrolyte deficiency in potassium, magnesium and/or sodium can be caused by unbalanced diets or natural digestive inhibitions – in my case it seems to run in the family regardless of our very varied diets. The imbalances can be caused by weight loss, especially on a low-carbohydrate diet which comes with significant loss of water weight initially.
While I attempt to keep to a paleo/low-carb-ish diet, my adherence is poor and regularly interrupted over a ‘cheat’ weekend. What this usually means is that about Tuesday or Wednesday I go through a mini-reset period where my body loses its weekend bloat (I can drop 2kg between Monday’s weigh in and Wednesday). While supplementing with magnesium and potassium normally prevents cramps (and for magnesium specifically – restless leg syndrome), I regularly forget to up my sodium intake when I drop my carbohydrates. What a surprise – my attempt at swimming was interrupted by increasingly debilitating cramps in my feet.
Advice on starting a low-carb diet include supplementing with chelated magnesium and potassium; liberally using sodium – preferably non-treated sea salt that retains all its minerals; drinking bone broth to replace minerals (recipe on the link – I have never tried this); drinking a lot of water and avoiding caffeine. Now, obviously he’s insane if he thinks caffeine isn’t proof of some kindly god’s existence* so that last point isn’t going to happen.
With my problems cramping up while swimming, I decided to look into this a little more. Hydration tops the list, but as I drink constantly I don’t think its going to be an issue. So lets look into the fatigue side of things. Now, I know I’m not in great conditioning for swimming, but its not as though I’m not in decent shape when it comes to weight-lifting, cycling and running. But is it also the way that I swim:
The problemwith pointing your toes as a deliberate (or even unconscious) action, however, is that it remains the primary reason behind the cramp that many triathletes experience at swim practice. The fact of this matter is that if we simply allow our feet to flick around as we kick, the ankles will actually pull back into this correct position automatically. And even more importantly, when relaxed the toes will pull the foot back into the correct position without tension, ie correct kicking action, less energy.
Stand on one leg on dry land trying to perform small kicking flicks with the foot. Aim to let the ankle simply flick around like a leaf in the wind as you shake the leg quickly up and down (just a small movement – 1ft). If you can honestly see that your ankle IS relaxed and does flick around as you move the rest of the leg, then this is a good sign. For most of us however, you will realise that you are in fact tensing the shin to pull up and then pointing down in order to move the foot. In this case, you have some major relaxing to learn in the water. This confirms the reason why cramp will be occurring – you are not relaxed through the ankles when kicking.
Involuntary muscle tension is an issue for me despite (or because of) my hyperflexibility. It is actually difficult to stretch out muscles effectively because my limits are much greater than a lot of the normal stretches – in some cases to the point that you can’t bend any further without the rest of the body getting in the way So for the itb its pretty much massage and foam rollers for me. So another suggestion to prevent over-use cramping is a foot massage – so where is my tennis ball?