Sceptically Fit

09/07/2011

Salt = Tasty = Healthy

Filed under: Health and Nutrition — Tags: , , — Sceptically Me @ 14:30

Or maybe at least, not unhealthy. I came across this article in It’s Time to End the War on Salt: Scientific American looking at the lack of evidence for salt as a bad thing.

I’ve been coming across articles for years that point to how its really not proven that salt causes health issues (particularly high blood pressure and heart disease) despite every popular health news article listing avoiding salt as something medical science advices. I’ve been sensitive to the claims because I do seem to be sensitive to sodium imbalances – or maybe I eat too varied a diet…

I need to deliberately incorporate salt into my diet if I’m eating a diet that I consider healthy or I get muscle cramps. For example – earlier this week I tried to go swimming and had to stop after each 25m lap to ease out the foot cramps. The next two days I sprinkled salt on my breakfast boiled eggs and by my Friday swim I was only hampered by my terrible swimming technique. I know my maternal Grandmother suffered terrible leg cramps after doctors put her on a low salt diet in her 90s so this might be a genetic thing as I know my Grandmother didn’t eat a low-carb diet.

So mentioning low-carb diets – I’m still only a fraction of the way through Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories – but have gotten to the part where he talks about how carbohydrates cause your kidneys to not release as much sodium so therefore your body retains water in order to keep your body in balance.  Which certainly seems to match how it feels in my body. I’ve been sprinkling salt on my eggs, switched to tuna in brine rather than springwater for my lunchtime tinned tuna, and try to remember to sprinkle a bit into my cooking for dinner at night (some kind of protein and veggies) and I feel good and in shape. If I have a couple of days out with friends and therefore have several meals of carb heavy foods – I’m bloated and puffy feeling even though I’ve likely eaten less salt.

05/07/2011

Muscle Cramps – Why?

Filed under: Health and Nutrition — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Sceptically Me @ 22:45

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?

An Australian Embarassment

Filed under: Personal — Tags: , , , — Sceptically Me @ 20:10

As part of my plan for total liveability (a concept that’s a work in progress and will be expanded on later) I want to become a good swimmer. I used to swim a lot as a child – I was never anything noteworthy but I was strong enough to swim out of moderate rips and in general felt confident in the ocean as well as the pool.

Then I hit my teens and stopped swimming – sure I’d lark around in the family pool (which we only got when I was thirteen). But it was a small round above-ground – ideal for cooling off in, making whirlpools and just hanging around in for ages in the shade of a tree in summer, but not so ideal for maintaining swimming strength.

Fast-forward a few years and I could count up on one had how often I hit the water in about ten years. It seems breaststroke is like the apocryphal bicycle – I have no problem swimming for hours with that. Its freestyle that’s the problem. I feel awkward, I seem to be gasping for breath every stroke – and I’m pretty sure I’m pausing for the inbreath too. And I can barely make it 25 metres (British public pools tend to be small…).

The plan is that I will continue to try and swim about once a week. I’m sure I could get better more efficiently if I devoted more time to it, but this is part of a fit and healthy lifestyle which means it has to fit in with my life. My biggest concern is my feet cramping up while swimming. Even if I’d had the lung capacity to swim more (how can I be able to run 20km but not swim 25metres?) I pretty much had to stop each lap to stretch out my feet.  I would have liked to have stayed another ten minutes or so but the cramping was starting to spread to my calves.

Why was this happening? I do have a bit of a family history of muscle cramps and restless leg, and I take a magnesium supplement daily and a potassium supplement after a workout. Should I be looking to do that a couple of hours before swimming? Is it something I’ll grow out of – it kind of felt like my muscles were tensing to swim, but they weren’t meeting and resistance so just kept going and cramped.  Is this just something my body has to relearn after getting used to running over the last few years? Or have I completely made up this theory with no scientific basis at all?

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