Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Good thing I like biking right now...

...Because lately, I am bloody frustrated with swimming.

I seem to get muscle cramps pretty much every time I swim.  It doesn't seem to matter if I go into it fully rested, or if I am tuckered out from recent activity.  If I'm lucky, the cramps happen in the arch of my foot or toes.  Unlucky, it's my calf muscles or quads that seize up on me.

I can't count how many swims lately I have cut short.  Throwing a pull buoy in helps somewhat, although on a bad night, they seize up anytime I let my foot out of a fully flexed position.  I've normally got a pretty strong kick off the wall, and I haven't been doing that lately, to try to avoid the added stress on those muscles, but it still happens.

It also sometimes happens when I sleep.  I wake up in intense agony as a muscle seizes up on me.  Last week, there was a night when it was my hip flexor doing it repeatedly, and it happened repeatedly, to the point that I was seriously sore upon waking.

After that experience, I decided to focus more on hydration, as I thought it might be a cause.  I'm also getting more electrolytes in - I need to find one that works for me anyways, as I switched to mainly water and gels when gatorade started upsetting my stomach.  I've decided to go into a full fledged attack on these muscle cramps with the following strategies:

1. HYDRATION:  I used to be great about getting water in, but as my training load increased, for some reason my fluid intake actually went down.  I stopped drinking as much in the evening, so I wouldn't wake up to pee.  I stopped bothering to carry any during shorter runs.  I don't like to go into swims with much in my stomach.  The switch to outdoor biking meant I didn't reach for my bottle as often...

In the last week, I have been focusing on getting more in and the cramps seem to have lessened (though not at all gone away.)  That makes me think it is indeed part of the puzzle, though not all of it.  The important thing is that I keep up the increased water intake.  Get up, have water.  Eat breakfast, have 2 glasses of water.  Do stuff around the house, drink water anytime I go into the kitchen...

2. ELECTROLYTES:  Like I said earlier, I stopped drinking gatorade because it upset my stomach.  But, foolishly, I haven't yet replaced it with anything.  I generally just use water and gel for runs, or water, food, and gels on the bike.  As my distances get longer and the temperatures get hotter, it would be a really good idea to figure out something that works for me.  I have been using GU Brew, which is a calorie free electrolyte replacement, but I need something that will also act as a fuel.  I'm starting with Ironman Perform because that is probably what will be on the 70.3 course (although they haven't yet said for sure - annoying.)  What's your favourite sports drink?

3. MULTIVITAMIN:  Am I missing some vitamin or mineral in my diet?  I don't know, but I figure it can't hurt to cover the bases.  I should be taking a multivitamin anyway, so even if it isn't part of the cramping issue, it's a habit I should get back into regardless.

4. CALCIUM:  Everybody blames muscle cramps on low potassium and tells me to eat bananas (which I do), but Dr. Google indicates that a calcium shortage can often be the problem.  So, three servings of calcium a day, between milk, cheese, and yogurt.  If this isn't the issue, then I'll still help me avoid osteoporosis.

5. EAT CLEAN(ish): My diet has not been bad lately, but there are definitely days it's not as good as it could be.  I've had the most luck, and felt the best when I am eating almost entirely clean.  I need the calories, but they need to be high quality calories.

So, what's with the "ish"?  I haven't figured out how to do sports nutrition without processed sugar, and I'm not sure I need to.  There are times that your body needs easily digested, simple carbs, and during long or heavy training is one of those.  This is another category that may not have anything to do with the muscle cramps, but the only side effects to focusing on it are good ones.

6. DOCTOR:  I'm due for an annual physical anyway and am seeing my doctor this week.  I'm going to ask for her feedback on this.  I think that a somewhat low sodium intake and high sodium output (through sweat) could be a culprit, but given most of the population gets too much sodium, I'm hesitant to start adding it in willy nilly (though adding sports drinks will increase it somewhat).   Perhaps something else is wacky in my body and out of balance.  I'll see if she wants to do any blood tests.

Janice (one of the coaches at swim) suggested that it is partly muscle fatigue and due to my training load.  That worries me a bit.  My total training load right now is probably just a bit higher then what I peaked at for my Olympic triathlon, although it's distributed differently, since I'm spending more time on the bike and less on the run.  (I over focused on the run and under focused on the bike while training up to my Oly last year).  My overall training volume will just keep going up (through following my plan, so no crazy jumps in volume).  If the muscle cramps continue, I may consider cutting out speedwork and just get the mileage in, but I really hope it doesn't come down to that.

Argh!  So frustrating!

Do you ever get muscle cramps?  Found a way to deal with them?
What's your favourite sports drink or electrolyte replacement?


  1. Hey Deb, I used to get them lots, especially at night, and for someone who had a PE (pulmonary embolism which started from a calf cramp) and nearly kicked the bucket 9 years ago...these worry me. I take Isagenix products which help keep me in line with my vitamins. On my long runs/bikes I take Energenix which is a healthier version of Gatorade. I drink about 4L of water a day (on a bad day)...so I drink lots. Everywhere I go I have a bottle with me. Some think I am abit excessive (maybe in my water bottle obsession) BUT because I am a HIGH sweat'er when I workout and I do more than one workout everyday I really watch my water intake.
    Good luck, you'll figure out what works for you. Your doc will prob order some extra tests for you (I hope so, as mine did this year in light of my increase of workout load for training the Half IM).

  2. I get those cramps in the arch of my foot nearly every time I swim more than a short distance (like after 20-30 min). It is terribly frustrating. I haven't really played with any of the ideas you have here to see if it helps, but I could guess that I should do just about all of these too. I get them at night in bed sometimes too - so bad I leap out of bed and walk around to get rid of them. Argh!! Looking forward to hearing what you figure out. I have just started using Powerade (yellow and orange) on my longer bike rides and so far it seems to settle ok, but I really just tried it because it was on sale and I figured a 2 hour bike ride required something more than water.

  3. Hope you can figure it out, I hate cramps! But I've got no input for you.

  4. Hydration, electrolytes and potassium are a good idea. When training for NOLA 70.3 last year, I had a blood test as part of a routine physical and I had low sodium. The doctor told me to add some salt to my food :-).

  5. I used to get a cramp in the arch of my left foot about the 45 minute mark of a swim. A few shakes and it would go away. Then it stopped. Hamstring cramps a couple times when I was learning to dolphin kick.

    My favorite energy drink starts with hot lemon tea. Add salt and honey depending on your needs, then orange juice to flavour. Simple, fast and full of good stuff. I got it from an impact magazine recipe that I can mail you if you want. Sometimes I toss in a Nuun tab. Nuun isn't terribly expensive and you might want to give them a try. They do have sorbital in them and some people are allergic.

  6. Great idea getting used to IronCrap if that is what they'll have on the course. When I've gotten cramps,either tums or enduralytes work for me. Blood test couldn't hurt. Good luck!

  7. The foot cramps are kind of normal for swimmers. I get them occasionally, usually after pushing off the wall. Swimming coaches told me that, often times, it is a hydration problem. So I keep a bottle of water at the pool and take a few sips between sets. Sometimes I drop a Nunn tablet in it for some electrolytes. Are you drinking at the pool during swim sets?