Those darn leg and foot cramps!

When I first began swimming with Masters, my toes, feet or calves regularly become so tightly cramped that I sometimes could only continue a workout with tears in my eyes. Charlie Horse misery! Often I would have to quit, struggle out and have a pretty sore affected muscle the next day.

My coach said, “You need more potassium. Eat bananas.” Being a registered dietitian, I knew that potassium is found in many other foods besides bananas, and that there are other electrolytes involved in muscle function. I knew that I was already getting liberal potassium in my diet and that my blood potassium level was high normal. But I did add bananas to my cereal each morning thereafter. Didn’t much help though.

I talked to other more experienced athletes, to several physicians and did a bit of reading on the subject. Calcium, sodium and hydration are also important in helping muscles properly contract and relax. I made sure my calcium intake was adequate and drank water throughout my workouts. One friend , a triathlete, told me to pinch my upper lip when I had a foot cramp. That made my lip hurt a little and I guess I wasn’t as aware of my foot cramp then.

Stretching the legs and feet well, both at the start and end of the workout, was unanimously and strongly recommended.

Anyway, I finally noticed that excruciating foot and leg cramps happened less and less frequently as I became more conditioned. Of course I was also careful of potassium, calcium and hydration and stretched religiously.

What should you do if your legs or feet cramp while swimming? Well, you could pinch your lip, but better to stretch and try to relax the affected part. If the cramp is severe, get out of the water and walk it off. A warm shower will also help loosen a persistent Charlie Horse.

Do make sure you eat lots of fruits and vegetables and get enough calcium. Although you might not notice, you do sweat when you swim, so bring a water bottle and drink, or make frequent trips to the water fountain.

What about electrolyte drinks? Most of us don’t need them unless the workout is extremely intense or long in a very warm environment. If they are used, I usually recommend diluting with water.

K. Gregory. RD