The Swim Genius has been surrounded with the topic of cramps these days. Specifically those swimmer cramps that start in the ridge of your foot, crawl up the back of your les and settle painfully into your calves. They suck, and we all know that feeling: the choice to stop on the wall and stretch it, or keep going? Then you in open water, and there’s no wall, shore is two miles off, and no hope of touching bottom. In this case stopping is the worst thing you can do because if it locks, you’re in real trouble.
So, The Swim Genius decided to compile all of the tips and tricks that he’s heard into one article so that you no longer have to swim in pain, and/or search endless boards for good advice. The first, and The Swim Genius believes most applicable is; “Train as you intend to compete”. What does that mean? The fins, and pull buoy that you love so much are a crutch, and are probably doing more harm than good. If you want to build your legs, push off the wall harder, kick in a six beat, kick board in ways other than those you were taught, swim sprints, squats, lunges, and if you want to build your shoulders, get a set of paddles. The fins, and pull buoy change the stress points and position of your ankle. They don’t strengthen your kick, as much as they harm your natural ability to kick. When you are swimming without them, the stress points that you are not accustomed to can trigger cramps. Train with pointed toes, and kick from the hip. If you have stiff ankles, not only will you be prone to cramping, but you’ll be a very slow kicker, and may even move backwards. This is because your feet knife at the water, and in place of propulsion, you get resistance. Stretch the ankles with exercises, the most famous, it spell your upper case ABC’s with your ankles twice a day.
It’s a nice Segway to discuss a foam roller. This is an absolute must if you are prone to cramping. It’s especially helpful for calves in the middle of the night when restless legs are haunting your sleep. It’s much like a foam torture chamber at first because it puts a lot of pressure on a balled muscle (Ouch!). As that muscle becomes more relaxed, it becomes more compliant, and less likely to cramp. Get a three foot by six inch version so that you can also use it for your back, front, side, other side etc…
Let’s stay with the physical / therapeutic items and talk for a moment about magnets. Neo Magnets are those really strong suckers that come with warning labels. This is for good cause as you can injure yourself with them if they splinter. With that said, that same strength is amazing when it comes to therapy. Why? Your red blood cells, and the iron in them. How does it work? Simply tape a magnet to the site of the pain, it will soon tingle, and as it gorges the site with healing blood cells, the muscle will begin to let go. This happens because a wet muscle simply cannot stay balled up. The Swim Genius used these for a long time over night, but has since found a better solution for restless legs. Tip, use overnight for best results, and make sure that they have two inches between magnets, they will contract if any closer (Ouch!). I’ve also tucked magnets into compression sleeves with good results. Compression sleeves work by removing stationary blood, and creating room for new blood-flow. As a side effect they limit the inflow of blood, sometimes this is a good thing (recovery, and decreasing lactic acid stores), sometimes it’s not a good thing (a locking cramp). Compression sleeves can help to prevent cramps by limiting lactic acid buildup, but if a cramp insists on formation, they may do little to help relieve the symptoms.
What works better than magnets for restless legs? Tonic water. Why? Quinine. Fact; drug companies attempted to market Quinine as a drug for restless leg syndrome and the pill form was too strong. With that said, drinking 8-12 ounces of tonic water before bed increases circulation and knocks out the cramps. The Swim Genius even mixed nutrition over tonic water for ultra-marathon swims to keep the cramps at bay. It doesn’t taste great, but The Swim Genius willing to suck it up if there's no cramping.
As it directly relates, let’s talk about professional services around body work. It may be expensive, but there is a place for massage, acupuncture, and chiropractic services. As an athlete, you are putting your body through a daily test, and imbalances are inevitable. Sometimes you just got to get straightened out, and balanced by a professional. As with anything there are cheaper, yet still effective alternatives. They don’t always provide the same efficacy, but never the less here they are available options. In place of acupuncture check out an acupressure mat, it’s like laying down on the bottom of a really big golf shoe, but it increases blood flow. Magnets and cupping also help along the lines of acupuncture / acupressure. The general idea that prevails through them all is to make your body think it’s injured and pool blood to the site of treatment. This idea also is an effective way to prevent or release cramps.
Now for detox: diet is the most important factor here, but if you insist on eating like a "Standard American Diet" (SAD), then cramps will be more likely. A food tip to keep the capillaries open, greens, and foods that are bitter, stay away from the sweets and you’ll be less likely to cramp. If you insist on a hamburger and fries every day for lunch, look into an ionic foot bath to try and get rid of some of those toxins that will inevitably benefit cramps. It’s also good for flushing the lactic acid buildup that comes along with the cramp itself. Along with diet comes the old standby remedies, bananas, coconut water, every sport supplement that utilizes salt, and salt tabs. In short, Magnesium, Potassium, and Sodium. Too much sodium can be bad too, but its good in athletic moments for cramp prevention.
Last, and in my opinion least, take drugs, please consider this is a short term remedy, long term, they lose efficacy, and you damage the very body you are trying to maintain. Swim strong! Have Fun!
What’s up with that cheese man, is a story within a story. Some of this is written in my prior END WET post, and some of this is in the KETO post from a couple of weeks ago. I feel the need to write this because my propensity to eat party cheese in the process of swimming distance, has reached the furthest rings of my inner circle, I’m getting crap for it, and I’m more than willing to own this. It all starts with END WET training. 36 miles in a dirty North Dakota river scares the living shit out of me, and I’ve been a glucose swimmer since I began swimming five years prior. Every time I sugar load my stomach turns into knots, and I get a terrible brain fog, so in my way I’d been praying for a solution.
In December 2016, I’m at a book fair selling copies of Saved with Honu, and up walks a gal who was selling a keto supplement interested in my story as a marathon swimmer. I run through it, we trade information, an hour later she drops me a free sample, buys a book and we go our separate ways. This starts a mass education project, and ultimately dietary, and supplication changes to allow for keto based training.
So, there I am flipping turns on a 4K day, working in keto, goggles are fogged over, and I’m lost in the music. I’m a little delirious because I’ve been picking up mass distance on my new diet, roughly doubled my monthly average. There’s someone in the lane next to me, and they have what I assume is a bottle on the deck. The first time I glance at it, it looks like a can of squeeze cheese, and I think; “What you’re thinking, disgusting!”. I’m not stopping, but I look again, still looks like the cheese, “Gross!”. Then I start to think; “keto, calories, fat, salt, protein, I wonder how many calories are in a can?”. I’m curious, yes gross, but it may be worth a shot. The other thing I think about is breathing, getting calories, time to feed, and breathing are major obstacles. “The cheese is pressurized, and I shouldn’t have to chew, ok, disgusting, yes, but I have to try it”. (BTW if someone at Nabisco is reading this and wants to sponsor me, shoot me an email.)
I pick up the cheese, and take it to the pool deck for a 10K trial. A can comes in at about 700 calories, is pasteurized so it won’t go bad, pressurized so you don’t have to squeeze anything, it floats, and has all of the keto mainstays, protein, fat, and salt. I’m super pleased with the trial, not only do I not have to chew, but It cotes my stomach, and does not cause gas. Taste, I could get used to it. Everyone has the same reaction, “that’s disgusting” then they gag a little, and maybe throw up a little in their mouth, but I see this as unnecessarily dramatic. Then they say, “maybe with some crackers?”, then I say, “remember, I’m in the water, and the point is to not have to chew!”, anyhow, crackers and water don’t do well together for long. I’m all about the utility at this point, and could care less about the taste. If you are tied to the taste of things, i.e. salty crunch, you’re not going keto anytime soon, I’m already there so I’m over it. Training continues to pick up with the cheese on my side, I’m also using dates, and a keto/sugar solution I lovingly call my “Sweet Salty Nut Balls”
Recipe: The Swim Genius’s Sweet Salty Nut Balls
½ cup Peanut butter
½ cup Nutella
½ cup Marshmallow cream
1 scoop whey protein
1 or 2 packages of gelatin
1 or 2 TB MCT Oil
Mix up the balls, roll them around in your hand, then dust them in Almond flour, chia seed, and a little salt. I found that putting a Gas-x in every other ball cuts down on any ongoing gas problems. They are really quite good, pop right into your mouth, and again, minimal chewing.
During END WET I would take in nut balls and dates on the top of the hour and cheese on the bottom of the hour. There are a couple more points to make about the cheese. If you are motivated by the thought of keto, and nice easy feeds, it’s not so bad. All you have to do is put the nozzle between your teeth, and tilt the can, no chewing, no choking. As the protein load is natural my recovery is shorter, the fat will keep me going even after the event. Fact, I put on 10 pounds for END WET, thinking I’d lose it within days of the event. I ate three cans of cheese that day, held all of the weight (13 hours, 48 minutes of swimming), and had to diet it off over the next three weeks. I suppose that means there is a buoyancy argument to all of this too. So that’s what’s up with the cheese, man!
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