View Full Version : Solution to leg cramps

May 20th, 2011, 07:33 PM
I’m hoping that someone may be able to help me solve a problem. My wife is a talented triathlete, winning her age group (55-59) in several major triathlons over the past two years. She has signed up to do a full ironman distance (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run) in Wisconsin but she can't seem to swim past 1200-1400 meters before she gets leg cramps. She has consulted local swim coaches, tried all their suggestions and nothing works. It's a real problem and she is thinking of giving up on the race. Since she is 57 this may be her last shot at doing something she’s wanted to do for years. She has tried hydrating (with water and tonic water), stretching, had her technique evaluated for mechanics, etc. has anyone else had this problem and if so, what the solution? I’m desperate to help her but don’t know where else to turn. If you know of anyone who might be able to help, please let me know. Thank you.


May 20th, 2011, 07:43 PM
Does she take a statin drug (for lowering cholesterol)?

May 20th, 2011, 07:59 PM
Only my anecdotal experience to back this up, but I see leg cramps for me in swimming correlated with:

alcohol consumption the previous night: I'm not a heavy boozer, but I'm much more likely to get calf cramps the morning after having 1-2 beers or glasses of wine,
excessive sitting the day before or day of: even when I'm training well, if I spend the previous day working behind a desk, sitting on a plane, driving a lot, I'm more likely to get leg cramps
not kicking enough during the swim: generally, when I get leg cramps in an OW swim, it's because I've forgotten (especially when wearing a floaty wetsuit) to concentrate on keeping up a steady kick (even just a two beat)

May 20th, 2011, 08:04 PM
Solution to leg cramps...

We're not really supposed to endorse products here..but dill pickle juice can be a possible solution.


May 20th, 2011, 08:45 PM
i'm prone to leg cramps..my solution i found works..i drink 2cans(big ones) of v-8 low sodium(major potassium)..and nitely i take a magnesium/calcium/zinc supplement. I notice my foot cramps before my leg and i stop swimming when my calf starts twitching...good luck to her!

May 20th, 2011, 08:54 PM
I used to get leg cramps cycling on long rides. Tried lots of things but eventually found that bananas work the best for me. I hate bananas but if it works....

May 20th, 2011, 09:02 PM
I've never tried this myself, but a seasoned swimmer told me that mustard, (the packets you get at a hot dog stand) works instantly to alleviate cramps. I've just never had it when I needed it, but it is indeed an interesting concept!

May 20th, 2011, 11:08 PM
Solution to leg cramps...

We're not really supposed to endorse products here..but dill pickle juice can be a possible solution.


I've heard the same thing. Not that I have a problem myself with cramps (knock on wood)...bananas seem to do the trick for me, but I have heard people who do have this problem say pickle juice helps. Sorry I don't have a better-tasting suggestion! Pickle juice is pretty gross. :bolt:

Thrashing Slug
May 20th, 2011, 11:24 PM
I've never gotten leg cramps while swimming open water, but I used to get them during long pool swims at the end of the day after working all day. I found that eating a banana before the swim and drinking Heed during the workout helped to prevent cramps.

May 20th, 2011, 11:32 PM

May 21st, 2011, 08:41 AM
When the leg cramps come after a lot of flutter kicking, I do 100 breast. the flexing of the kick loosens up the leg muscles.

May 21st, 2011, 02:02 PM
I have found potassium to be extremely beneficial for me. I used to get leg cramps all the time. Started eating a banana before every practice and the problem went away.

You can also go to your local pharmacy or health food store and buy a Potassium supplement which I have found to work just as well.

May 21st, 2011, 07:54 PM
I have found (at various times) that all of the following lead to leg cramps for me:

Cold water
Anaerobic sets (the cramps show up in the following aerobic set)
Hard kick sets (the cramps show up in the following swim)
Sudden increases in distance swum

The first thing is to avoid the triggers. (Keep hydrated, increase swim distances slowly, etc.)

I have also had luck taking Enduralyte to make the cramps go away. There are other products as well.

May 26th, 2011, 05:43 PM
Magnesium works. Use it for intensive swim camps worked each time

May 30th, 2011, 12:07 AM
Magnesium works. Use it for intensive swim camps worked each time

Magnesium also does work. Be advised, do not buy magnesium citrate. It is a laxative. People have made this mistake before, don't be one of them haha.

jim thornton
May 30th, 2011, 02:20 PM
I've been getting tons of cramps lately. They often start in my toes, progress to my arches, then move up to the calf muscles and--after tennis--into some weird muscles on the inside of the upper thighs (weird in the sense that it is almost impossible to figure our what the opposing muscle is for these, and thus you can't do the old trick of contracting the opposing muscle to relieve the cramp.)

A couple years ago, I read something on pickle juice in the New York Times and have been planning to give it a try. I will post back after a week or so of imbibing.

How much should you take, and when should you take it?

I found one site that gives prescriptive advice: about two ounces of pickle juice about 10 minutes before exercise begins.

Here's an excerpt:

Sidebar - A Shot A Day
We have been using pickle juice to prevent and treat muscle cramps at the University of Northern Iowa for the past three years. Primarily, the athletic training staff has used it as a last resort in treating or preventing exercise-associated muscle cramps. When all of the previously mentioned preventive techniques—proper conditioning, nutrition and hydration, and stretching—have been tried and have failed, we add pickle juice to the athlete’s pregame regimen. We have found that by giving two ounces of pickle juice to the athlete 10 minutes before exercise, even the most chronic cramper can remain cramp-free during high-intensity exercise.

Pickle juice also seems to effectively treat acute muscle cramps. We first found this out when an athlete who was on a pickle-juice regimen forgot to take his dose before a game. When he suffered severe bilateral cramps in his gastrocnemius, he was taken out of the game and given two ounces of pickle juice. The cramps were completely gone within 30 seconds. We have tried this technique with other athletes and found it to be universally effective, with the great majority of cramps not recurring.

Usually, two ounces of pickle juice will treat and prevent any cramp. There have been a few situations where the athlete was suffering from muscle cramps in more than one area, or the cramp was in a large muscle group, like the abdomen, and he or she was then given additional pickle juice. It is imperative that the athletic trainer advise the athlete to continue hydrating, keep a balanced diet, and to take pickle juice in moderation.

Additionally, we have treated muscle cramps by giving two ounces of straight vinegar to athletes who were experiencing an exercise-associated muscle cramp. It was found that the involuntary contraction went away in 15 to 30 seconds and did not recur. Although the straight vinegar has worked, it is very difficult for athletes to consume straight vinegar. Pickle juice is more palatable and has been accepted better by the athletes.

Vinegar is the obvious common ingredient in both mustard (which is used by some athletic trainers) and pickle juice. But, as yet, there is no experimental research that has explained the mechanism of how these treatments work.

You can read the whole thing at http://www.momentummedia.com/articles/tc/tc1009/cramps.htm

May 30th, 2011, 03:52 PM
If the cramps seem to be mostly in her calves have her try 1/4" heel lift in her running shoes. The foot motion of swimming and running are totally opposite and can totally confuse the achilles and calf muscles.
If she has a rigid foot (high arches that tend to supinate) a full length soft orthotic with high arch support could help. A slip-lasted, curve-lasted shoe would help too. Good luck :)!

May 30th, 2011, 04:51 PM
Speaking from experience, potassium can really help with leg cramps. It is very important to get the potassium from food sources. Cantaloupe, bananas, orange juice and milk are all great choices. I run a lot and usually consume 3 different servings of potassium rich foods a day. If you up your potassium intake (again, food sources, not supplements) you should notice a difference quickly. Also, make sure you are drinking enough water.

May 30th, 2011, 06:52 PM
For me, leg cramps while I'm swimming is the best predictor of high TSH and a need for an increase in meds.

June 1st, 2011, 12:15 AM
Hi Bruce,

I really hope someone has a solution that helps her - whether it is fruit, supplements, insoles pickle juice. But, with that said - she may be stuck with them. I don't want to sound pessimistic, but I sure feel that I am stuck with my cramps.

I have suffered from toe cramps since I swam age group. I would often have to get out and stretch my feet/toes.

Now I'm a bit older (52) and I still suffer. Mostly toe cramps (and up into the calf). Some days I cramp the quads and others the hamstrings - but mostly that'll be towards the end of a long set where I did more kicking than usual. But, mostly it is in my toes and arches - kicking set then pull set w/ a buoy is a sure way to set it off.

I am a stomach sleeper. I now sleep with my feet over the end of the bed instead of flat out behind me. I often stand behind my chair at work with the balls of my feet up on the caster "arms" of my chair, stretching my calves. I can stand bent at the waste and step on my fingers - can't put my palms flat on the floor - but, still not bad flexibility in the legs & still I cramp.

I say all that 'cause I have tried many things. From Steve Born's article, linked to by Lump, I wonder if I don't have "Inherited abnormalities of substrate metabolism"

I swim 3500 yds/day x 6. I've been working with my doctor to try to deal with this. I take a prescription potassium, otc calcium, magnesium. I drink water as soon as I get out of bed, eat, then swim then have chocolate milk. I can take water, or not, while swimming and still have cramps. I'm certainly not shy on food sources - today's intake included 2 bananas, 1 orange and an apple. My average is actually one of each but the bananas were getting over ripe! :banana:

I've not tried the pickle juice and will give it a shot. Fortunately 2oz is probably not enough to cause gastric distress while swimming - so where is my little shot glass of pj? Any one have any thoughts on adding the pickle juice to the hydration water? Home made pickle-aid! :D

I've not cut out my evening beer or wine, but as pwb noted that could be a cause, now - I can't blame consumption on cramping when I swam age group! I haven't had a drop today, so that experiment is started.

Funny thing, my cramping problem is all leg, calf, arch, foot. I've never had arm or shoulder cramp problems even with long pull sets with paddles - Weird.

I wish her the best of luck and maybe someone will post a magic bullet! I'll be following this thread and will post my results on no alcohol and yes to pj.


June 1st, 2011, 10:37 PM

Do you like HEED? I've tried various sports drinks and found them to be okay, but eating a banana to be simpler.

June 3rd, 2011, 09:48 AM
Interesting observation, PT that the cramps never effect the arms. I also never get cramps on long walks, but I do on long swims. I get them normally, so often that my cool down is usually breast. That helps to flex my legs and release the cramping.
We spend most of our time with our feet in an "L" position, pushing off from a solid surface with a backward thrust. then we get in the water and change the whole pattern. We point our toes, move our thighs back and forth while relaxing from the knee down. Our legs get confused.
Our arms and hands do all sorts of differently shaped motions all the time so they adapt better. they arms get crampy from writing, typing and other unnatural motions, not swimming.
Just some thoughts on the subject.

June 6th, 2011, 01:02 AM
Hi Bruce,

I have been meaning to answer this for a while. I was having quite a problem with leg cramps and I found my solution. I had to write a research paper for a course I'm taking and I finally submitted it tonight so I have some good answers (I hope). If my answers are no good, I have some good links to share which might help too.

My problem was caused by a calcium deficiency. After putting up with cramps at every practice for 9 months and ingesting every known source of Potassium, I came across a table in my Chemistry text book that said Calcium deficiency resulted in muscle cramps and Potassium deficiency was responsible for muscle fatigue.

I actually didn't believe it right away and thought it might be a mistake. When I googled 'muscle cramps" months earlier, everything came up Potassium related. So I googled "calcium and Muscle cramps" this time. I was really suprised by the results.

Since deficiencies in both potassium and calcium ions can cause cramps, she should take a look at her diet and see if that is the cause. Three months before the cramps suddenly started, I went on a high protein/no dairy diet.

What I thought would be a good diet for an athlete was the worst thing I could have done. Some things block calcium from being absorbed and some cause it to be flushed out in your urine. Calcium by its nature is highly reactive, so it can be affected by so many other things in the body that makes it hard to absorb.

Overall, the excessive consumption of protein causes the depletion of calcium.

The links below have more detail.

here is something from the link:
http://www.healthy.co.nz/ailment/1018-calcium-deficiency.html (http://www.healthy.co.nz/ailment/1018-calcium-deficiency.html)
Is it easy for the body to absorb calcium?
Many other factors influence the actual amount of calcium absorbed. When in need, the body absorbs calcium more effectively; therefore the greater the need and the smaller the dietary supply, the more efficient the absorption. Absorption is also increased during rapid periods of growth. Certain substances interfere with the absorption of calcium. When excess amounts of fat, protein (http://www.healthy.co.nz/ailment/2097-protein-powder.html) or sugar combine with calcium an insoluble compound is formed which cannot be absorbed. Insufficient vitamin D intake or excess phosphorus and magnesium hinders the absorption of calcium. Oxalic acid found in chocolate, spinach, beet greens, swiss chard, soy beans, almonds, cashews, kale and rhubarb, when combined with calcium make another insoluble compound which may form into stones in the kidney or gall bladder. A typical diet should not cause this to happen. Large amounts of phytic acid present in unleavened grains may also inhibit absorption by the body. Other interfering factors include lack of exercise, physical and emotional stress, excitement, depression (http://www.healthy.co.nz/category/1043-treating-depression.html) and too rapid a flow of food through the intestinal tract. Even moderate exercise encourages absorption.

Drugs affecting absorption include caffeine, diuretics, fatty acids, fibre oxalates, glucocorticoids, fluoride, Mylanta, protein, thyroxine.

[Cortisol (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Cortisol) (or hydrocortisone) is the most important human glucocorticoid]
[Oxalate-rich plants include Other edible plants that contain significant concentrations of oxalate include—in decreasing order—star fruit (carambola (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Carambola)), black pepper (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Black_pepper), parsley (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Parsley), poppy (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Poppy) seed, amaranth (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Amaranth), spinach (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Spinach), chard (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Chard), beets (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Beet), cocoa (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Cocoa_solids), chocolate (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Chocolate), most nuts (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Nut_(fruit)), most berries (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Berry), fishtail palms (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Caryota), New Zealand spinach (Tetragonia tetragonioides (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Tetragonia_tetragonioides)) and beans (http://forums.usms.org/wiki/Bean)]

What symptoms come with a deficiency of calcium?
Calcium deficiencies are wide spread in human society with only 1/3 to ½ of the necessary requirements being consumed. One of the first signs of a deficiency is a nervous affliction called tetany, which is characterised by muscle cramps, numbness and tingling in the arms and legs.
Other people who may be at risk for deficiencies are those who use antacids that contain aluminium; those who are alcohol drinkers; those on diets that are low calorie, high protein, or high fibre; those who are lactose intolerant; those who use cortisone; women who are pregnant and those who are basically inactive. Moderate cases of calcium deficiency may lead to cramps, joint pains, heart palpitations, increased cholesterol levels, slow pulse rates, insomnia, impaired growth, excessive irritability or nerves, muscle cramps, brittle nails, eczema and numbness of the arms and or legs.

This was also interesting:
Americans, whose calcium intake is among the highest in the world, also have one of the highest rates of osteoporosis. In any given population, the greater the intake of protein, the more common and more severe the incidence of osteoporosis.[6] Osteoporosis is a condition caused by a number of factors, the most important of which is excess dietary protein.[7] Low-protein diets create a positive calcium balance, and high-protein diets create a negative calcium balance. https://www.msu.edu/~corcora5/food/vegan/calcium+protein.html (https://www.msu.edu/~corcora5/food/vegan/calcium+protein.html)

However, protein also increases the body's need for calcium by increasing calcium excretion. Excess protein in the diet is used by the body for energy, just like fats and carbohydrates. However, as protein is burned for energy, it produces a chemical called sulfate, which the body excretes through the kidneys. Sulfate increases the excretion of calcium.

here are some other good links I used:

http://www.calciumdeficiency.co.uk/ (http://www.calciumdeficiency.co.uk/)
http://www.jacn.org/content/19/suppl_2/119S.full (http://www.jacn.org/content/19/suppl_2/119S.full)

Hope that helps.....

August 24th, 2011, 06:50 PM
So I was swimming today for mild taper/final week prep for a 5k. (the same 5k I had thigh area cramping last year for 2 miles). I was going to do 2500M at a moderate pace set and felt better than ever - piece of cake until at 2400M - bam - charlie horse. I went from 100% confidence to 10% in an instance (10% only because maybe the walls have something to do with it).

So from what I have read here either heed or pickle juice seem like the best bet. I'm leaning towards pickle juice. So do I buy a jar of dill pickles and just slam 2 ozs of the juice right before the race? The statistical evidence of Jim's article looks encouraging so I want to try it.

August 24th, 2011, 07:45 PM
I'd also like to second the suggestion to use breaststroke as an on-the-spot remedy. I don't tend to get calf cramps, but I did recently while doing a 2.7 mile open water swim. When I felt the cramps coming on, I switched to breaststroke, doing maybe about 20 or so strokes, kicking as hard as I could. It nipped the cramping right in the bud, and I didn't have to do it a second time.

August 26th, 2011, 01:01 AM
Hi all,

I've been busy with work and keeping up my swimming - so forums and the like have taken the hit.

I will come back and take a look at your links and look forward to reading the stuff on calcium deficiency. Thank you SwimmerLady. It'll be interesting to see what it says and about amounts.

I have been put on mineral supplements by my Dr. to try to help me with my calve cramping. It has helped, I don't know how much more calcium I can or should eat. I'm currently taking 1260mg of citracal. I also drink 10oz of milk after work out w/ a Carnation instant breakfast thrown in and usually a cheese stick during the day. I also eat 2 bowls of cereal before leaving for the pool in the morning, so I think I get a lot of calcium. I've recently read a report in a nutrition magazine about other health issues with too much calcium...damned if you do and damned if you don't! If I find it I'll post the study it referenced. They want me back in to draw blood and do chemistry, again - the prescription potassium ran out and I called in to have the prescription renewed.

I tried the pickle juice. Man - what a way to make sure you're awake - pound 2 oz of Clauson's pickle juice somewhere around 2500 yards! I don't know if it helped or would have helped. I found that it caused acid reflux and that wasn't worth it.

I was using creatine monohydrate as a suppliment. I did end up deciding that that was exacerbating the cramping issue. When I looked into it again I found a siting by a chiropractor that was using creatine. He noticed that he was having leg cramps on his 2 mile running sprints. He'd never had leg cramping problems before. He cut out the creatine and the cramping went away. He went back on the creatine and they came back.

I've been off of the creatine for about a month. I still have cramping, especially when I put on the fins and do a big kicking set. So, I don't do much kicking now!

I haven't found a cure, but I can't or won't stop swimming. I want to break into the 52 seconds for my 100 free short course, yards. My goals are 52 seconds at 52 and my daughter's challenged me to swim to Seattle from Medford...425 miles for the calendar year. So I will keep stretching, swimming and looking for something to help - it really is all leg for me. Still calf mostly and sometimes a hamstring or quad. Weird since I'm a very upper body biased sprinter that I don't get any arm or other muscle group cramps.

Past my bedtime now.


August 26th, 2011, 10:31 AM
If I do a hard effort run, for the next serveral days I can always count on a lower extremity cramp or lock-out during the back half of my swim. The cramps can be quite painful :afraid: - lol, but sometimes it's painless and the muscle just contracts thereby locking it's respective joint (calf, hamstring).

I understand dehydration or lack of mineral salts result in cramping. But in my case whether mechanism is same or not, I'm certain it's just endurance and fatigue related. And since my diet is full of nutrients, there probably isn't anything I can take that is not on the ped list that will help except maybe a day off.

One thing interesting, the green iguana requires a diet rich in calcium obtained from plants while UVA is being absorbed through the skin, however oxalate rich foods block this process. Probably has absolutely nothing to do with swimming cramps, just thought it was interesting

August 26th, 2011, 11:12 AM
I do Tri's and have had severe cramps in my calves and Hams during the swim and hard swim workouts. I started using a product called Sport Legs. It's mostly calcium and has really helped me. You can get it at GNC and similar stores.

Good luck.

February 2nd, 2018, 09:05 AM
StretchingWhen you have a leg cramp than physical exercise is the best thing to get rid of leg cramps. Walking like a simple exercise also performs miracles Walking will be the cause of pain but if the strain is tolerant, then stroll for some time, and you will feel better soon.

When you have a leg cramp, immediately stretch the affected area for 20-30 second at a time, then massage the area slowly to relax tight muscles.
You can also take a simple walk to free your tighten muscles.
To reduce the chances of cramps in the night, spread your leg muscles before going to bed. The best way to do this is to ride a stationary bicycle for 10 minutes before going to bed.

MassageYou can also take a massage to get rid of leg cramps fast (http://www.crazyhealthplan.com/home-remedies-for-leg-cramps/). As massaging can helps in improving circulation in the tissue, which provides a rush of new fluid to relax the tense muscle.

First, you need to take coconut oil and make it warm.
Apply this warm coconut oil to the affected area and massage your cramped muscles.
After a massage, cover the area with a warm towel for 2-3 hours.
Repeat this home remedies for leg cramps as needed.

February 6th, 2018, 06:48 PM
I struggle with leg cramps too, and have found that good pre workout hydration and use of electrolyte replacement during workout help somewhat but are not 100% effective. I have learned for myself that intense kicking such as sprint sets or kick sets at practice cause cramps that day and sometimes the next day. My coach gives me less intense or shorter sprint and kick sets than some of my peers and it helps a lot. In my races (always wetsuit legal temperatures) I mostly pull with a 2 beat kick and have never cramped. Possibly spares the legs a little. That said, I've not done longer than half iron distance swims.

February 6th, 2018, 09:17 PM
Another thing is to swim freestyle without kicking. I will do pull sets in practice to avoid leg cramps sometimes.

February 15th, 2018, 07:17 PM
I've read that the reason pickle juice and vinegar products work within seconds on leg cramps is that the vinegar stimulates sensory nerves in the mouth and esophagus which then send signals to the brain via the spinal cord. These signals to the brain block or interrupt the brain from continuing to send electrical impulses down to the legs that are causing the cramp. This is the science behind products such as HotShot, which uses lime juice concentrate, spices and other flavors in their before-exercise supplement. I'm prone to cramps while swimming and have used a HotShot before important swim races and triathlons and it seems to work (no cramps), but the cost can be prohibitive for use before every training session. I've never tried pickle juice but it seems like a logical everyday solution, just be careful not to drink too much, just enough to stimulate the nerves. I also wonder how long the sensory stimulation remains active after ingestion. I'm sure the effect fades away after some time, maybe an hour at most? But maybe that's all the time needed to prevent a cramp.

July 2nd, 2018, 03:41 AM
You can also take a massage to get rid of leg cramps (http://www.crazyhealthplan.com/home-remedies-for-leg-cramps/) fast.

July 2nd, 2018, 03:06 PM
Yeah, wouldn't that be nice to stop and get a massage? However, last week I felt them coming on at the tail end of a mile OWS. I could sense them coming on about 100 yds from shore, but was able to wiggle the legs in such a way to hold them off until I could touch bottom. The walk up to the beach was painful, but once on dry land they went away quickly.

February 12th, 2019, 12:23 AM
I get some foot and calf cramps. I read the thing about pickle juice and thought: why not just eat a pickle? They are, presumably, full of pickle juice. I grabbed a jar of kosher dills and had one or two before my workouts. I’ve had very few cramps since I stared this. It’s easy enough to try, if you like a good pickle.