Hello. I’m Lisa Dorfman aka The Running Nutritionist®. Bill asked me to feed you (see what I did there)information about food, nutrition, diet, training, sports psychology, recipes, and war stories of 30+ yearsas a competitive triathlete, runner, & pro triathlete (’92-’99.)
As an athlete, I’ve competed in more than 35 marathons (PR 2:52:32), ultramarathons, and races like Escape from Alcatraz, Ironman USA Lake Placid, and in ’04, on Team USA at the World Long Distance Duathlon Championships, Fredericia, Denmark.
I have consulted to industry, academia, the public & press; to Olympian, Professional, Collegiate & Junior athletes since ’84; to gold medalist and world champion athletes in more than 20 sports including triathlon, T&F, running, boxing, tennis, figure skating, swimming, diving, soccer, baseball, football, basketball, horse racing, windsurfing & taekwondo too. I was the US Sailing Olympic and Paralympics Team Nutritionist for the ‘08 Beijing Olympics & Nutrition Expert for Zumba® Plate program. I have even worked with some of Hollywood’s Award winning actors/actresses to prepare them for roles for movies such as Avengers, Gone Girl, Iron Man 3, Book Thief, 13 Hours, and TV in The Glades, Hatfield’s & McCoy’s, soap operas & commercials.
So, let’s get started with a popular topic we can all related to!
Cramping Your Style: Why the Heck Do Your Muscles Ache?
Are you a pathetic athlete with a salty ash glow at the races? Does your upper lip drip salt when you train? We call you “losers,” as in those who lose above and beyond normal amounts of sodium in your sweat during exercise. Does a salty “sweater” equate to painful side stitches in your gut or calfs?
No doubt, muscle cramping has cost even the best athletes great workouts, Olympic medals contributing to a billion dollar sports drink & electrolyte supplement industry to manage the “losses” associated with salty sweats. Although cramping can be caused by a number of reasons including poor diets, excessive alcohol intake, dehydration, medications, illness and eating disorders, for everyday triathletes it is often due to the loss of electrolytes in sweat.
The Science & Solution
Electrolytes are minerals like sodium and potassium, which are added to most sport drinks & supplements. The electrolytes also include other minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and chloride. These electrolytes send messages to nerves and muscles throughout the body. Electrolytes are involved with muscle contraction and relaxation while you’re training, so an imbalance can impact the actual contraction of the muscle itself.
Sodium losses through sweat are the most common cause of cramping, but potassium losses can lead to cramping too. Water replacement in the absence of supplemental sodium during extended training can lead to hyponatremia or decreased plasma sodium concentrations. Research suggests that exercise-induced hyponatremia may also result from fluid overloading during prolonged training. Hyponatremia is also associated with calorie conscious athletes who drink plain water in excess of their sweat losses or who are less physically conditioned and produce a more salty sweat.
The challenge is that when blood is diluted of sodium, your thirst drive is affected too, so the key is to rehydrate with fluids that replace sodium-like sport drinks. Sodium can be consumed in food such as pretzels, baked chips and salted healthy nuts like almonds, pistachios and walnuts and by salting your food at mealtime.
Potassium is another electrolyte involved with maintaining body fluids. As the major electrolyte inside the body’s cells, potassium works in tandem with sodium and chloride to maintain body fluids and generate electric impulses in the nerves and muscles including the heart. Loss of potassium from muscle has been linked with fatigue.
Although potassium supplements are not necessary, finding sport drinks, recovery beverages & supplements that include potassium is one way of meeting your needs. Sports drinks contain sodium and potassium in various amounts to prevent cramping. Whole foods with electrolytes like fresh fruit and vegetables, low sugar sports drinks or coconut water are some natural ways to replace electrolytes lost in sweat. Adding baby foods like baby bananas to a fruit smoothie is one way you can add a few hundred milligrams of potassium to your diet. The baby food will also help thicken the drink without excessive sugars.
Another electrolyte, magnesium, is required for hundreds of functions in the body. For athletes, the most important are energy production, oxygen uptake by muscles (aka VO2,) and electrolyte balance. Magnesium also helps the heart to beat steady, supports your immune system, keeps bones strong, and is involved in protein synthesis required for building muscle. In addition, research suggests that deficiencies in magnesium can affect performance, amplifying the stressful effects of high intensity exercise on cells.
If you’re working out hard, high intensity exercise can increase urinary and sweat magnesium losses by 10 to 20 percent. Seven out of 10 women and men are deficient in magnesium so if you detest greens, beans, nuts, and whole grains you’re really at a magnesium loss.Until we meet again, follow me at Instagram @TheRunningNutritionist and find me at my website FoodFitness.com.
Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, CCMS, LMHC, FAND
- Pathetic Triathletes Nutritionist FoodFitness.com