How to Cure Swimmer’s Cramps

There’s something about Monday night’s Master’s Swimming workouts that brings on cramps – from the toes to the calf muscles. When I first joined the group at the end of last year, I thought it was just my lack of fitness and tolerance for the cold.

I’ve since discovered I have lots of company in the pool. Coach Mary gives us some pretty intense sets to start the week. We’re peggin’ our heart rates. We’re pushing hard off the wall. And we’re in the pool for the better part of an hour-and-a-half.

We were laughing about it in the locker room. I mentioned that I heard quinine water is supposed to help leg cramps. Another woman piped up, “My son and his water polo teammates use mustard packets. That does the trick right away.” And then another added, “I heard pickle juice is supposed to help.” Who knew? The edge of our pool may soon turn into a deli counter. Perhaps I should bring a jar of Grey Poupon and plastic spoons for my lane.

Curiosity got the best of me. I had to do some more research to see if there was anything to these proposed cures. It turns out pickle juice and mustard help if your cramps are caused by a deficiency in acetylcholine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates your muscles to work. Another folk remedy is apple cider vinegar (mix 2 teaspoons with a teaspoon of honey), which is high in potassium.

I learned there are four main causes for cramps in the water:

1. Dehydration
2. Fatigue
3. Electrolyte Deficiencies
4. Cold water (hypothermia)

And beyond hot dog condiments, it is recommended to:

1. Consume fluids and/or electrolyte replacement drinks during your swim workouts.
2. Train consistency 3-5 times per week (oh, there goes that frequency tip again).
3. Eat a banana every day.
4. Eat foods rich in calcium and magnesium, such as dairy and leafy green vegetables.
5. Consider calcium and magnesium supplements.
6. Stretch and warm up on dry land before you go into cold water.
7. Don’t sprint right away in cold water if you’re not adequately warmed up and acclimated to the temperature.

It’s a cold, windy night and I have another Master’s session outside tonight. Time to prepare some hot Cytomax for my thermos, take my minerals supplements, and eat a banana before I head to the pool.

5 thoughts on “How to Cure Swimmer’s Cramps

  1. I swear by calcium & magnesium…..a daily supplement plus some electrolyte drink at the end of the pool made all my toe cramps go away. 😉 Hope you've got your cure, too!

  2. In the twenty years I swam competitively and played water polo, I rarely got cramps and never had to go the vinegar or mustard route. I don't remember anyone else having a deli counter on deck either. I just ate a banana or an orange on the way to practice and made sure I had a bottle of water on deck. Stretching and warm up exercises might have helped too, but when coaches weren't looking, we all shorted those. Seriously, one banana cures a lot of ills.

  3. "pahdon me, do you have any whipped banana, mustard, pickle juice pure`?
    Oooo, yummy.
    I'll bring the water crackers.
    You're on the right track. I'm a believer in the Cal, Mag, and Potassium trio.

  4. Good post. I'm such a leg/toe/calf cramper! Funny thing is… I've tried all those remedies (even mustard!) and I've done the same research so I know why the cramps come, but I still get them on long & cold swims… like Oceanside! I guess in the case of O-side, however, I didn't adhere to your #7 recommendation. Not really possible. Ugh.

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