Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Banting and Leg Cramps

I know this has nothing to do with spiritual matters, which is a lot of what my blog is about. However, diet is kinda spiritual in the sense of nourishing ourselves, so there is a fit for this post.

Okay, so Banting...I tried Banting last year for about six months, as properly as I could manage. Meaning, I followed Tim Noakes' Real Meal Revolution as closely as I could. I "cheated" with carbs only very occasionally when driven to out of desperation (out of frustration with not finding a solution to my cramps). However, although my weight didn't budge (which was fine, I was not really looking to lose) I did start to cramp - mildly and occasionally at first and then more regularly and severely. I tried everything - magnesium, cramp-prevent tablets, bone broth, increasing my salt...to no avail. Each remedy would work for a day or week or so and I would think "Aha!" and then...I would start to cramp up again. Which really bummed me as I was weight training at the time and the cramping stopped me enjoying my training. Previous to Banting I was following what I call a "gym diet" which is lean proteins and unrefined carbs in the form of rice or sweet potatoe and lots of veg. Almost the opposite of Banting in that it was a very low fat diet, however, the similarity to Banting was to avoid processed foods like the plague and avoid sugar.

Now, on the gym diet, I never cramped. Not once. I started Banting, and bam - cramps - so debilitating they would wake me up at night, and once or twice even during exercise which really bummed me out. I read everything I could find on LCHF and cramping and still found no solution. What to do? I would then sometimes say " Fuck it" out of desperation and despair and devour something starchy, sugary and carby like a chocolate bar or a piece of cake. And immediately, the cramping subsided. And I suddenly felt like I wanted to run five miles. Because, you see, along with the cramping, I would get a sensation of weakness in my muscles. Not a lack of strength, mind you, but a weak feeling, so that when I climbed stairs it felt really difficult, and yet I was someone who could (usually) easily leg press and squat - so it wasn't an actual muscle strength issue.

Eventually, after finding no leg-cramp solution I gave up Banting. However, I battled to go back to my ultra-lean and boring "gym diet" - rice and chicken breasts...ugh! Enough. So for a while now I have been following the "everything" diet - meaning I just ate everything. Whatever I felt like really. And whilst I felt great - my energy for everything was fine and my cramping was gone - my sugar craving returned. And this is where I must point out the biggest benefit of Banting - it is the only diet where I didn't and don't crave chocolate and cake all the time.

So now I am back to Banting. But with my own cramp-prevention twist. I am including more carbs (natural carbs) than the very low 50g-25g as recommended by Noakes. I am not excluding fruit but allowing myself one fruit a day if I feel like I might cramp. I am also not going to be strict with sweet potatoe, pumpkin or butternut. I will include these if I feel like them. So far, I have done this for just over a week and I feel great. I did cramp one night - mildly, and so the next day I had a banana (very sugary fruit) and I didn't cramp that night and I haven't cramped since. I have noticed that the "weak" leg feeling goes hand in hand with the cramping and that when I start to get that weak feeling, it's a sign that I need a few carbs. That's when I will have an apple, or a piece of dried fruit, or a square of dark chocolate or some sweet potatoe.

I have listened to numerous Noakes' talks and read countless articles, and no one knows exactly why some people (like me) cramp on this way of eating. And it seems to be a pretty common problem but with no real solution. Noakes himself has said that some people do better including a few more grams of carbs a day than others. I am coming to believe that I am one of those people. So far it seems to be working.

The reason I like Banting is that I feel generally better in so many areas - no continual hunger which was something I always felt on my lean gym diet. Sustained energy with far less of an afternoon slump, if at all. My eyes also feel better when I include fat in my diet. It was something I noticed immediately when I first started Banting. My eyes, which previously, on my lean diet, were becoming very red, sensitive and sometimes sore in the afternoons, felt soothed and "moisturized" the minute I started Banting. And my period back-ache was markedly better on Banting.

So I am hoping that if you enjoy Banting but, like me, find the cramping unbearable, then you will benefit from trying my "moderate Banting" approach. I know that this way won't get me into ketosis, but I am not concerned with that any more, as I realised that I was never in ketosis with any other diet I have ever tried, and that hasn't stopped me from losing weight or feeling energetic in the past.

I invite you to tell me about your experiences. Do you also cramp? Do you like Banting? Have you found another cramping solution?

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