Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Cramping on LCHF? My two different, self-tested solutions.

If you have ever read my blog, you will know that I have suffered terrible cramping with Banting in the past. And then, just when I thought I had it sorted, I got some cramps again the other day. So what to do?

The usual advice is to supplement with magnesium, or a combo of salt, magnesium and potassium. Whilst this did help a little, it didn't resolve the cramping completely and so I was left feeling frustrated, down and disillusioned with Banting the first time round. (A small note: magnesium is still a very important supplement to take, though, as most of us are deficient, but it didn't fully resolve my cramps.) I kept wondering what was wrong with me? Why did the rest of my family seem to do ok on LCHF but not me? Well, one major difference is that I was weight training and doing a bit of running, whereas my mother and stepfather certainly were not.

However, that didn't physically/practically help me - I didn't want to give up my exercise! And how come other athletes I "saw"on Banting Facebook groups were managing to train long hours and seemingly doing fine? The painful cramps were the number one reason I stopped Banting the first time round (that was last year).

So I reintroduced carbs into my diet, and immediately my muscle cramps went away. I kid you not. Which of course got me to conclude that, for me at least, I needed carbs. How many carbs, I did not know, but I kept wondering why the traditional cramp-remedies (salt, mag, potassium) did not work for me. Neither did stretching work, by the way, as I love to stretch, and yet still, I would wake up in the middle of the night with excruciatingly painful cramps.

Fast forward to now: this is (as I have said before) my third time Banting. (I love Banting, clearly, and have not given up on it!) It's all trial and error and self-experimentation and I have had to find a way that works for me, where I am not cramping, where I am exercising well and where I am healthy, from the inside out.

So this time, a friend of mine recommended I try Taurine for cramps. She is also a chic who weight trains, and her trainer had told her to take Taurine for cramps. She did, and found it worked. (To my knowledge she wasn't using other cramping supplements with the Taurine.) So I tried it. And it has definitely helped. I haven't had debilitating cramps this time round. However, I am not one who likes to take pills, and so I reduced my dosage and then stopped for a few days. I was adding a bit of Slow-Mag too, and the odd bit of Potassium, but I mainly focused on Taurine. Then, as I say, I took a break from the supplements for a while...

And... boom, I started cramping again. Just the other day, one really bad one that hit me in my hip/buttock and had me hobbling around the house in pain like an old lady. Serves me right for not taking the damn taurine, hey? But in my defense, these supplements do add up and I tend to believe that a good diet should cover it, right? I mean, our hunter-gatherer ancestors didn't have pills in bottles...so how did they not cramp? And I am eating healthily...
But the thing is, thinking about our paleo ancestors doesn't help me right now. It's not solving my cramping to ask how they did it. I need to ask how I can do it. And if something works, I must not question it too much or stop.

Anyway, upon researching Taurine, I found out that it can indeed act in the body to prevent cramps. Here is some of the stuff I found:

"Slow-twitch muscles have higher levels of taurine than fast-twitch muscles. That's likely because slow- twitch fibers have a greater oxidative capacity, and taurine has antioxidative properties. Studies show that the body loses the greatest amount of its taurine after intense anaerobic exercise, such as weight training.

In muscle, taurine stabilizes cell membranes, including the sarcolemma, the membrane that surrounds muscle fibers. By controlling calcium entry into muscle, it promotes muscle contraction as well. Taurine's effect on electrolyte functions in muscle may also explain why it helps prevent severe muscle cramps. One theory suggests that exercise-induced loss of sodium and calcium may precipitate such cramps. By stabilizing those minerals during exercise, taurine may help prevent postworkout muscle cramps. The transport of taurine into muscle is promoted by sodium and chloride and decreased bylactate and beta-alanine."  (The bolding is mine.)

So there definitely seems to be scientific reasoning as to why Taurine does in fact help with cramps. So if you, too, are battling with cramping why not give Taurine supplementation a try? It can't hurt and is also good for a whole host of other bodily functions and there does not appear to be any negatives with supplementing. It's good for brain and heart, and our body makes it's own, usually, although it can get depleted, as it says, in the excerpt above, by intense weight training and medications (amongst other things).

Google research says that Taurine is found in oysters, shellfish, fish, meat, eggs and cheeses. This site says that Taurine is heat sensitive, though, and so it may be lost in cooking, which is a great argument for eating sashimini (raw, carb free sushi) if that is something you would enjoy. Or tossing back a few oysters? I have never tried oysters, but I may just attempt them after reading how high in Taurine they are.

And of course, the second solution to cramping, quite simply, is increasing your carbs. Don't freak out, hard-core Banters. Some of us, athletes especially, may need a slight increase in carbs. (I would love to hear others' opinions on this.) I know that the sciences say we have no real need for carbs, but perhaps they do help? Now, the first time round, I just quit Banting completely and found my cramping went away. But this time round, before my friend had mentioned Taurine, I was managing the cramps by including moderate amounts of carbs: some sweet potatoe, a bit of banana, a teaspoon of honey here and there. The caveat to this is that I am not diabetic and not insulin resistant (according to my recent blood tests) and so I can eat carbs and do ok. Having said that, I feel healthier when I Bant, so I doubt I will go back to eating more carbs and minimal fat as I was doing before.

My partner, who has just been diagnosed as diabetic, and is Banting strictly now, does not seem to be suffering with cramps, and yet he weight trains too. He is taking Taurine, as I advised him to, so I am not sure if this is what's helping him, but he seems to be doing fine. Perhaps if/when he stops Taurine, we will see what happens.

Now, my son, who is six years old, also appears to suffer night time cramps if I drop his carbs too low. I say "appears" because he can't articulate what is happening in his body, but what has occurred is that, on low carb days or after a few day of very low carbs, he wakes at night whimpering and complaining of sore legs and feet. I have had to rub them for him and then he falls asleep and by morning he is fine again. It's weird, but I have noticed the pattern. The first time it happened, I wasn't sure - I have considered that it could be growing pains - but it only happens when the carbs go low and has never happened when he eats more carbs. Weird but true. So although he doesn't really have the vocab to explain or articulate the pain for me to be sure it's cramps, my motherly instinct is telling me it is. Of course, as a mother, I hate to see my son in pain, so my only solution is to not let him go very low carb, as he cannot swallow pills at this age. So he goes low-ish, yes, and we have cut him way back on sugar, yes, but I do encourage him to eat sweet potatoe and I allow some honey and fruit. I also allow a few rice cakes. Again, this is all trial and error, and I don't have the definitive answers, but I am trying to see what works for him, and for us as a family, and I offer these solutions to you in case they may help you.

To summarise, if you are cramping on Banting, and the salt/magnesium/potassium combo is not helping, then try adding in Taurine, and also, if you are not diabetic, try increasing your carbs a little, without abandoning your LCHF way of eating. The third solution, which I haven't tried because I don't see them on the supplement shelves, is quinnine, which I have read helps many people who suffer with cramps. Has anyone tried it? Is it only with a doctor's script? What are your cramping solutions?

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