I’ve always pursued athletic disciplines but have rarely given nutrition much thought. In my early 20s I can remember running in the mountains of the English Lake District for over 5 hours with no carbohydrate loading, no food along the way and water provided only by the mountain streams. I have occasionally made sure I’m well fed before longer activities in more recent times and for long bike rides I’ve carried additional nutrition, but I’ve never given electrolytes a thought. I’ve mentioned my increasing problems with leg cramps in my writing and have blindly ignored the advice to take electrolyte supplements. It’s always seemed as if drinking plenty of water was enough to cure the cramps so I’ve persisted in taking no further action. I admit that I perspire whilst exercising. After a hard session I could wipe myself down and use the liquid to cure a ham, so I must also be losing electrolytes.
Mountain biking has often caused cramps but that’s nothing compared to the effect of using my pedal powered dinghy. The boat is a less aerobic activity than cycling but, because you can only turn the pedals at around two thirds the rate you would use on a bike, you have to use more turning force to get the power in. This is far harder on the muscles, like running up hill or riding a bike in too high a gear. Naturally I haven’t purchased any electrolyte supplements but I have Googled electrolytes to discover that salt is a good one but since it is pure sodium chloride you will still lack sufficient potassium and bicarbonate. Sea salt is better but what about trendy Himalayan pink salt? Reports suggest that it controls blood pressure, aids sleep and is an ideal supplement to avoid cramps. My wife must have read about it in Cosmopolitan because it’s what’s in our salt mills.
I’ve done some reading to try to gauge how much to use and have had a morning dose for several days. This morning, unsure of when I should take my portion, I had some more before I set off down to the canal with the boat in tow. I also had ensured that I was well hydrated and arrived at the water with no plan except to repeat my last trip of around 2 miles. On that occasion I’d targeted recording an average speed of 2.8 mph on the app. Strava but had fallen short at 2.7 mph. Even this had been rounded up by the app. from a true speed of 2.656 mph and I worked out that I’d need to cover the distance not in 44 minutes and 8 seconds but 42 minutes dead to achieve 2.8 mph. It’s rather like riding a bike at 26.56 mph then wondering why you hadn’t manage 28 mph. In the boat I needed a good improvement in time to make a tiny difference to my average.
I started Strava and set off. By the time I was under the bridge the determined athlete in me had awoken and I was rotating the pedals with determination. As I proceeded I was not feeling any early signs of leg cramps so continued to work hard. I spun around at the Cowling slipway, passed my start point and sailed to the Frederick’s ice cream parlour, turning back to my start point. I was breathing harder than usual in the boat because I was working harder, unworried by the chance of cramping. I reached my start point and stopped the app. on 40 minutes 23 seconds. I relaxed for a minute then climbed out onto the canal bank, still with no spasms in my legs. I was struggling to keep the pace up in the latter stages and had nothing left for a sprint finish. I often save data by waiting until I get home to check Strava fully but this time I wasted that data like confetti. My average was 2.9 mph!
Later I wondered if my speed had been rounded up at all so calculated a true average of 2.897 mph. It appears as if, by giving electrolytes a little thought, I’ve been able to pedal the boat in a way which would have previously seemed impossible. Well done Himalayan pink salt. I’ll get some supplements to help me consume the correct level of electrolytes but don’t want anything sugary. In the mean time it’s 24 turns of the mill in a glass of water. I realise that a single experiment can’t be regarded as scientific proof but I’m hoping to have far better control of cramps from now on.