Experiencing a muscle cramp while kayaking can be excruciating.
If you have never kayaked, imagine yourself hunched in a small craft for hours, exerting your torso, arms and hips, especially on a super-fast and narrow sit-inside kayak.
If unbearable involuntary muscle contractions occur, you can’t get up, stretch or lie down.
Even on a deluxe kayak, which is wide enough to stand up on, attempting to do so can be dangerous and make the kayak unstable.
Muscle cramps are not confined to kayaking as they can occur during any other outdoor activity like hiking, jungle trekking or cycling.
But cramps in those situations can be quickly remedied as they do not occur in small spaces like the kayak, where your posture is more or less fixed.
So while paddling to explore a body of water is joyful, one must be prepared for the possibility of cramps.
I have learned from 13 years of paddling experience that cramps most often occur in the abdominal muscles, the sides of the ribcage and the latissimus dorsi (popularly called lats), which are the large, flat muscles stretching from the spine to both sides of the back, just below the shoulder blades.
To prevent cramps, there are a few things you can do. Before kayaking, you must train your body. Doing weight training at least twice a week is good but not the way bodybuilders do.
Use medium weights and high repetitions of 15 to 20 reps per set. The muscles must get used to dealing with lactic acid, stretching the body’s fatigue tolerance to build endurance.
Next comes fluid intake. I carry a four-litre water bottle. While paddling on the open water under the hot sun can cause one to become thirsty quickly, quenching that thirst with cold water may not be a good idea.
When you exert yourself under the sun, your body temperature rises and drinking iced water can sometimes create a mildly tight chest ache.
A quick check online shows that some sports scientists also advise against this.
Finally, it is important to balance the electrolytes in the body. We need sodium, potassium, calcium, bicarbonate, magnesium, chloride and phosphate.
For example, men need 420mg of magnesium daily and women need 320mg. This can be easily obtained by eating vegetables, beans and nuts.
Nutritionists say we need about 2,300mg of sodium a day. This is not a problem because we get over double that amount through what we consume since sodium is the principal element of table salt. The challenge is our potassium intake.
There is a need for 4,700mg a day, but surveys worldwide have shown that over 90% of most populations seldom get enough potassium, mainly because there is little of it in processed food or hawker food.
Our muscles depend on specific amounts of sodium and potassium ions to generate energy, among other things.
When sodium and potassium are unbalanced, those sodium-potassium pumps, a system inside most of our cells, cannot operate efficiently. This can lead to daily fatigue and a high possibility of agonising cramps while kayaking.
I used to carry a bottle or two of isotonic drinks when kayaking but stopped doing so as I disliked the sticky, sugary feeling in my mouth that made me feel thirstier.
Now, I dissolve a few packets of rehydrating salts and a bit of potassium citrate powder in my water bottles for a cheap solution. Remember to read the labels of these products to avoid overuse.
It is great to be outdoors, but always keep half a mind on safety and problem prevention to have fun.