I’ve had one severe bout with cramps since starting biking, and it was no fun. Since then, I’ve always made sure I’ve had enough to eat and drink before starting a ride, and even though I’m still bad at drinking as often as I should when I’m in saddle, I do make an effort to drain one water bottle each hour.
But Sunday, I was on a morning ride with my friend David. On our return leg, he was sluggish. We made an extra stop at a convenience store so he could buy a bottle of electrolyte drink, and down most of it while we rested in the shade. We still had about 10 miles to get home, and at five, he told me to go on ahead, and not let his slow pace keep me back. I told him it was no problem, and I’d stick with him. But with two miles to go, the road widened and smoothed out. I speeded up, figuring he’d catch me at our usual Starbucks end-of-ride yakfest.
I got to Starbucks, ordered a large iced tea, and found a seat in a cool, shady spot to wait for David. I waited, and waited. I wondered if he’d just decided to go straight to his house and skip our drink. The “A” riders in our club, who’d been on a different route, started to pull in. I waited some more.
Then, David pulled up. He looked miserable. He said he’d had thigh cramps so bad just a mile away, they “brought him to his knees.” He sat down and stared straight ahead for awhile, then went inside to order a drink.
I’ve seen the cramps get David on previous rides, but nothing like this. Usually, we’ll stop and rest while he pops a few electrolyte tablets. The curious thing is, the cramps tend to hit him at the 35-mile mark. If we’re only going 20 or 30 miles, he’ll be fine. But stretch that to 35, and he’s toast.
“I’m having a tough one, Ray,” he said, as he felt another twinge in his thigh. But he had to get home, so he pulled himself up out of his chair, and got on the bike. Since he lives only a mile away, I figured he’d be fine.
Later on, I found that was not the case. He emailed me that he’d cramped up again on a long grade leading up to his street. He walked the bike for awhile, then got on and coasted the rest of the way home. The ride, he said, left him “shattered — absolutely the worst I ever had.”
David is not a newbie. He’s been riding for more than 15 years, and has several centuries under his belt. He’s been my riding mentor since I got into this sport. For breakfast, he had a peanut butter and banana sandwich, among other things.
David keeps some kind of electrolyte tablets in his seatbag — “etabs,” he calls them — and I’ve seen that companies like Hammer Nutrition carry electrolyte capsules. Other high sodium and potassium items like pickle juice and bananas are supposed to be effective at combating cramps. Have you had any experiences with cramping? If so, any recommendations for dealing with ones as serious as David’s?
I get cramps a lot. I highly recommend these:
They work well for me and refreshing on a hot day – not heavy or sickly sweet.
Proper stretching of the hipflexor after a bike ride also helps.
I’ve never had cramps when I use Nuun tablets. I’ve only had really bad cramps once, and I was drinking Gatorade.
I can only say that since I’ve really paid attention to my water/sodium levels and stretching, I have not had a problem with leg cramps. Warm up and stretch before every ride and take it easy and stretch after.
I’ve been drinking only Gatorade on the bike and it works fine for me.
Mike Weiland says
I’m a Hammer user myself and find that Heed and their Endurolytes products are enough for me on our hot Texas summer days. There’s been times that I’ve had the twinge of a cramp in my calf or quad and taken a few Endurolytes and it has gone completely away.
Question for those that use the tablets, if you are in the situation of needing electrolytes do you add another tablet to your bottle? What if you need a dose right away can you pop the tablet into your mouth? Seems like it would be hard to regulate the electrolyte consumption with the tablets.
It is getting hotter and hotter each day, I think there were only 5 days last month that were less than 90 degrees! If David hasn’t been getting acclimated to the heat it might have been too much in too hot conditions for him. Remember hydration starts before your ride, if you go into it even a little dehydrated that’s less your body is going to have to work with and put you at a deficit to start with.
I’m lucky that I’ve only suffered cramping twice…both times at the tail end of a century and I think both due to my own carelessness. The first was a hot day and I made the mistake of consuming a huge coke at lunch, which I think dehydrated me further. The second was on a cool day and I had drank only water all day long.
When it’s hot and I’m riding more than 25-30 miles, I try to drink one sports drink about every 25-30 miles. Normally that’s all I need to do.
I have a friend, however, that consistently cramps up at about 70 miles no matter what he tries. I think some people are just more susceptible to the problem.
Sine Botchen says
Foot cramps have all but killed me a couple of times while mtb’ing – couldn’t even drive home for a while. Had calf muscle cramps on the road several times a couple of years ago, but since then I’ve been “salt-loading” and “potassium-loading” the day before a ride. Not sure if it is technically correct but it seems to work for me.. I’ve generally been trying to pay more attention to my diet and all through out the week as opposed to the morning of. I wonder if your friend isn’t treating the symptoms (rather than the cause) by doing the electrolyte thing while riding? I generally do sports drinks only if I have a hang over, and stick to plain water while riding. Typical 40-50 mile ride I will go thru almost 210 oz water (that’s 3 camel back’s full). Avacados have a ton more potassium than banannas, btw.
Aside from any medications your friend may be taking that could affect his muscles, does he supplement with Calcium/Magnesium/Vit D?
I’ve struggled with muscle tension and cramping over the past couple years, that is until I started a dietary Cal/Mag/VitD supplement (per dr.’s orders in treating a muscle injury). My muscle function and overall body relaxation has greatly improved!! (In fact, when I first started taking it, within 30 minutes my body felt the same relaxation it would had I drank a glass of red wine! Which in turn made it a lot easier to stretch out my muscles.) He might try something like “Citrical Plus” (http://www.citracal.com/Product/Tablets-Caplets.aspx), which is a well-known OTC Cal/Mag/VitD supplement.
I’m not well-versed on the impacts of mineral/electrolyte/vitamin supplementing, but do I know that hi/lo ratios of Zinc/Potassium and Chromium/Copper can also affect proper muscle function. If he continues to struggle, he may want to consult with a nutritionist or his PCP for labwork, to see what his levels/needs might be. His heart and other muscles/organs can be affected too – not just his bike riding performance!
Hope he feels better soon. 🙂
Electrolyte Drinks says
I get pretty intense cramps in my calf muscles usually, and i stretch pretty good…since i’ve started drinking electrolyte drinks formulated to help prevent these, they are minimal to non existent. I would recommend checking them out.
$18.50 a bottle? You’re joking.
Well, leg cramps are always out of my list whenever I am having a stroll with my bike. I also consider it the last thing that I would need when I am riding my bike.