How to Avoid and Treat Cyclists' Muscle Cramps

A cramp is a painful, spasmodic muscle contraction. Muscle cramps can temporarily disable even the fittest cyclist.

A cramp is a painful, spasmodic muscle contraction. While its cause is hard to determine, it seems to be associated with excess fluid loss, electrolyte disturbance, musle fatigues, poor circulation, and the accumulation of musle by-products such as lactic acid.

Muscle cramps can temporarily disable even the fittest cyclist. Every year at the Tour de France, several riders have to back off the fast pace and arduous climbing due to severe discomfort caused by cramping. Unfortunately, these unpredictable muscle spasms are somewhat mysterious, and it is difficult to understand what really causes them.

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Cramps most commonly afflict cyclists who work their muscles to a point of exhaustion. They can occur when you have an electrolyte imbalance, a low blood glucose level, or inadequacies in hydration, conditioning or flexibility.

The best training tip to address this problem is to do uphill intervals. Attack a hill for 20-30 second, then recover briefly before doing it again. This will improve our muscle strength and anaerobic endurance. In addition, you should have your riding position checked at a qualified shop, since bike fit affects your muscles. Also, periodically stand and stretch your quadriceps and calves while riding.

As far as dietary recommendations, it is critical that you avoid becoming dehydrated. Water is ideal, but if the ride is longer than one hour, you may want to add a sports drink. In hot weather, increase your fluid intake beyond the normal guideline of one standard water bottle.

During a ride, make sure to eat high carbohydrate foods to maintain your blood glucose level, and drink plenty of fluid to avoid dehydration. After riding, rehydrate properly. Have at least 3 glasses of water or energy drink. Excess fluid poses no danger because it’s removed by body as urine. Don’t drink beer or wine until you’re rehydrated. Alcohol is a diuretic, causing fluid loss. Energy drinks can help reduce cramping by providing electrolytes. These are minerals (sodium, chloride, potassium) that carry an electrical charge that’s needed for muscle contractions and the maintenance of fluid levels. Electrolytes are one reason potassium-rich bananas are often suggested as a cycling food. Maintain a diet rich in electrolytes. These substances are essential for muscle contraction during exercise, and low levels have been associated with cramping. For calcium, eat non-fat dairy products, tofu, dark green vegetables, and sardines. For potassium, include fruits, juices, and vegetables, particularly squash, potatoes, beans, and mushrooms. For magnesium, eat whole grains, nuts, dairy products, green vegetables, and legumes.

In a study conducted at the Hotter ‘n Hell Hundred in Texas, the medical staff found that the difference between crampers and non-crampers was magnesium. The riders who cramped had less of it. To determine if this deficiency is causing your problem, get a blood test either after a ride or after your cramping begins.

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When a post-ride cramp does occur, immediately stretch the hamstring muscles by straightening your leg and bringing the toes of your foot toward your knee. At the same time reach down and massage the area. Believe it or not, a hard pinch on the upper lip may also provide immediate relief, although no one is certain why. Some experts speculate that it causes an alteration in the neurotransmission from the brain to the muscle. Whatever the reason, it often works.

If you try all these things and still cramp, see a sports medicine professional.


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Sourav RC
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Posted on Aug 30, 2010
Patrick Regoniel
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Posted on Aug 29, 2010