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I am looking for some opinions and ideas on how to prevent leg cramps during a race.

I raced in the cat 3 Webster-Roubaix this weekend. A 62 mile race with about 18 miles of dirt roads thrown in. It was fairly warm and humid 87 degrees or so; I took 3 e-caps before the race started 2 more about an hour and half into the race along with three bottles of EFS sports drink and one bottle of water. But like clock work at about mile 55 the leg cramps set in and screwed up my race.

I have noticed I sweat more than most people so I am not sure if I am not drinking enough or if I need to intake more electrolytes.

Could it be I need to do more endurance work? I never cramp in the crits no matter how hard they are but around the 55- 60 mile mark in a RR the cramps set in.

Thanks
 

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Salt and lots of it most likely. I don't know if I'm a heavy sweater or not, but I'm certainly a salty sweater, and therefore I'm prone to cramping on long, hot rides/races. I've not tried it yet, but I'm going to make a concerted effort to drastically up salt and see if it helps. I'll probably shoot for 2 grams (tsp of Kosher salt is roughly 6 grams) of salt per 24 ounce bottle and try to drink a bottle/hour. Maybe take salt tablets as well if cramps begin to appear.
 

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A agree w/DB... go for salt. 99% of what you lose when you sweat is NaCl... all of that other stuff that they put into electrolyte supplements in order to justify their expense is generally useless unless you're doing some sort of ultra-endurance activity (like a 24 hour race or something of the like)... in which case you're generally eating enough real food...

Moral of the story- stop spending money on electrolyte supplements :D
 

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At this point your body is tanked up on all the electrolytes and nutrition it needs.

Your legs cramp at the 55 mile mark, then go out and do hardrides for 60,70,80,100 ect until you get past the cramp cycle.

Also start a religious stretching routine pre and post ride every single day. Where talking about at least 20 minutes of stretching twice daily.

You'd be hard pressed to lower your sodium levels when you sweat. You actually increase your sodium when you sweat as you lose plasma volume if you don't hydrate, but that wouldn't be your problem because you've got enough to drink. Of course your body is more than equiped to keep your electrolytes balanced during a 3 hour race.

If your electrolytes were out of whack you'd have systemic cramping throughout your body and not just in the legs.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Do I need to increase my uptake of salt before the race like 24 hours prior or just increase my salt intake during the race?

Thanks for the feedback
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
That sounds reasonable, I had a couple of hard 100 mile rides this Jan but maybe it just was not enough. The cramps are always in the inner thigh region of the legs. I stretch everyday but not for 20 min, so I will do some more stretching.
Thanks for the advice
 

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"You'd be hard pressed to lower your sodium levels when you sweat. You actually increase your sodium when you sweat as you lose plasma volume if you don't hydrate, but that wouldn't be your problem because you've got enough to drink. Of course your body is more than equiped to keep your electrolytes balanced during a 3 hour race."

Salty sweaters can lose in excess of 2.5 grams of salt per hour, just because serum sodium levels or plasma volume may be maintained that doesn't mean sodium & hydration levels in all compartments of the body are being maintained. Your nerves which are the source of cramps are not in your blood (obviously) and therefore may be affected by abnormal hydration or sodium level even though serum levels are fine.

"If your electrolytes were out of whack you'd have systemic cramping throughout your body and not just in the legs."

The muscles working the hardest (or doing the most unaccustomed work) are always the ones that cramp first. I assure you if you keep going you can get to the point of experiencing more widespread cramping, although I don't know if one would every experience something similar to persons who have an disease that causes a "true" electrolyte imbalance.
 

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Reasonable

45K10 said:
That sounds reasonable,
Not to me. You can easily lose enough electrolytes through sweat to bring on the cramps. You have likely not "salted up" enough to carry you through a hard ride in humid weather. Anyone who says that your body will take care of itself during such an effort apparently has not experienced such a ride, nor read the literature.
 

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Having been very active in another sport where dehydration and cramping is a bigger problem we used calcium tablets immediately before racing and found that to help a great deal. The idea came from the NFL where it is apparently common practive. A couple of Tums tablets before your ride should help (I have no idea why).
 

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and ignoring what your brain says...

as soon as you THINK "oh no this is too hard pace, Im on the rivet", I guarantee thats the moment you get the cramp! train your brain not to freak out..and think of cramping, cause thats usually the time it happens..
 

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I have cramped and continue to cramp to this day. It's my worse fear entering a race. Every frickin national championship that I've entered has resulted in me cramping before the line.

I've tried the salt, electrolytes, the gels, drinks, and the only thing that has ever done anything that produces good results is simply training hard and staying religious about the stretching. Stretching has been said to rewire those twitchy nerves that want to overact to hard riding.

The body has mechinisms built in to protect you from over doing it. It's no wonder that during really hard races your legs cramp. Some people never experience cramps, though, they are the lucky bastards of the world. Of course I've seen plenty of people at my races lying in the ditch by the side of the road holding their legs in agony as they cramp up.

Keep in mind cramps can and do often hit you in the middle of the night when your sleeping. Long after you've hydrated and refueled after hard rides. It's those nerves that need to be training to settle down....salt in large quantities isn't going to do that.

So while I think taking sodium in at perhaps 250mg/hr is fine and making sure your topped up on the carbs is necessary, past that if you cramp what are you to do. Lets say you take 1000mg/hr and still cramp....do we just keep pouring on the salt.
 

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Dwayne Barry said:
" Your nerves which are the source of cramps are not in your blood (obviously) and therefore may be affected by abnormal hydration or sodium level even though serum levels are fine.

"If your electrolytes were out of whack you'd have systemic cramping throughout your body and not just in the legs."

The muscles working the hardest (or doing the most unaccustomed work) are always the ones that cramp first. I assure you if you keep going you can get to the point of experiencing more widespread cramping, although I don't know if one would every experience something similar to persons who have an disease that causes a "true" electrolyte imbalance.
How do we get sodium throughout our body. Kidneys.....intestinal mucosa... arteries....veins..... capillaries.

As far as systemic cramping is concerned I've not heard of anyone cramping throughout their body from riding a bike hard. Even those that ride hard in say a TDF 160mile race over 3 mountain passes and chose not to carry a waterbottle because of weight concerns. One would expect them to be completely cramped up, and hauled off via ambulance for some IV rehydration and yet they aren't.
 

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I never cramp during rides, but often at night after a hard ride I do. Potasium supplements or potassium through food sources helps me. Tomatoes, OJ and bananas are good choices. V-8 juice is s great sources of potassium.
 

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"How do we get sodium throughout our body. Kidneys.....intestinal mucosa... arteries....veins..... capillaries."

My point was serum sodium and hydration can be normal but hydration and sodium in other parts of the body abnormal, e.g. where the nerves are located.

"As far as systemic cramping is concerned I've not heard of anyone cramping throughout their body from riding a bike hard."

There are probably two forms of cramping. One more localized that might be called "muscle fatigue" cramps and another typically referred to as "exertional heat cramps" or something similar. I imagine being on your way to the latter increases the risk of the former, or the former is an early sign of the latter. Typically, "muscle fatigue" cramps will remain isolated in a given muscle or even in a given area of a muscle. Exertional heat cramps will often migrate around the working muscles and spread beyond the most stressed muscles as the condition worsens or you change activity (e.g. cramps in the quads while riding but as you go to step off the bike hamstrings cramp even though they are used minimally during cycling).
On multiple occasions I've been in such a state that pretty much any movement produces cramping if the muscles were used at all during the exercise, always been associated with prolong exercise in the heat and being absolutely caked in salt.
I think if it's "muscle fatigue" cramps, training more appropriately is probably the solution. If it's exertioinal heat cramps I think you need to look at other factors too.
 

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cyclust said:
I never cramp during rides, but often at night after a hard ride I do. Potasium supplements or potassium through food sources helps me. Tomatoes, OJ and bananas are good choices. V-8 juice is s great sources of potassium.
I don't have any problems like that, but I get subscapularis cramps, predominantly on one side that seem to happen whenever I'm dehydrated, or even if I've just done a good bit of riding.
 

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Good Hydration.
Potassium -Banana
Calcium - Tums
Daily Electrolyte Supplement.
John
 

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I cramped last summer at the HHH. So I embarked on a several-week long research project to figure out what causes cramps and how to prevent them. I didn't just ask internet forums, I went to the source, peer-reviewed literature. Here's what I found:

1) causes. nobody knows. all the usual suspects have been ruled out, even though people still believe in them and supplement sellers make money off of them.

2) prevention. more miles and fitness.

That is all.
 

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Creakyknees said:
I cramped last summer at the HHH. So I embarked on a several-week long research project to figure out what causes cramps and how to prevent them. I didn't just ask internet forums, I went to the source, peer-reviewed literature. Here's what I found:

1) causes. nobody knows. all the usual suspects have been ruled out, even though people still believe in them and supplement sellers make money off of them.

2) prevention. more miles and fitness.

That is all.
Interesting, my take on it would be, true we don't know exactly what causes exercise related cramps. However, we do know what's typically associated with exertional heat cramps and it is a whole-body sodium deficit (other potentional electrolyte imbalances have been ruled-out). I think what has confused the issue is that several studies have looked at the relationship between cramping, and SERUM plasma volume and sodium
and not found one. Plasma volume is almost certainly a factor your body is trying to preserve during exercise in the heat (along with a good sweat rate so you don't overheat)which means water and salt need to be in the serum. If you're sweating out a lot of water and salt, while serum levels remain normal, it's got to be coming from some other area of the body.

More importantly, there is at least one report of athletes at the first sign of cramping ingesting a very high-salt drink and preventing the progression or even reversing the cramping so they can continue to compete. It would be nice if this work is explored in a more rigorous study.
 

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My Experience with cramps..

I've had my share, usually on very hot rides. I've done a bunch of those Ultra-type races (LOTOJA, The Everest Challenge race, Ring of Fire 12hr TT, etc) I've only had problems on the hotter events.

I've learned that drinking too much fluid combined with not enough salt is what causes me to cramp. I tried Hammer Endurolytes for a while, and they seemed to help, but in order to totally avoid cramping, I was 'hogging em down' about 4 per hour on hot hard rides to keep from cramping.

The Hammer people opined that you can 'dilute' your electrolyte balance if you drink too much..You just pee out all your salts, is what they told me when I asked for advice before my first 12hr Ultra TT...
The Hammer Endurolyte caps contain 40mg of sodium and 60mg chloride, plus a bunch of other stuff. At like $17per 120 caps. I got some salt tabs with 180mg sodium and 290mg chloride. 100 tabs at about $10...4 times as strong at about 2/3 the cost. One, sometimes two per hour if it's really hot. These seem to work for me, especially if I drink at 1 bottle per hour only. (I am 165lbs, a older Masters racer)

I trained this late winter in the desert and did some 5-7hr rides in 90F+ heat without cramping. I think I found the key....Lots of salt and not too much fluid.. For me.
No science, not an expert, this being the RBR I am sure someone will climb all over me and say.."oh Bull sh==! that's not right, you didn't really avoid cramps........blah blah" but I'm sayin'....
Don Hanson
 

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Gnarly 928 said:
I've learned that drinking too much fluid combined with not enough salt is what causes me to cramp.
Certainly could be a cause. One of the review articles I read pointed this out, saying sometimes the solution may actually be to drink less, not more! Although I don't think anything is going to be as effective as getting the salt in.
 
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