Best way to avoid cramps on long rides…

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  • Best way to avoid cramps on long rides…
  • slimsi
    Member

    Did the London to Brighton off road in September and after the 50ish mile mark got cramp around top of my thighs…

    Took salt another rider had brought along and kindly gave me but wondered if should add a bit of salt to my water or would an energy drink contain what I need in terms of salt?

    I did use nectar energy gels, flap jack, jam sandwiches, bananas and rocky road…

    Doing a longer training ride this Saturday so got a chance to try out any advice to avoid it.

    Thanks Si

    Dont do long rides.

    Irn Bru is about the best thing out there for cramp avoidance, closely followed by gin and tonic (seriously)

    Premier Icon mikewsmith
    Subscriber

    I generally us something like Torq for energy and salts on the road I have 1 bottle of that and 1 of water. On the MTB for longer rides I use it in the camelback. I sweat a fair bit and especially in the heat over here in Oz I need something to put back. Pink grapefruit is my favourite.

    Works for me YMMV and others will dismiss as fake science or swear by it

    mechmonkey
    Member

    Hydrate, not just on the ride but make sure you’re fluid intake is sufficient for at least 24hrs before.

    Premier Icon Bez
    Subscriber

    IME… The big one is just get fitter, to be honest. But I find High5 drinks (others would probably do) have a significant effect. Even the normal carbo ones seem to hold off the cramp, it needn’t be the electrolyte ones. In the past I’ve used homebrew of water plus sea salt, sugar and either lime juice if I’ve got some spare or whatever form of squash is in the house if I don’t, and that seems to help too.

    So: ride more, drink more, and drink potion of some sort.

    Ambrose
    Member

    I’ve been advised to use potassium rich foods/ drinks in the past, esp. bananas and kiwifruit. TBH- stay warm (use roubaix bibtights), hydrated and fit and I’m usually OK.

    Premier Icon deadkenny
    Subscriber

    I’ve been making a drink from water, high juice and pinch of salt and since then don’t get cramp during rides and rarely after. That said it could just be fitness or that I don’t do many stupidly long rides, just a lot more frequent shorter ones now. Plus I ensure I drink a lot, though I get thirsty a lot on rides (on a very hot day I can empty a 3 litre camelback half way round, refill and empty half that again!). Whatever the case the drink tastes nice anyway and I’m sure the salt helps, and it’s cheap.

    Premier Icon Northwind
    Subscriber

    I’ve used SIS electrolyte for some long rides, races etc. TBH I haven’t a clue if it works and I’ve seen enough arguments against it that I’d not be at all surprised if it doesn’t, but at least I feel like I’m doing something about it 😉

    olie
    Member

    Ride more, get fitter, hydrate all the time and keep it up during rides.
    Use some kind of electrolyte rich drink, which ever one you like best/doesn’t make u puke.

    More bananas. And loads of water and sugar.

    Premier Icon mikewsmith
    Subscriber

    Yep to add I ride with a 3l camelback off road, I aim to drink most of it on longer rides. If you don’t have the water you can’t drink it.

    jamesco
    Member

    Bananas, tonic water in those little bottles, supermarket own brand, its the quinine ( it really works) or if you really suffer , anti cramp tablets from doctor. Nearly forgot , check your riding position, is seat right height to let legs move enough after long efforts, sounds daft but position after long rides can need adjusting as against short ride set up.

    globalti
    Member

    I’ve done the Cape Argus race in Cape Town three times and cramp has been a problem for me each time because of the heat (up to 34 degrees) and the 68 miles of racing. I have tried SIS isotonic powder and another brand and they didn’t stave off the cramp; probably because they simply didn’t contain enough salts. Last year I added some isotonic Hammer Nutrition tablets to my SIS and that worked a lot better but actually each time cramp has bothered me I’ve sorted it by stopping at the feed stations and (ashamed to admit this) necking some Coca Cola. Possibly the phosphoric acid in the drink helps, I don’t know.

    Premier Icon rOcKeTdOg
    Subscriber

    Squash with salt in it works for me, just add enough so you can’t taste it

    Premier Icon mikewsmith
    Subscriber

    I’ve sorted it by stopping at the feed stations and (ashamed to admit this) necking some Coca Cola.

    Why be ashamed? Very few things have the sugar concentration to get energy into you!! Saw plenty on the tour with coke & iron bru just like an energy gel in a can

    jonba
    Member

    The answer is to get fitter or pace yourself better by riding slower at the start.

    Premier Icon nickc
    Subscriber

    Get fitter +1

    jonba hit the nail on the head for me

    timb34
    Member

    Saying “get fitter” is a bit chicken and egg isn’t it? If the op gets cramp on longer rides, then how is he supposed to ride more to get fitter without getting cramp?

    Fwiw, I’ve found that for me I can do up to an hour on just water. If I’m out for more than an hour then I use energy drink, and bananas to help avoid cramp. More than 3 hours and I need to be drinking energy drink, eating bananas and maybe gels if I fade AND have been hydrating properly beforehand.

    How much you drink is also quite personal – I ride with some people who drink about a litre an hour, and some who don’t seem to drink at all, but I tend to get through about a bottle an hour (500 or 750ml in winter or summer depending on temperature).

    I started road riding relatively recently, and I also found that I had to train myself to keep drinking – if I didn’t deliberately have a sip every few minutes then I’d ride for ages before suddenly realising I was thirsty and glugging loads down. Little and often works better for me now that I’ve developed the habit.

    Premier Icon FuzzyWuzzy
    Subscriber

    IME electrolytes have very little to do with cramp, whenever I cramp it’s either on an unusually long ride or a ride where I’ve been into the red a few times early on and it catches up with me towards the end. So as some have posted above, it’s about building up your fitness and increasing your mileage more gradually. Sure you can get by on 40-60 mile regular rides and wing the odd 100 miler but don’t be surprised if you you get cramp when you do.
    Admittedly I still do use a drink with electrolytes in on a long rides on hot days but it’s more a confidence/placebo thing for me.

    Premier Icon Bez
    Subscriber

    Saying “get fitter” is a bit chicken and egg isn’t it? If the op gets cramp on longer rides, then how is he supposed to ride more to get fitter without getting cramp?

    It’s not chicken-and-egg, it’s about learning where it starts to kick in.

    To avoid it being chicken-and-egg, ride harder on shorter distances (ie make the muscles burn when you know you’re in no danger of getting cramp otherwise), and take it easier – particularly at the start – on longer distances (ie go further and longer than currently causes cramp, but slower). And when you do get cramp, learn the right balance between easing off to keep going and just pedalling through the pain until it stops.

    When I get back from a decent (either long or fast) road ride my legs tend to pulsate, as if they’re crawling with loads of big maggots under the skin; this seems to be the stage before cramp. Finishing a ride like that every time seems to push the cramp envelope out a little, without actually causing cramp. Important to get some fluid down once you’re back home in that state, though, otherwise you risk waking up in the middle of the night with a hamstring trying to rip its own leg off.

    (All the above is just IME and from extensive trial and error – I’m no expert, but I have suffered a *lot* from cramp in the past.)

    snap
    Member

    Hi
    Ive got a friend who had the same problem every time we did a merida or endurance event
    He is fitter than me , carries far less weight , jogged etc
    I never cramped up ,even went totally spent , but he suffered terribly usually after around the 3 or 4 hr mark
    it was becoming so much of a problem he strongly considered not doing the events

    After lots of trial and error he found that for him a concoction of
    salt tablets before and during
    Tonic water before and during
    Camelback mixture of high 5 , tonic water ,

    Sounds alot of hassle i no but it works for him , never craps now

    never craps now

    this is interesting. Tell me again.

    snap
    Member

    And he never cramps now 😳

    slimsi
    Member

    Seems the last answer will also suit the person having bowel issues with energy drink….

    Lawmanmx
    Member

    Im perplexed with my cramps, i only ever get them on the inside of my thighs and very very rarly when im riding but later on in the evening or when im in bed, i can even get them after short 15/20 mile rides, i hydrate well and always have sea salt and bi-carb in my water, i even spend time massaging my legs down after rides but i still get them (hellish painful when it strikes)

    zerocool
    Member

    Tonic water

    Hydrateing the days before, and high5 zero tabs on the ride, usualy at the weak end of the recomended scale, think the minium is 1 per 500ml bottle, I put about 1 per 750ml (and a pint+tablet before and after on rides over 4 hours) seems to work for me.

    Also seems to mean I drink less, before I’d be drinking 2l on a night ride and easily get through a 3l camelpack on a half day ride and piss it out again. Now I seem to drink closer to what I actualy need to (usualy don’t finish a bottle on a night ride and hardly ever fill up my camelpack to full.

    I don’t eat much salt in my diet though.

    jonba
    Member

    http://www.cyclingtips.com.au/2011/06/nutrition-and-muscle-cramps-%E2%80%93-what-does-the-science-say/

    there is lots of other info on this site if you search for cramp.

    There’s also some stuff on the Torq site about why they don’t produce zero energy electrolyte drinks.

    IMO energy drinks are useful as a source of energy. When riding I like a range of options as to how and what I eat so use energy drinks*. I’m not convinced on their cramp reducing properties. IIRC cramp is caused by the build up of metabolic products like lactic acid. This is why it is more commonly experienced when you “go into the red” frequently rather than when you ride slow and steady.

    Interval training (or just rides with plenty of hard bits separated by easy bits) will probably help as it will increase our bodies abilities to cope with the demands upon it. Probably a bit like drinking frequently and having more alcohol dehydrogenase so you suffer less hangovers.

    Not getting enough energy will reduce performance and you will eventually bonk but I don’t agree with the idea that you can go out on a longer or harder ride than usual and expect less problems just because you put some salt in your bottle. The levels of salt reduction required to get an effect are large and most western diets would never be considered salt deficient.

    *I only use them on very hard/fast rides and races. On a normal mountain bike ride I prefer to just eat normal food as it is cheaper.

    Premier Icon paul4stones
    Subscriber

    After extensive testing I would say be fitter, pace yourself (properly, with a HRM, keeping below 80% max or lower if it’s a real biggie), potions (Tonic water the night before, etc and stuff as described above).

    Also experimenting with a new (to me) technique for carbo loading. Basically, the night before, go max effort for about 3 mins then immediately eat carbo stuff and keep eating until the event! Some promising results so far but for me the pacing has been the most effective.

    If and when cramp strikes the situation can often be recovered by a bit of rest (just a few minutes), some sugary stuff or chocolate, a modification of your muscle use to avoid stressing the cramping muscle and MTFU (but this will cause damage!)

    Get fitter
    Get reborn with some genes that mean you dont cramp
    Change/improve your pedalling technique

    I dont know what causes cramp on the bike, but I’ve never had it. I think some people must just be more prone to it than others?

    mrphil
    Member

    Salt the night before on my food. normally 1 gram or there abouts.

    On a day with a big ride 40+ I add salt to my camelback and use either normal orange juice or the likes for flavour. For example I rode 75 miles and drank 2 litres.

    Keep on drinking regardless if you feel you don’t need it.

    jonba
    Member

    Keep on drinking regardless if you feel you don’t need it.

    This kind of thing leads people to carrying 3L of water on a 30mile winter ride 😉 From what I remember of the panorama program there is little if any scientific evidence for this approach and it is a ploy made up by the people who sell isotonic sports drinks.

    Also on the carbo loading comment I have found that it can work but eating loads the night before a big race generally makes me feel worse and you end up carrying food around in your gut unless you manage an almighty trip to the loo in the morning.

    A big breakfast and a bottle of energy drink through the day before does seem to help. You do need the excercise in addition, that is proven.

    It would be good to see STW publish some myth buster style article for things like this… Would be good if someone could actually review some science rather than use simple flawed experiments and anecdoatal evidence.

    Drinks, gels and bars are the new light wheels.

    I still stand by if you want to ride further or faster you need to train. Train hard, race easy. If you don’t race and don’t train then you still need to build up to bigger rides. No magic formular (except EPO??) is goign to help you take 2 months off the bike over winter then jump on and do a 50mile offroad ride.

    Premier Icon FuzzyWuzzy
    Subscriber

    Keep on drinking is dangerous and out-dated advice, too much fluid is more dangerous than too little in the short-term

    mrphil
    Member

    Not really 3 litres as that is silly for winter riding.

    Just keep have a small drink every so often not set ‘as much as I can’.

    I agree with the night before bulk loading being bad and do it mid afternoon.

    That Panorama programme mentioned a study by the South African Army who found that “staying ahead of your thirst” wasn’t any more effective than just drinking when you are thirsty so carrying massive quantities of water and forcing it down when you are not thirsty is not doing you any good.

    plus 1 for getting fitter. I think its the only thing that really works.

    jonba
    Member

    mrphil – Member
    Not really 3 litres as that is silly for winter riding.

    Just keep have a small drink every so often not set ‘as much as I can’.

    I agree with the night before bulk loading being bad and do it mid afternoon.

    Yeah I figured but some of the guys I ride with carry rediculous amounts of water. I’m no camel but I have almost given myself a hernia picking up some camelbacks when they go in the van.

    The art is to get a balance between not getting dehydrated so it causes problems, not needing a piss every mile and not carrying kg extra of liquid.

    The amount of miss information about nutrition is massive as everyone has anecdotal evidence and commercial operations throw bias into the mix to get more sales. As I said it is similar to people saying light bikes make you faster because that is pushed in marketing and often people go from a cheap heavy bike to a lighter more expensive one and think “wow”. They put this down to weight when it can often just be the quality of the kit rather than its weight.

    Not sure how accurate/reliable this is, it’s only my personal thoughts;
    [*]Water
    Jam Sandwich (wholegrain bread)
    Get Fitter (sorry if you are already fit, no insult meant)
    Fruit (smoothies good form to take a lot of goodness onboard quickly, but drink water too)
    High cadence
    Lots of complex carbohydrates
    I used to add salt to my water but now I don’t because I felt it didn’t make a difference.
    Play about with knee angles[/*]

    fourbanger
    Member

    Magnesium Citrate taken before and after long rides works. Dioralyte does the business whilst riding (was also free from work!). I’ve done quite a lot of experimentation with this as I run hot and have cycled in some hot climates (40 degrees plus). Went through 10 litres of fluids one day after 120Km in that heat.

    Premier Icon Northwind
    Subscriber

    uponthedowns – Member

    That Panorama programme mentioned a study by the South African Army who found that “staying ahead of your thirst” wasn’t any more effective than just drinking when you are thirsty so carrying massive quantities of water and forcing it down when you are not thirsty is not doing you any good.

    Which sounds fine but thirst varies depending on your environment- riding in cold damp conditions doesn’t provoke much thirst, I can easily go for a 3 or 4 ride here and never feel any need to take a drink, then spend the next few hours feeling like death because I’m as dry as a ryvita.

    I can only think of one time I’ve ever dehydrated when it was hot, though, because that keeps me thirsty and therefore drinking.

    forkandles
    Member

    Old post but here goes my bit.

    Read “Your body’s many cries for water” if you are serious about knowing about hydration. One piece of information from it athletes need to know would be that used muscles hold a lot of water – so don’t use them for a few days and you are going to take up more water when you do. He suggests water+salt for optimal hydration and then apparently you can’t get into trouble by drinking too much – the potential problem being low brain sodium. I’ve told literally a couple of hundred people + about hydration and nutrition over the last nearly 20 years, and if there’s one thing that comes back as making immediate difference it’s water.

    Also not all water is as hydrating as others. The more is in the water in terms of general minerals, the harder it is to hydrate from it. So most tap water is very slow.

    Also if you’re into nutrition info – take a look at http://www.westonaprice.org – I don’t take standard sports nutrition at face value. This is info from exceptionally healthy and strong races of the early 20th C. The isolated Swiss sent their athletes out to walk over the national competitions….. with raw cream to sustain them.

    And another also …. information is coming out that fructose when quickly taken up as it is in energy gels and fruit juice is not at all good for health for one thing – and glucose would be much better and does not destabilise blood sugar as much (sucrose is 50/50 of each). Take a look at sugar the bitter truth on you tube.

    FunkyDunc
    Member

    Ooo its all gone a bit wrong on the formatting on my screen !

    Answer = get fitter.

    Everyone will get to a point where they get cramps when their legs cant take anymore.

    You shouldnt need to take on board more salt, you get plenty of salt in your daily diet, unless your doing mega miles and its very hot!

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