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Long Distance Competition/Ultracycling, Randonneuring and Endurance Cycling Do you enjoy centuries, double centuries, brevets, randonnees, and 24-hour time trials? Share ride reports, and exchange training, equipment, and nutrition information specific to long distance cycling. This isn't for tours, this is for endurance events cycling

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Old 04-05-08, 08:24 AM   #1
Duke's Pass
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How do you avoid muscle cramps?

Yesterday I suffered the worst muscle cramps I have ever experienced (near the end of a 70 mile ride). I don't consider this a great distance and wasn't expecting this problem. In restrospect the conditions were not good. Having worked in the morning, I set off at 1230. The hottest part of the day, in the hottest month of the year here in Thailand. The forecast had said 35 C in the shade, but it seemed a bit hotter, and anyway I wasn't in the shade. The first two hours were great but during that time I only drank 1.5 litres of fluid. Dehydration undoubtedly played a part in my problems, and by the end (4 1/2 h) I was feeling weak and suffering badly with muscle cramping. My question is, what do you long distance cyclists do to avoid muscle cramps? When cycling in hot conditions (say into the mid 30s celcius), how do you manage to keep up your fluid intake? And if you do start cramping up, what do you do?
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Old 04-05-08, 03:58 PM   #2
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I try to drink about one 750 ml bottle of water and/or sports drink every 1 to 1.5 hours. If it is hotter or windier, I will aim to consume that in an hour or less; if it is cooler, it might take me 1.5 hours or even slightly to longer to consume that much.

If you are going with a lot of water, don't forget to take in electrolytes too (salt, potassium, and a few other minerals). You can put away a lot of water ... provided you consume electrolytes.

I get cramps in my feet a lot ... on the bicycle and off. When I do, I know that I have not been drinking enough, and I immediately take a few large swallows of my water and/or sports drink, and then continue by drinking another mouthful every 5 minutes or so for the next half hour or more until the cramping is gone.

Occasionally it is so bad, I can't continue to ride ... so I'll stand on the side of the road in my sock feet, stretching my feet out ... and drinking. It usually doesn't take too long (10 or 15 minutes) till I can be back on the bicycle again.
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Old 04-05-08, 04:00 PM   #3
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Muscle cramps in cycling is generally a sign of dehydration and electrolyte depletion. I used to have similar problems (70 miles into a ride, thighs would start cramping, sometimes earlier if it's a particularly hot day). I started taking Endurolytes and so long as I'm disciplined about popping 1 every hour, I've never had to worry about cramps.

Alternatively, if you can't get Endurolytes in Thailand, you could see if Tums are available. I've heard other folks swear by a Tums + salt tablets combination. Before I switched over to Endurolytes, I also used to get by with regularly drinking bottles of V8. The only drawback to the V8 method is that the bottles don't travel well (especially in the heat) and so you always have to find a store every 40 miles or so.

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Old 04-05-08, 07:08 PM   #4
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It goes with out saying that you need to drink enough water, but not too much. Dehydration will stop you, too much water can kill you. Assuming you are not going to kill yourself drinking too much water, the next biggest thing is to focus on electrolyte replenishment. Hammer Endurolytes are very popular. If I have to rely on taking pills I will not get enough electrolytes. That's just how I am. I use eleteWater. Basically it's highly concentrated salt water solution with the right amount of potassium chloride. I buy the 16oz. bottle and take the small squeeze bottle with me on my rides.

Another thing to look into is pickle juice. I know it sounds crazy but I read about in on a local forum and people swear by it. So I tried on my double last weekend and I didn't cramp. When I felt like I was getting close I took a big swig and never cramped. It the vinegar more than anything to do with pickled cucumbers. However drinking straight vinegar is pretty gorse. I went to Whole Foods and got a nice big jar of pickle juice with garlic and other spices in the juice. I filled up my 10oz. Ultimate Direction gel flask with the juice using a funnel. Works pretty well I think. There is other more scientific information out there on the interwebs if you want to read actual research and not some dude's anecdotal experiences on Bikeforums.net.

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Old 04-06-08, 10:48 AM   #5
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Second the pickle juice. I know this to work and use it on occassion ( like yesterday). Another thing that works for some is mustard, yep. Just plain ol mustard.

Try it you'll be amazed, takes a few minutes to work, but it does work.
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Old 04-06-08, 10:56 AM   #6
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Do you know why pickle juice and mustard seem to work? It's because they are both very high in sodium, which is the main electrolyte. Eating potato chips, or french fries, or beef jerky, or salted almonds, or anything that has a high salt content will do the same thing for you.

http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts-C00001-01c22Jo.html
http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts-C00001-01c21p1.html
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Old 04-06-08, 11:07 AM   #7
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Do you know why pickle juice and mustard seem to work? It's because they are both very high in sodium, which is the main electrolyte. Eating potato chips, or french fries, or beef jerky, or salted almonds, or anything that has a high salt content will do the same thing for you.

http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts-C00001-01c22Jo.html
http://www.nutritiondata.com/facts-C00001-01c21p1.html
And people laugh at me because I'm always eating beef jerky on my rides! I loves me my jerky!
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Old 04-06-08, 11:10 AM   #8
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And people laugh at me because I'm always eating beef jerky on my rides! I loves me my jerky!

Oh yeah, it's great ... it provides electrolytes and calories.

I got onto it on my first UMCA 24-hour ... another rider was calling it quits in the middle of the night and still had a pocket full of beef jerky (in a baggie) and he gave it to Rowan and me. I've been eating it on my rides ever since.
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Old 04-06-08, 06:05 PM   #9
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I've tried some Quinine pills, and they seemed to do the trick. A buddy bought them at Wal-mart, and they were advertised to help muscle cramps.
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Old 04-06-08, 08:13 PM   #10
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In addition to taking electrolytes and eating salty foods (peppered jerkey, yum!) on the ride, stretching after an hour or two from the start works for me. Since I added stretching to my brevet rides and to my training rides, I haven't had many problems with cramping.
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Old 04-07-08, 01:08 AM   #11
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Thanks for taking the time to respond. Road cyclists are thin on the ground here, so it is not easy to find people to share experiences with. I now feel that I have some ideas that I can try out. While dehydration may have been a factor, I also have to think about electrolytes. I should be able to get endurolytes or something comparable here, and a Thai equivalent of beef jerky will find a place in my back pocket for these longer rides. And pickle juice, mustard, quinine...well, maybe!!

With temperatures soaring into the high 30s Celcius, and the annual nationwide water fight (Thai New Year) approaching, my rides will be restricted to the hours between 0545 and 0830 for the next couple of weeks. I am, however, planning a double century ride later in the year, so I do need to sort out problems (especially to do with nutrition / hydration) associated with riding through the heat of the day. So thanks again for the help. (My next question may well be, how will I be able to drink so much water?!)
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Old 04-07-08, 08:17 AM   #12
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Duke, good luck with your up coming double. Let us know how things go. I would love to see pictures of your rides.

As for getting enough water, you ca look at Minoura or Profile Designs behind the saddle dual water bottle holder or a Camelback like product. I personally hate having something on my back, even when mountain biking but I put up with it when MTBing. However a hydration pack is an easy way to carry a good bit of water.
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Old 04-07-08, 08:07 PM   #13
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And people laugh at me because I'm always eating beef jerky on my rides! I loves me my jerky!
People laugh at me because I have a sandwich with my mustard.
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Old 04-08-08, 09:21 PM   #14
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Pickle Juice has gotten me through 6 Hotter-N-Hell Hundreds. Drink it before you think you need it. I finish a 16 oz bottle by mile 50. it works!
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Old 04-08-08, 10:51 PM   #15
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I started using Eletewater in my bottles of Acellerade and so far this year I haven't had one cramp problem during or after a long ride. http://www.eletewater.com/
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Old 04-09-08, 09:43 AM   #16
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Pickle Juice has gotten me through 6 Hotter-N-Hell Hundreds. Drink it before you think you need it. I finish a 16 oz bottle by mile 50. it works!
Yuck. I would rather find out what is in pickle juice that does the trick -- salt?
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Old 04-09-08, 11:45 AM   #17
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E-Load works very well for me. Enervit and Endurolytes are good too.
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Old 04-09-08, 01:05 PM   #18
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Yuck. I would rather find out what is in pickle juice that does the trick -- salt?

Yes, salt. That's exactly what is in pickle juice that works. And you can get salt in a whole variety of forms ... including electrolyte tablets.
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Old 04-09-08, 07:48 PM   #19
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Thanks for the continuing advice. Yesterday I did a 75 mile loop which included a lot of tough climbing. While I haven’t had time to track down electrolyte supplements I did include more sources of electrolytes in my diet (potato chips, even pickled chilli). The ride was cramp-free. The revelation of the ride, however, was using a hydration pack. Like MTBMaven I have never liked the idea of having a bag on my back, flapping straps etc. Hydration packs – I thought - were necessary inconveniences for off-road riding. But after yesterday I’m a convert. Not only was I able to carry enough water, the water stayed ice-cold. Drinking iced water at the top of a 15km climb is a taste of heaven compared to the hot sticky liquid I’d have found in my bottle. And I had room in the back pack for a camera. So I stopped, looked around, and took photos – something I normally never do. I watched a group of elephants get their morning baths in a river (the pictures will – I hope – capture my LeMond with the elephants in the background). Any other day and I would have ridden past without a second look.

I would have added an extra loop to make my ride a century, but I had forgotten sun block. With the tropical sun blazing down, I made the wise decision to head home. A cramp-free century tomorrow perhaps.
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