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Cramping - Higher Intensity

Old 02-07-17, 12:38 PM
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Red90
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Cramping - Higher Intensity

I've been a recreational rider for the last 3 years on a road bike riding 2-3 times a week during the fair weather summer months. I've always had a problem with my calf cramping. If I ride on my own, this seldom happens, but when I ride with my buddies, who are typically stronger than me, I get cramps often. This can occur within half an hour into the ride and it gets very frustrating.

This year I've started to do some structured training on trainerroad. I've been finding that my calf is either cramping or about to cramp on the higher intensity work outs. This is causing me to stop the work out even though I still have enough in the tank and my legs to keep going. Don't get me wrong, I'm suffering and it's hard, but I know I can still keep going, but when the cramp locks right in I have to stop.

So far, I've tried electrolytes, salts, calcium/magnesium, stretching before, stretching after... nothing seems to work. When I feel the cramps starting, should I just stop or try to push just below the limits of it wanting to cramp. The cramping is preventing me from continuing to get stronger... it seems counter productive if the reason I'm cramping is not enough training.

I also find that this tends to happen more easily when I'm doing high cadence. Usually about 100+rpm. My normal riding cadence tends to be in the 90-100.

At the present time, I'm not taking any supplements, no protein powders or amino acids, no vitamins or minerals. I'm on a lower carb diet right now, lots of veg, protein and some fruits. Quite clean eating and I'll carb up a bit before the work out with say a banana.

Any suggestions on how to overcome this issue would be appreciated. Or even what I should do when I start feeling the cramping coming on.
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Old 02-07-17, 03:09 PM
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Have you checked your bike fit? You may possibly be putting undue strain on your calves if the bottom of the pedal stroke is just a bit too low. If not, I'd probably play with lowering the saddle ~5-10mm and see what that does.

Also, what's your athletic history apart from cycling? Were you involved in other sports with high-intensity where your calves cramped often prior to max exertion? If so, there could possibly be an underdevelopment in the area proportional to your other systems.

Lastly, I'd look into stretching routines/flexibility. If after adjusting saddle height and you're sure the calves are fit for the work, then I'd also play with rollers on the calves for a couple weeks and see if that doesn't help.

I'm sure there's at least a couple more areas to look, but those would be the obvious places I'd address first.
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Old 02-07-17, 03:20 PM
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This seems like it's a fit issue and not a nutritional issue.

Saddle height is one potential option (as above)
The other consideration would be moving your cleat back ~5mm and see how that feels. The farther forward your cleat is the more strain it puts on your calf. If the cleat and saddle are both off, I can see how that goes badly quickly.

If you have a GoPro, set it up from the side and from behind and take some video pedalling at ~80rpm cruising and then at ~100 rpm where you have issues. That may help you identify fit issues.

Also, you could try spinning at ~100+ rpm in a low gear (light load) and see if you still have issues.
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Old 02-07-17, 03:23 PM
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Water intake, try lots. Are you a salty sweater? Bike fit? As said before. Maybe get a pro bike fit from a LBS. Try flat pedals?
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Old 02-07-17, 03:26 PM
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I also am a sufferer of cramps. I drink a small bottle of tonic water daily. keeping quinine in my system really helps
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Old 02-07-17, 03:56 PM
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I have been bike fitted already, where the guy spent quite a bit of time on my knees and feet making sure I'm tracking correctly. I did mention to him my issues with both the calf cramps and ITB issues. I have made some minor adjustments to the cleat moving it back maybe by about 2mm. It didn't seem to solve the problem, but also didn't seem to hurt the situation either.

As to other activities, I will also get cramping in the calf very easily when I go running or jogging. Always within the first 20 min it will want to cramp. I'll need to walk it off a bit before continuing and usually it works itself out.
It might just be that my calf is very weak and I need to do some strength training? Not sure if building larger muscles will help...

What about compression socks? Anyone experience benefits during riding?

I can try to lower the saddle a bit... I find that I seem to lose a bit of power if I lower the saddle from where it is right now.
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Old 02-07-17, 03:58 PM
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Originally Posted by Leebo View Post
Water intake, try lots. Are you a salty sweater? Bike fit? As said before. Maybe get a pro bike fit from a LBS. Try flat pedals?
I've tried drinking lots of water to the point that I'm peeing clear. I'm not a salty sweater... in actuality, compared to most I don't sweat that much. Maybe it's time for another bike fit.
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Old 02-07-17, 09:02 PM
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By chance do you have flat feet? Any old injuries? Did the bike fitter do any shimming of your feet or was it just a monitoring/tracking type of thing?

I ask this because I have flat feet (old injury as a kid that never healed correctly and has gotten progressively worse over time) and experience cramping in the lower leg region quite often (calf cramps and shin splints). My left leg is flatter than the other and thus my right leg works harder than the left. My right calf tends to cramp earlier but left side gets shin splints more. I've found adding some "shims" to support my feet (more on the left side) allows more, even applications of power and lowers occurrences on either side.
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Old 02-07-17, 09:46 PM
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Originally Posted by OnyxTiger
Have you checked your bike fit? You may possibly be putting undue strain on your calves if the bottom of the pedal stroke is just a bit too low. If not, I'd probably play with lowering the saddle ~5-10mm and see what that does.
^^^^^This is accurate info. My seat was about 1 cm too high and even though I had a bend in my knee at the 6 o clock position, I was being forced to push my toes down on the down stroke and didn't even know it. I was not cramping but on long rides with lots of elevation I could feel something wasn't right in my feet and ankles.

On another note, several years ago my right hamstring started cramping and it was a nuisance for many years. Even while kneeling at church sometimes the thing would start to cramp. I started stretching and I occasionally eat pickles, pickles, pickles lol. Pickle juice does wonders for cramps.
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Old 02-07-17, 09:59 PM
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Cramps are not so well understood, giving rise to a wide variety of home remedies and endless over the counter products. Here's one in a series of articles that describes a scientific approach. Not to give too much away, but there likely is no magic pill.

Theories and Fallacies of Muscle Cramps Part III: A Novel Theory for Exercise-associated Muscle Cramps - Ground Up Strength
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Old 02-07-17, 10:04 PM
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You might try moving your cleats back a bit. This moves your foot forward, lowering the load on the achilles tendon and calf muscles. Combine it with a bit more of a toe down foot angle for the same reason.

You'll have to adjust the saddle height to complete the experiment, but if it helps, you have a direction to explore while you dial it all in.
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Old 02-07-17, 10:32 PM
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Ask your doc for a physical therapy consult.
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Old 02-08-17, 01:34 AM
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Fit might be an issue, but if this is also occurring while you are running, and I am presuming it occurs in the same place every time, you may have an injury that requires more specialist attention... a PT consult is a good starting point.

Cramps seem to be strongly related, in my opinion, to repetitive use when the muscles aren't quite up to it. My reading of the OP is that you have upped your output and your muscle might not be quite used to the added activity yet.
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Old 02-08-17, 03:14 AM
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Try more Salt. I have half a teaspoon after a long ride. People have been using salt for thousands of years to replace what the body sweats out. The modern opinion that it is dangerous is probably due to the fact that most people never crack a sweat and the average couch potato gets enough salt in the processed food they eat. Google it "salt for cramps"
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Old 02-08-17, 05:22 AM
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What worked for me was beginning to do calf raises and lowering on a step...simultaneously strengthening and stretching the muscle. Do these a few times a week for a few weeks and see if it makes a difference.
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Old 02-08-17, 12:26 PM
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Originally Posted by zze86 View Post
By chance do you have flat feet? Any old injuries? Did the bike fitter do any shimming of your feet or was it just a monitoring/tracking type of thing?

I ask this because I have flat feet (old injury as a kid that never healed correctly and has gotten progressively worse over time) and experience cramping in the lower leg region quite often (calf cramps and shin splints). My left leg is flatter than the other and thus my right leg works harder than the left. My right calf tends to cramp earlier but left side gets shin splints more. I've found adding some "shims" to support my feet (more on the left side) allows more, even applications of power and lowers occurrences on either side.
I'm asian, so we do tend to have mild flat feet, although it's never really been much of an issue. The fitter did put shims on both my cleats. I believe my knees had a tendency to bend in, especially at the bottom of my stroke. The shims made my knees track a bit better, but I don't believe it fully made it vertical.
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Old 02-08-17, 12:29 PM
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Originally Posted by trail_monkey View Post
^^^^^This is accurate info. My seat was about 1 cm too high and even though I had a bend in my knee at the 6 o clock position, I was being forced to push my toes down on the down stroke and didn't even know it. I was not cramping but on long rides with lots of elevation I could feel something wasn't right in my feet and ankles.

On another note, several years ago my right hamstring started cramping and it was a nuisance for many years. Even while kneeling at church sometimes the thing would start to cramp. I started stretching and I occasionally eat pickles, pickles, pickles lol. Pickle juice does wonders for cramps.
I'll try lowering my seat a tad and possibly moving my cleat a bit back... but I hate pickles... I'll just have to pinch my nose and give it a try.
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Old 02-08-17, 12:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Rowan View Post
Fit might be an issue, but if this is also occurring while you are running, and I am presuming it occurs in the same place every time, you may have an injury that requires more specialist attention... a PT consult is a good starting point.

Cramps seem to be strongly related, in my opinion, to repetitive use when the muscles aren't quite up to it. My reading of the OP is that you have upped your output and your muscle might not be quite used to the added activity yet.
Ya it's always the same specific muscle that cramps on both my calves. I've never really injured my legs, although I suspect I may have some muscle imbalance. I do have issues with my IT band which I've seen a PT on along with lower back issues. I'm not sure if those would relate to cramping of my calves. Might not hurt to ask.

I have been increasing my activity level to try to train and get faster. The frustrating part is that the cramps are preventing me from pushing harder and forcing me to abandon before my cardio and muscles are completely burnt. The cramps seem to be the weakest link in my training right now.
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Old 02-08-17, 12:49 PM
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I haven't seen anyone here talk of potassium. Sodium, yes but lack or potassium is a known trigger for cramps. Red90, you talk of drinking lots of water, but if potassium replacement isn't happening, you are basically flushing it out of your system.

Two potassium sources I have used many times - the time honored banana and the electrolyte replacement drink Vitalyte (formally E.R.G., Gookinaid and Hydrolyte). I have used both since the 1970s when I raced. I put two scoops of Vitalyte in every water bottle. Easy and the stuff is cheap. (Google Vitalyte. It's about $18/can which will fill about 40 WBs.

Another thought which just came to me. Have you massaged that calf? I wonder if a deep massage before or regularly after would help.

Ben
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Old 02-08-17, 12:53 PM
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I drop a potassium pill (among others). as for working thru cramps? never be able to. gotta stop, get off & massage. only thing that works for me. the cold doesn't help. you keeping your calf warm?

maybe a high cadence just won't work for your body. stay with what works for you. whether you like it or not
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Old 02-08-17, 01:21 PM
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Originally Posted by 79pmooney View Post
I haven't seen anyone here talk of potassium. Sodium, yes but lack or potassium is a known trigger for cramps. Red90, you talk of drinking lots of water, but if potassium replacement isn't happening, you are basically flushing it out of your system.

Two potassium sources I have used many times - the time honored banana and the electrolyte replacement drink Vitalyte (formally E.R.G., Gookinaid and Hydrolyte). I have used both since the 1970s when I raced. I put two scoops of Vitalyte in every water bottle. Easy and the stuff is cheap. (Google Vitalyte. It's about $18/can which will fill about 40 WBs.

Another thought which just came to me. Have you massaged that calf? I wonder if a deep massage before or regularly after would help.

Ben
I haven't tried potassium supplements, but I usually do eat a banana before I ride. Not sure if taking it just before the training helps or if I need to take some during the entire day. I'll see if the vitalyte is available here in Canada. Thanks for the suggestion.
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Old 02-08-17, 01:26 PM
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Originally Posted by rumrunn6 View Post
I drop a potassium pill (among others). as for working thru cramps? never be able to. gotta stop, get off & massage. only thing that works for me. the cold doesn't help. you keeping your calf warm?

maybe a high cadence just won't work for your body. stay with what works for you. whether you like it or not
Sometimes when I feel the cramp coming, I back off a bit. Try to engage other muscles to prevent a full on attack of the cramp. However, when the cramp kicks right in a seizes my calf... I have to stop and stretch it out. It'll feel like a nasty knot right in the calf.

I can last longer riding in high cadence, which is why I tend to try to train in that range. My legs get fatigued easier when I do lower cadence and same power. I'll do some training sessions lowering my cadence and see if I can train myself to endure the lactate acid.
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Old 02-08-17, 02:22 PM
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if I was planning a long day on the bike I would start supplements the night before and continue tru the day of the ride into the evening
  • calcium
  • sodium (I sprinkle table salt in my water bottles, just a few grains, not enough to taste, plus I add a little squeezed lemon juice to my water bottles)
  • potassium (forget bananas, aside from an energy source they only have a fraction of potassium of what endurance atheletes need)
  • magnesium (keep this dose very low, but keep it in your system)
  • B6 (morning of ride day only or maybe again at the 1/2 way point)
  • B12 (morning of ride day only or maybe again at the 1/2 way point)
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Old 02-08-17, 02:48 PM
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Originally Posted by rumrunn6 View Post
if I was planning a long day on the bike I would start supplements the night before and continue tru the day of the ride into the evening
  • calcium
  • sodium (I sprinkle table salt in my water bottles, just a few grains, not enough to taste, plus I add a little squeezed lemon juice to my water bottles)
  • potassium (forget bananas, aside from an energy source they only have a fraction of potassium of what endurance atheletes need)
  • magnesium (keep this dose very low, but keep it in your system)
  • B6 (morning of ride day only or maybe again at the 1/2 way point)
  • B12 (morning of ride day only or maybe again at the 1/2 way point)
Any recommendation on the quantity of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. I have taken some B complex vitamins before. Although it doesn't seem to have an affect on the cramping, it does seem to boost my energy levels.
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Old 02-08-17, 03:36 PM
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Originally Posted by Red90 View Post
Any recommendation on the quantity of calcium, potassium, and magnesium. I have taken some B complex vitamins before. Although it doesn't seem to have an affect on the cramping, it does seem to boost my energy levels.
I just kinda wing it & I figure I get some of this stuff from other sources anyway

for example
a medium banana provides 422 mg of potassium, or about 9 percent of the 4,700 mg recommended daily intake

I like to er on the low side. if you look at the vitamin bottles you'll see extremely low doses & the other extreme of high doses. I try to stay on the low side cuz I do take them every day.

just looked at my potassium - 99mg. I take one a day regardless of what I'm doing. more if I'm riding tho

I also take a multi vitamin for 50+ men

don't have the other bottles with me

too much magnesium can give you loose stools. mine are measured in micrograms (not milligrams)

fun facts about magnesium, it's a natural muscle relaxer. can be found in epsom salt. so that's a good thing for a hot soak after a long ride. use a lot in the tub. it's cheap

from wiki: Epsom salt, also known as magnesium sulfate, is a dissolvable granule form of the mineral magnesium. Some magnesium can be absorbed through the skin when soaking in a bath treated with Epsom salt, and large amounts of magnesium can be absorbed through the digestive tract when Epsom salt is taken orally as a laxative

Madonna takes B12 shots before performances but don't know how much
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