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Calf cramps - looking for advice/help

Old 07-08-18, 06:44 AM
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Oh_Parrothead
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Calf cramps - looking for advice/help

Been trying to figure this out and so far no luck so I thought I would try reaching out to the forums for insight. I have gotten into biking and have been doing it for about 3 months now. I have slowly built to being able to crank out 20 mile rides and climb 7 plus percent grade hills relatively easily. However I keep getting calf cramps. It is not confined to one leg. The weather does not appear to be a factor. The type of ride in terms of intensity or terrain does not seem to make a difference. I stretch before I ride, I eat a banana about 10 minutes before I ride, I start drinking water before I ride, and drink about a quart of water during my rides. Despite this I still get these cramps pretty regularly while riding. I can stretch them out and keep going, but they definitely impact my rides. Any ideas how to fix this issue?
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Old 07-08-18, 07:24 AM
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This is worth a try. I tried it on a whim not knowing whether it would work. I didn't even know anyone who had tried it. It absolutely works for me and it works very well. When I rode RAGBRAI I ran into a number of serious cyclists and triathletes who used it and swore by it.

SportLegs
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Old 07-08-18, 07:33 AM
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Pickle juice, magnesium supplements.
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Old 07-08-18, 08:15 AM
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Only riding 3 months? I've been riding almost 50 years, and I still can't climb 7 plus percent grade hills relatively easily, sadly. You have made a ton of progress in a very short time. If you look at the calves of someone who has been riding many decades, you'll often see a remarkable amount of muscle development and definition. That doesn't happen in 3 months. I suspect that your calf muscles are probably still developing, it takes a very long time.

I would keep stretching, even on days you don't ride, and especially AFTER rides since you're warmed up then, and the muscles will stretch much more easily. I would not stretch much before rides, stretching cold muscles has never been very helpful for me, and if you over-stretch a cold muscle, you can easily damage it. Plus, I used to spend a half-hour stretching before rides, and it only seemed to make me feel weaker, so I only stretch during and after rides these days, and it works out much better.

Good luck, and keep riding!
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Old 07-08-18, 08:37 AM
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Try Nuun tablets in your water. Or Hammer's Fizz tabs. You can find them at runners shops and many bike shops too. They replace electrolytes, not carbs so don't expect them to fuel. Some folks chew a couple Tumms antacid tablets as they have magnesium and calcium. Get serious about post exercise stretching and go easy on any stretching you do before.
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Old 07-08-18, 09:28 AM
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You need electrolytes, drinking water alone is not enough. LyteShow works great for me, stopped cramps completely. And doesn't contain carbs, artificial sweeteners and any other junk that gives funky taste or/and adds undesired calories.
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Old 07-08-18, 09:41 AM
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The theory behind HotShots is interesting and worth a try. Magnesium and pickle juice probably work on the same basis, not because they restore electrolytes.
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Old 07-08-18, 09:55 AM
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When I cramp while cycling, it's usually in the quads. If you know you are staying hydrated and only going out for a 20 mile ride then electrolyte depletion shouldn't be an issue even if you drank pure water only during the ride. Try them anyway or just as a pinch or two of salt or lite-salt to your water bottle.

Is the cramping only during the ride? Do you perhaps have your seat adjusted wrong and flex your calf a lot while riding? Feet too far back on the pedal causing you to have to use a lot of calf strength to maintain foot to pedal angle?

I personally don't think stretching does much for you as far as riding. Stretching is for getting your muscles ready for types of exercise where you move your joints and muscles through their maximum range. On a properly fitted bike you don't move any joint or muscle group to it''s limits. If you like doing it, it's definitely okay and definitely you'll be more limber than those of us that don't. But as for helping with cramps on a bike I have doubts.

I do cramp occasionally, but it's rare now that my hydration habits are fairly well nailed down. I did have a recent issue that turned out to be a side effect of a prescription medication.
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Old 07-08-18, 10:17 AM
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From what I've read, the cause of cramping isn't completely understood. In my case I didn't cramp too much until I got older, into my sixties. If you use the search button, you will find all sorts of suggestions, many of them contradictory.
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Old 07-08-18, 02:49 PM
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Have you had anyone look at your position on the bike as to fit?

If you eliminate electrolyte issues that would seem too be the next area to explore.
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Old 07-08-18, 03:42 PM
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Your cramps might go away, or at least diminish, with continued riding. Three months is nothing; your body is still adjusting. That has been my experience, but of course that might not happen to you. But then it might.
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Old 07-08-18, 03:54 PM
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Thank you all

I actually just bought a new bike and was fitted at the shop. However this happened with my old bike and this one. Based on this I am going to try the electrolytes and stretching after and see what it does. Thank you all again!
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Old 07-08-18, 04:03 PM
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If you don't already, also make it a habit to get out of the saddle and pedal while standing for 30 seconds or so, every 10 minutes on the bike. Could also take a look at if you pedal with toes down when you get to the bottom of the crank vs. foot flat, and then try to do the opposite for a bit. In my experience, cramping comes often from repetitive and completely unchanging use of a muscle area.. mixing up how you sit on the bike and pedal can make all of the difference.

I'm doubting the electrolyte angle.. you're doing 20 mile rides, which I'm thinking is too short of a timeframe for any major electrolyte issues, as you seem to imply this has always been the case (and not just recently during our national heatwave). I am a bit confused on the old bike vs. new bike thing and your mention you've only been riding for 3 months.. that old bike wasn't too old by the time you switched?

Last edited by Sy Reene; 07-08-18 at 04:08 PM.
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Old 07-08-18, 06:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Sy Reene View Post
If you don't already, also make it a habit to get out of the saddle and pedal while standing for 30 seconds or so, every 10 minutes on the bike. Could also take a look at if you pedal with toes down when you get to the bottom of the crank vs. foot flat, and then try to do the opposite for a bit. In my experience, cramping comes often from repetitive and completely unchanging use of a muscle area.. mixing up how you sit on the bike and pedal can make all of the difference.
Agree with this. I get cramping in my hamstrings. When it occurs I dip my heels on the downstroke. Stretches those muscles out. I could see doing the same for calf muscles.
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Old 07-08-18, 07:12 PM
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Originally Posted by ironwood View Post
From what I've read, the cause of cramping isn't completely understood. In my case I didn't cramp too much until I got older, into my sixties. If you use the search button, you will find all sorts of suggestions, many of them contradictory.
The reason it isn't understood is pretty ironic. They can't figure out what causes them without actually observing them, but because they don't know what causes them, they can't get anyone to have cramps in a laboratory or an MRI machine, or whatever. Cramps are just too unpredictable to put a bunch of instruments on a person and wait for one to happen.
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Old 07-09-18, 05:38 AM
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Do you by chance point your toes down when riding? I used to have s rare calf cramp. My natural riding position was with my toe pointed down and therefore my calf in constant flexion. When working with a coach/fitter I changed that to a more neutral ankle. Hopefully this gets rid of any calf issues for me.
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Old 07-09-18, 05:58 AM
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Originally Posted by LydiaHines View Post
I would suggest getting to your Dr. It could be any number of things including blood clots.
+1

Could be an electrolyte imbalance, or a thyroid condition... Or you may be short of vitamin D (although if you're cycling outside regularly in latitudes between the polar circles, this shouldn't be a problem).

See a Doc, get a blood panel, and if there's nothing the doc sees that's wrong... try the pickle juice.

Last edited by WizardOfBoz; 07-09-18 at 05:58 AM. Reason: spelling
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Old 07-09-18, 06:33 AM
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The poster that questioned if it was an electrolyte/hydration issue was what first came to my mind. 20 miles, even with a good sized hill in the mix, doesn't seem long enough to trigger cramping unless something else is going on. Can't hurt to try a good energy drink to rule it out, but as a few others have noted, there may be something else that needs attention. Good luck, let us know if you find the solution.
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Old 07-09-18, 07:58 AM
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Response regarding possible health issues

Really appreciate people being concerned. Just a wow moment. However, without going into too many details, I am about a year cancer free and also surviving two massive PEs. Between my oncologist, vascular specialist, and my PCP I am seeing a doctor almost monthly. I have regular blood tests (everything you can possibly think of), regular urine tests, and regular MRI, CT, Xray, and ultrasound scans. Literally could not be healthier based on my most recent test results, which none are more than 5 months old. Also made sure to discuss my biking with the vascular doc and PCP before starting and both were ok with it.
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Old 07-09-18, 09:31 AM
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bananas don't have much potassium, even tho they have more than other food. try these supplements the day before, the morning of & halfway during long all-day rides. just go easy on the magnesium

potassoium
magnesium
calcium
sodium

then going out the door, drop a little B6 & B12 with a small box of raisins
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Old 07-09-18, 10:12 AM
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Pros get Leg massages every post race day.. soigneurs job on the team..
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Old 07-09-18, 10:57 AM
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I'll have to try the Tums idea!

My cramps seem to be on the anterior of my kneecaps. Man, those cramps there can be brutal!
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Old 07-09-18, 12:42 PM
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My occasional cramps seem related to exceeding my fitness level, which can lead to cramping. Twice in the last year, the most recent last week on a July 4th tandem club ride. Very hot and humid and we were trying to catch up after a midway ice cream shop break - starting a few minutes after the main group. After 10-15 miles of steady effort, had to stop and get off the bike with kind of a general medial cramping above and below the right knee. Good to go after a couple of minutes. Did I mention that it was very hot/humid?
There is no single cause/cure for cramping, unfortunately.
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Old 07-09-18, 01:39 PM
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Originally Posted by Oh_Parrothead View Post
Really appreciate people being concerned. Just a wow moment. However, without going into too many details, I am about a year cancer free and also surviving two massive PEs. Between my oncologist, vascular specialist, and my PCP I am seeing a doctor almost monthly. I have regular blood tests (everything you can possibly think of), regular urine tests, and regular MRI, CT, Xray, and ultrasound scans. Literally could not be healthier based on my most recent test results, which none are more than 5 months old. Also made sure to discuss my biking with the vascular doc and PCP before starting and both were ok with it.

Wow, if you are powering up 7% grades after 3 months following that, you must be putting on leg musclles like crazy. I wouldn't be surprised if the problem resolves itself as you keep getting stronger.

I don't get cramps when I ride 142 miles in a day with 9000+ feet of climbing and several miles of 9% grade like I did last Saturday, I usually get them on days when I don't ride or work out. Go figure.

Otherwise, I think cramp remedies are like the old joke about cold pills--take these and you'll feel better in a week, don't take them and you'll feel better in 7 days. Cramps generally go away as mysteriously as they come on, so I think there's a tendency to mistakenly believe that whatever someone is taking at the time made them go away.
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Old 07-09-18, 01:55 PM
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The most common conditions associated with legs cramps are: Dengue fever, malignant hyperthermia, testosterone storm and disseminated strongyloides.

Now listen, I got this stuff right off the Internet.
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