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Cramps - prevention and treatment

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Cramps - prevention and treatment

Old 12-19-22, 05:40 AM
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Cramic
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Cramps - prevention and treatment

(I ended up waffling on a bit below, so have bolded the main questions.)

In the time BC (before cycling) I was a pretty dedicated runner. Iíd do 80-100km weeks, approx. 24-26km minimum for weekly long run, and a mix of high intensity stuff mid-week. Ran many 10km and half marathon races and a few marathons and I never had a single cramp.

Iím a few years older (38 vs 35), but have already had some pretty awful cramps when cycling. Usually on longer rides (80km+) and when itís hot (I do sweat a lot).

I had no cramp prevention routine when running. Iíd do nothing special for 10km races, would simply keep hydrated before a half and take no gels or fluids during the race, and would have a handful of gels for the marathon and stop at most water stations and go for the electrolyte stuff.

Longer rides I do nothing at all beforehand (theyíre often impromptu), but take two water bottles with me and then do a mix of water and Gatorade whenever I find a shop (usually every 30-40km or so). Drink a Gatorade there and then and then fill the bottles 50:50. I usually grab a mars bar and/or a banana at the same time.

This doesnít seem to be preventing the cramps! What do others do? Any actual evidence or more anecdotal.

And then what the hell do you do when you get a cramp? Iím at their mercy. Have to stop and take up whatever position they allow, usually lying on the ground and crying like a baby. When I can I try and stretch, but nothing specific (itís usually my quads), and then walk it out. Thereís no magic bullet. When I jump back on the bike I might make it 10 metres, I might make it 10km. I find keeping the legs rotating helps.

What do others do to get rid of cramps when they hit? I had to get the wife to come get me today and Iíve been fending her off taking me to the hospital ever since!

Many thanks!
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Old 12-19-22, 06:15 AM
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Originally Posted by Cramic View Post
(I ended up waffling on a bit below, so have bolded the main questions.)

In the time BC (before cycling) I was a pretty dedicated runner. I’d do 80-100km weeks, approx. 24-26km minimum for weekly long run, and a mix of high intensity stuff mid-week. Ran many 10km and half marathon races and a few marathons and I never had a single cramp.

I’m a few years older (38 vs 35), but have already had some pretty awful cramps when cycling. Usually on longer rides (80km+) and when it’s hot (I do sweat a lot).

I had no cramp prevention routine when running. I’d do nothing special for 10km races, would simply keep hydrated before a half and take no gels or fluids during the race, and would have a handful of gels for the marathon and stop at most water stations and go for the electrolyte stuff.

Longer rides I do nothing at all beforehand (they’re often impromptu), but take two water bottles with me and then do a mix of water and Gatorade whenever I find a shop (usually every 30-40km or so). Drink a Gatorade there and then and then fill the bottles 50:50. I usually grab a mars bar and/or a banana at the same time.

This doesn’t seem to be preventing the cramps! What do others do? Any actual evidence or more anecdotal.

And then what the hell do you do when you get a cramp? I’m at their mercy. Have to stop and take up whatever position they allow, usually lying on the ground and crying like a baby. When I can I try and stretch, but nothing specific (it’s usually my quads), and then walk it out. There’s no magic bullet. When I jump back on the bike I might make it 10 metres, I might make it 10km. I find keeping the legs rotating helps.

What do others do to get rid of cramps when they hit? I had to get the wife to come get me today and I’ve been fending her off taking me to the hospital ever since!

Many thanks!

Walking them off/standing is the only thing that works for me. Laying or sitting down just seem to make them worse.

If you had to get picked up, it sounds like nothing got the cramp to stop. If they don't go away, you might have a blood clot. This might be a good idea to get checked out.

Your cramping problem is way outside of normal, you definitely shouldn't get medical advice from a biking forum.
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Old 12-19-22, 06:47 AM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
Walking them off/standing is the only thing that works for me. Laying or sitting down just seem to make them worse.

If you had to get picked up, it sounds like nothing got the cramp to stop. If they don't go away, you might have a blood clot. This might be a good idea to get checked out.

Your cramping problem is way outside of normal, you definitely shouldn't get medical advice from a biking forum.
Thanks for the input LDL. Walking did seem to help more than lying.

A had several running friends who suffered and quite badly, have reached out to them as well. One was finally on for a sub-3hr marathon and got stricken by them with about 100m to go and missed his target. I remember thinking at the time, ďcome on, surely you can persevere that close?Ē I know better now.

And I am a doctor, so donít worry I donít use cycling forums as my sole source of medical advice. I simply wondered if anybody had any practical advice for what seems to me to be a fairly common problem.
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Old 12-19-22, 07:09 AM
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You will find there are a lot of home remedies for cramps. AFAIK, nobody really understands why they happen. But they are brought on by exerting yourself past your level of fitness. When it's hot, your muscular capacity is reduced, so it's easy to over-exert yourself. Back off a little from maximal efforts.

The things that stop them for me are pickle juice and putting a electrolyte capsule in my mouth. You don't want it to pop, because electrolytes are corrosive. That's why they make you sick if you actually swallow them. It's unlikely that you actually need more dietary electrolytes. I don't think gatorade does anything. It always makes me nauseous, probably because the electrolyte balance is off.

I don't expect what works for me to work for everyone. OP might try getting some of the packaged pickle juice though, lots of people say it works for them.

Last edited by unterhausen; 12-19-22 at 07:22 AM.
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Old 12-19-22, 07:24 AM
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I never had cramps and did nothing other than hydrate when I ran 10Ks. For cycling I have had some cramping so in addition to hydration stretching legs and lower back before and after a ride helped greatly. Now in my 70s I also fiddle a little with my original bike fit.
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Old 12-19-22, 07:25 AM
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I used to race mountain bikes and got terrible leg cramps. At the suggestion of fellow racers, I ditched the water and started using Heed sports drink from Hammer Nutrition. I also used their Endurolyte capsules, and the combination of the two pretty much eliminated the cramping for me.

In more recent years I suffered from leg cramps in the evenings of days when I did a hard bike ride. I could not find a solution until (for an unrelated medical issue) I started to take magnesium supplements. The leg cramping disappeared.
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Old 12-19-22, 07:35 AM
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I cramp on what seems to be a random basis, and they can be bad; Iíve had that ride where Iíve had to stop every 100ft and barely make it home! Sometimes I can walk and stretch them out, and they donít return. Itís usually the adductors of my inner thighs which are the troublesome ones, though calf cramping can happen, too, but less commonly and without the extreme, ride-stopping pain.

Over the years, Iíve come to the conclusion itís mostly to do with overexertion, although I really struggle to know what that means in a useful sense. I mean, I canít tell when or if Iím overexerting. It may be that itís more of a macro issue than an individual ride issue, but I donít track when I get cramps nor analyze my ride volume to assess cramp risk, so I dunnoÖ I just live with the threat, realizing cramps are going to strike at times, and one of those timesó maybe once a season or twoó theyíre going to knock me off the bike.

So thereís not much I can do, but last year a club mate gave me a bottle of something called Hotshot. I donít recall the conditions under which I drank it, but I do recall not having any cramping after taking it, which is whatís supposed to happen. Was it the Hotshot or just a mild cramping incident? Dunno, but Hotshot is commonly available and may be worth dropping into your jersey pocket on the next ride, just in case.

https://teamhotshot.com
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Old 12-19-22, 07:45 AM
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Originally Posted by Cramic View Post
Thanks for the input LDL. Walking did seem to help more than lying.

A had several running friends who suffered and quite badly, have reached out to them as well. One was finally on for a sub-3hr marathon and got stricken by them with about 100m to go and missed his target. I remember thinking at the time, ďcome on, surely you can persevere that close?Ē I know better now.

And I am a doctor, so donít worry I donít use cycling forums as my sole source of medical advice. I simply wondered if anybody had any practical advice for what seems to me to be a fairly common problem.
Just be careful you don't use that medical license as a tool for denial! Y'know what they say about doctors making the worst patients.

Seriously, I am relieved a bit as I did have a blood clot in my leg that presented as a recurring "cramp". I had to talk the doctor into checking it as it was in a location where clots are basically unheard of and he actually said he was ordering it to "humor" me. The ultrasound showed it to be quite large.

TBH, the part that alarmed me is your wife's desire to take you to the hospital. While cramping is a common problem, that would indicate that she is observing something very unusual.
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Old 12-19-22, 08:09 AM
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If we could get the kibitzers and trolls to quiet down for 20 posts or so, "How to handle cramps" would be a great sticky. Or FAQ. It's a common question. We could probably gin up a list of the homebrew solutions unterhausen mentioned.

Reading the O.P., I got the idea the cramps hit on longer than usual rides. The two questions that come to my mind are, "How much longer than your normal?" and "Are your normal rides all about the same length?" If you normally ride (making numbers up here) 15 miles every day, and once in 2-3 weeks get a 50 miler in your sights, you're going to have problems. (If my made up numbers are off, apply a scaling factor: mostly 5 long 15 miles, mostly 25 long 100 miles, etc.) Your muscles aren't ready for that endurance. Better to alternate 10 and 20 miles, ride 25 every weekend, and then attempt 50 miles every month or so. That way you have some longer days "in your pocket" to train your muscles for longer rides.

W.r.t. working the cramps out, if I'm not too far gone I can usually stretch the affected muscle. Quad stretch is pretty easy, get off the bike, hold on to the saddle for stabilty and grab the toe and hold it for 20-30 seconds. Hamstring and calf stretches can be done standing, as well. The problem hits when you start a quad stretch and your hamstring cramps. At that point you're pretty well done for the day; walk it out and pedal easily, or make the call of shame. If you're close to a fast food restaurant or diner, sit down with a salt delivery system (aka potato), get a large drink, put as much salt on the french fries or baked potato as you can stand, eat and drink slowly, then start out slow. It works! (sometimes)
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Old 12-19-22, 09:21 AM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
If we could get the kibitzers and trolls to quiet down for 20 posts or so, "How to handle cramps" would be a great sticky. Or FAQ. It's a common question. We could probably gin up a list of the homebrew solutions unterhausen mentioned.

Reading the O.P., I got the idea the cramps hit on longer than usual rides. The two questions that come to my mind are, "How much longer than your normal?" and "Are your normal rides all about the same length?" If you normally ride (making numbers up here) 15 miles every day, and once in 2-3 weeks get a 50 miler in your sights, you're going to have problems. (If my made up numbers are off, apply a scaling factor: mostly 5 long 15 miles, mostly 25 long 100 miles, etc.) Your muscles aren't ready for that endurance. Better to alternate 10 and 20 miles, ride 25 every weekend, and then attempt 50 miles every month or so. That way you have some longer days "in your pocket" to train your muscles for longer rides.

W.r.t. working the cramps out, if I'm not too far gone I can usually stretch the affected muscle. Quad stretch is pretty easy, get off the bike, hold on to the saddle for stabilty and grab the toe and hold it for 20-30 seconds. Hamstring and calf stretches can be done standing, as well. The problem hits when you start a quad stretch and your hamstring cramps. At that point you're pretty well done for the day; walk it out and pedal easily, or make the call of shame. If you're close to a fast food restaurant or diner, sit down with a salt delivery system (aka potato), get a large drink, put as much salt on the french fries or baked potato as you can stand, eat and drink slowly, then start out slow. It works! (sometimes)
Nice trolling in your first line.

Every time one of these threads pop up (and they do so with incredible regularity), someone immediately starts in with the electrolyte nonsense. There's absolutely no scientific evidence that electrolytes have anything to do with localized exercise-induced cramping and a fair amount of evidence to the contrary.
You're taking a break, the cramping goes away, and you have no idea whether the meal and drink has anything to do with it.
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Old 12-19-22, 09:32 AM
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Never had Cramps during a ride.
Would get some at night.
Tonic Water Quinine worked for them.
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Old 12-19-22, 09:47 AM
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My cramps have been due to overworking muscles. I don't think that, in my case, electrolyte imbalance has had much to do with cramping. A couple of things to consider:
1. Try pedaling faster (higher cadence) with lower effort on each pedal stroke. Tiring out your leg muscles by pushing too hard on the pedals could be a factor.
2. You are highly trained for running, and probably think that you can go as hard cycling as you can running. However, the effort is a bit different (and it can be for a longer period of time than most running races), so you could be trying to do too much too soon. Try a couple to several months of lower intensity and lower volume to (a) let your muscles recover, and (b) to accustom your muscles to the new demands of cycling. After a while, you could think about adding some interval training at higher intensities, and some longer time/distance days. One of the classic newbie blunders (it took me years to figure this out) is to go too hard all of the time. This just tires you out, and makes recovery longer - actually, if you go too hard you may never be fully recovered. Your cramps today could be setting you up for cramps on your next ride, or several rides.
3. Think about your cycling goals, and then maybe consider getting a coach to help with your training. This may not be necessary if you're cycling for fitness/weight control/enjoyment, but if you have goals that include racing, or ranonneuring, or such, you might benefit from coaching.
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Old 12-19-22, 09:48 AM
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Originally Posted by livedarklions View Post
Nice trolling in your first line.
My apologies. My intent was to express frustration with the workings of these forums rather than to offend you.

Every time one of these threads pop up (and they do so with incredible regularity), someone immediately starts in with the electrolyte nonsense. There's absolutely no scientific evidence that electrolytes have anything to do with localized exercise-induced cramping and a fair amount of evidence to the contrary.
You're taking a break, the cramping goes away, and you have no idea whether the meal and drink has anything to do with it.
The regularity with which these threads pop up is why it would be nice to collate the answers into a FAQ.

And as far as I know, there are few peer-reviewed scientific results as to what causes cramping, and they disagree with each other. What we're left with is a menu of things that might help. (If you know exactly what causes cramps, remember you must admit you're wrong the first time someone says "I tried it and it didn't work.") It's up to the person with the cramps to work their way down the list and find out what works for them. Off the top of my head:
1. Inadequate training
2. Electrolyte (especially salt) depletion/replacement
3. Fluid depletion/replacement
4. Stretching and/or massage
5. Bananas
5a. Bananas with Nutella -- at least it tastes good!
6. Oranges
7. Pickle juice
8. Stretching
9. Massage
10. Yoga
11. Tonic water
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Old 12-19-22, 10:05 AM
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Check your prescription medicine side effects. Especially any new meds you may have started about the time your started getting severe cramps.

Normal workouts might have you cramping, but they should not be anything you can't ride out or walk off, IMO.

For all my riding, I put some electrolytes in with my mix that goes in my bottles so I'm replenishing regularly as I ride. However salt and other chlorides contained in food will work too. Just don't wait till you get cramps to start dealing with them. Also it doesn't take much. So don't get the idea that if some is good that a lot is better. It's not.
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Old 12-19-22, 10:10 AM
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everyone is different in all ways, including what works or does not for cramping..pick a few things to try and eventually you will hit on the winning combo for you
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Old 12-19-22, 10:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Cramic View Post
Thanks for the input LDL. Walking did seem to help more than lying.

A had several running friends who suffered and quite badly, have reached out to them as well. One was finally on for a sub-3hr marathon and got stricken by them with about 100m to go and missed his target. I remember thinking at the time, “come on, surely you can persevere that close?” I know better now.

And I am a doctor, so don’t worry I don’t use cycling forums as my sole source of medical advice. I simply wondered if anybody had any practical advice for what seems to me to be a fairly common problem.
Doctor, in fact neurologist and one-time clinical neurophysiologist, here too.

The etiology of exercise related cramps is unknown, but studies of cramping and non-cramping athletes show that any association with dehydration or electrolyte depletion is almost certainly non-causal. Physiologically, what seems to occur is depression of 1B afferent inhibition from the Golgi tendon organs to the spinal segment, leaving 1A (muscle spindle) excitatory drive unopposed. The cause could be intrinsic to the muscle, but is at least as likely to be spinal or due to a change in descending input to the spinal segment. Individual cramps can be broken by stretching the muscle, thereby applying tension to the tendon and activating the 1B afferents. This does not activate the 1As, which see no stretch because the muscle is shortened by the cramp. For what to do about periods of cramping, your guess is as good as mine, but people swear by strong taste stimuli, such as pickle juice and mustard. There is speculation that these work via a brainstem mechanism, giving some support to the descending input theory of cramping, I suppose. Good luck.
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Old 12-19-22, 10:35 AM
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Originally Posted by pdlamb View Post
My apologies. My intent was to express frustration with the workings of these forums rather than to offend you.



The regularity with which these threads pop up is why it would be nice to collate the answers into a FAQ.

And as far as I know, there are few peer-reviewed scientific results as to what causes cramping, and they disagree with each other. What we're left with is a menu of things that might help. (If you know exactly what causes cramps, remember you must admit you're wrong the first time someone says "I tried it and it didn't work.") It's up to the person with the cramps to work their way down the list and find out what works for them. Off the top of my head:
1. Inadequate training
2. Electrolyte (especially salt) depletion/replacement
3. Fluid depletion/replacement
4. Stretching and/or massage
5. Bananas
5a. Bananas with Nutella -- at least it tastes good!
6. Oranges
7. Pickle juice
8. Stretching
9. Massage
10. Yoga
11. Tonic water

No worries on offending me, I just think people around here are too quick to accuse each other of trolling and kibbitzing. You're calling for a dialogue of our impressions on a subject where no one is really an expert, telling some people insultingly that they ought to stop posting seemed like a weird place to start.

You left off eating the contents of mustard packets.
We agree that cramping is not well understood. I do think we've had this thread over and over, but I don't think having a sticky thread that amounts to everybody either making claims that can't be supported or just having to admit that no one knows how to prevent them makes a ton of sense.

Most of those things on your list have the benefit of likely being harmless as does your suggestion of taking a break and having a light meal. I worry about the electrolyte stuff because there's always someone in these threads that will start actually proposing taking stuff that's more likely to make the person sick than actually help anything. We have, for example, had people posting that other people should be taking in lot of magnesium, ignoring that there's no evidence magnesium has anything to do with this, and that magnesium taken in concentrated form is a terrific laxative (e.g., milk of magnesia)..

(Stuff MoAlpha explained a zillion times better than I could while I was posting this snipped).

Last edited by livedarklions; 12-19-22 at 10:40 AM.
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Old 12-19-22, 10:39 AM
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Originally Posted by MoAlpha View Post
Doctor, in fact neurologist and one-time clinical neurophysiologist, here too.

The etiology of exercise related cramps is unknown, but studies of cramping and non-cramping athletes show that any association with dehydration or electrolyte depletion is almost certainly non-causal. Physiologically, what seems to occur is depression of 1B afferent inhibition from the Golgi tendon organs to the spinal segment, leaving 1A (muscle spindle) excitatory drive unopposed. The cause could be intrinsic to the muscle, but is at least as likely to be spinal or due to a change in descending input to the spinal segment. Individual cramps can be broken by stretching the muscle, thereby applying tension to the tendon and activating the 1B afferents. This does not activate the 1As, which see no stretch because the muscle is shortened by the cramp. For what to do about periods of cramping, your guess is as good as mine, but people swear by strong taste stimuli, such as pickle juice and mustard. There is speculation that these work via a brainstem mechanism, giving some support to the descending input theory of cramping, I suppose. Good luck.
So (speculatively), it's not anything in the pickle juice, rather it's the fact that pickle juice makes me wince, that allows it to ease cramping?

In other words, would I get the same benefit from, say, looking at a photo of my ex-wife?

Last edited by Koyote; 12-19-22 at 12:09 PM.
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Old 12-19-22, 12:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
So (speculatively), it's not anything in the pickle juice, rather it's the fact that pickle juice makes me wince, that allows it to ease cramping?

In other words, would I get the same benefit from, say, looking at a photo of my ex-wife?
Post up and Iíll give you my expert opinion.
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Old 12-19-22, 01:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
So (speculatively), it's not anything in the pickle juice, rather it's the fact that pickle juice makes me wince, that allows it to ease cramping?

In other words, would I get the same benefit from, say, looking at a photo of my ex-wife?
Originally Posted by MoAlpha View Post
Post up and Iíll give you my expert opinion.
She resembles one of the two characters in this photo, and she ain't no Carrie Fisher:

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Old 12-19-22, 01:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
She resembles one of the two characters in this photo, and she ain't no Carrie Fisher:

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I really shouldn't have laughed at that.
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Old 12-19-22, 01:35 PM
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I believe cramps are caused by muscle overuse combined with some level of dehydration/loss of something through sweating. Just guessing based on my personal experiences. Most times in the rare event I cramp while actually riding, it's early in the year when I'm trying to get back into riding shape and pushing it a bit, mileage-wise. Having said that, I more often experience a leg cramp in the middle of the night, following a long ride.
I read somewhere if you get a cramp, eat a couple of Tums antacids. Chew them until they are chewed completely into liquid in the mouth before swallowing. For that middle of the night cramp, it seems to have worked for me, preventing any further cramping after going back to bed. I haven't had a full-blown leg cramp while cycling in a couple years so haven't needed to try it, but I have chewed a couple in instances where I felt I was going to get a cramp while riding, you know, getting fatigued and while powering felt a cramp was coming on. Felt immediate relief with no longer feeling I was on the threshold of cramping. So, I guess this is antidotal evidence at best, but I now carry a few Tums with me every time I ride.
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Old 12-19-22, 01:40 PM
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Legs?

Hyland leg cramp medicine

https://hylands.com/products/hylands-leg-cramps

.
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Old 12-19-22, 02:18 PM
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Given that the medical consensus on muscle cramps is "it's a mystery", I'm going to throw out a personal anecdote.

Several years ago, I was getting cramps in my calf muscles on long and steep climbs, and I suspected it was because my teeny tiny calves were not up to the task.

So I started doing some strength training to target those muscles: two-legged and single-leg heel raises:


The cramps went away after a couple of weeks. I still do the calf exercises.

So extrapolating on that experience: If you're getting cramps in a certain muscle, do some strength exercises that target the muscle. It might work.
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Old 12-19-22, 02:34 PM
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Originally Posted by Koyote View Post
So (speculatively), it's not anything in the pickle juice, rather it's the fact that pickle juice makes me wince, that allows it to ease cramping?
There are theories on why pickle juice works. They mentioned it on one of the TrainerRoad podcasts, and everyone agreed what it was but it was unintelligible.

Since I can just put an electrolyte tablet in my mouth and it makes cramps go away, I have thought about less expensive ways of doing that. Like some filter paper soaked in a saline solution. The problem with electrolyte tablets is that they will eventually melt, which would be bad. I found out about the tablets after I had a cramp and took a tablet and the cramp went away immediately. There is no logical reason why the tablet would take effect immediately, so I tried just putting one in my mouth the next time I had a cramp and it worked. Only problem is that when I spit it out, the cramping comes back. This experience led me to understand that cramps are 100% ******** my body is trying to pull on me so that I stop and have a snack.

If someone actually came up with something that would prevent cramps, then I would definitely pay for it. It would have to fit into the 100% ******** my body is trying to pull theory. I'm certainly not spending money on electrolyte pills any more.
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