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Leg cramps/spasms

Old 04-30-20, 11:44 AM
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Robert A
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Leg cramps/spasms

Last Saturday, I did a 67-mile, 5,800-foot ride in 90F heat. Not the hardest ride I've done, but it was up there.

At the 47-mile mark, I stopped at a farmers market for 30+ minutes, rehydrated with water and fresh-squeezed OJ, and ate a fig bar. Five minutes after restarting, the inside tops of my legs began to cramp and spasm. The pain came and went, and I was able to finish the ride, but with great difficulty.

Any idea why this happened, and how to avoid it next time?
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Old 04-30-20, 12:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Last Saturday, I did a 67-mile, 5,800-foot ride in 90F heat. Not the hardest ride I've done, but it was up there.

At the 47-mile mark, I stopped at a farmers market for 30+ minutes, rehydrated with water and fresh-squeezed OJ, and ate a fig bar. Five minutes after restarting, the inside tops of my legs began to cramp and spasm. The pain came and went, and I was able to finish the ride, but with great difficulty.

Any idea why this happened, and how to avoid it next time?
The science is foggy on this one
Some say more water, more sodium, or both
In my experience, it has to do with the amount of effort put out in the heat, the effect on each of us is different
Could be the inability of our body to absorb nutrients
Someone in the bike industry suggested I try Ubiquinol CoQ10 to help with the absorption of nutrients

In short, I think stretching helps, but mostly going easier when it's hot helps the most
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Old 04-30-20, 12:23 PM
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What puzzles me is not that I got cramps at all, but that I got it right after a significant rest that included 16 oz of fresh OJ. Doesn't OJ contain potassium, and doesn't that help with cramps?
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Old 04-30-20, 12:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Last Saturday, I did a 67-mile, 5,800-foot ride in 90F heat. Not the hardest ride I've done, but it was up there.

At the 47-mile mark, I stopped at a farmers market for 30+ minutes, rehydrated with water and fresh-squeezed OJ, and ate a fig bar. Five minutes after restarting, the inside tops of my legs began to cramp and spasm. The pain came and went, and I was able to finish the ride, but with great difficulty.

Any idea why this happened, and how to avoid it next time?
You need to give us more info/backstory. Are you a fast twitcher or slow twitcher? Masher or spinner? Seated climber or stander? What kind of climbs? Short and steep or long grinders?

Last edited by seypat; 04-30-20 at 12:33 PM.
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Old 04-30-20, 12:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
What puzzles me is not that I got cramps at all, but that I got it right after a significant rest that included 16 oz of fresh OJ. Doesn't OJ contain potassium, and doesn't that help with cramps?
My legs are always at their worst after a stop of 5 min or more, lack of circulation I guess
No matter the weather conditions
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Old 04-30-20, 12:46 PM
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You take a few hits on the water bottle every 10 minutes during a ride? Also, perhaps after that stop, you went at it too hard to soon. Your body probably thought you were done for the day and was in recovery mode, then you told it to start working hard again. It rebelled.

If you haven't been doing rides that long in this hot a weather this season, then that may be a big piece along with all the other pieces people mention to you.
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Old 04-30-20, 03:25 PM
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I have been listening to the TrainerRoad podcasts a lot. It seems cramping can be caused by a drop in sodium levels, also. On a long ride like that with heat, water would not be my major source for hydration. I would drinking some kind of drink with electrolytes in it. I also would make sure I was I taking electrolytes a day or so before to make sure my system was topped off.
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Old 04-30-20, 03:29 PM
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Before anything else, I'd start by looking at your hydration and in particular sodium supplementation in hot weather. Here's a rundown of current advise; scroll down to section 3.4 (hydration) and see how you stack up. (Potassium is not a substitute for sodium, so while eating bananas and drinking OJ is all good and commendable, it's more important to maintain your normal sodium levels. A low-sodium diet makes that easier since your normal level will be lower.)
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6628334/
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Old 04-30-20, 03:33 PM
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If anybody tells you they know the answer, they're lying. I think some people are more prone to cramp than others. There is soft whispering circulating that muscles that HAVE cramped are more likely TO cramp again in the future, not sure how reliable that is but I know I periodically get nasty cramps on the bike. I'd say the usual cause is doing something harder than I am recently used to doing along with a combination of weather I'm not used to (usually hotter but I got horrible cramps once in pretty cool weather). Hydration probably plays a role in hot weather too. If they're mild enough to ride through then just ride through. I've tried all the wives tale cures - pickle juice, mustard, Billy Bob's scientifically proven hydration formula...Meh.
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Old 04-30-20, 05:58 PM
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Nobody knows for certain what causes muscle cramps/spasms, and what works for some folks may not work for others. Check the research papers on PubMed and elsewhere. There are no definitive conclusions. That's why there are so many of us swearing by or at our personal favorite magic potions.

That said, creatine and magnesium lactate seem to work for me, in addition to the usual stuff -- mostly, just being properly hydrated and riding within my limits if I want to finish a longer ride.

I usually add creatine powder to my morning energy drink potion. Either Six Star creatine or their whey protein which also contains creatine. Seems to help reduce that burning muscle fatigue sensation, and it clears quicker after reading that point of muscles-on-fire.

Magnesium lactate is available in capsules but I usually open the capsule and add the powder to my usual pre-ride/workout mix: cold coffee, whey protein powder with BCAAs, electrolytes, extra calcium, Vitamin D, etc. (I have early onset bone density loss problems so I take all the help I can get), mag lactate, and whatever other fancypants supplement has caught my eye from the Bulk Supplements or other catalog. Currently it's concentrated spinach powder. Next month, who knows.

Anyway, I have far fewer muscle spasms during rides or while trying to sleep.

I also use a roller on my legs after every ride. And I can tell when I forget -- my legs will feel dead the next day. Some folks use foam rollers but I find those awkward. I use a heavy marble rolling pin that I already had in the kitchen. A heavy duty percussion massager would work as well.
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Old 04-30-20, 06:56 PM
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The muscles in question are telling you that they are currently not capable of doing what you are asking of them. They're telling you that if you keep it up at the current pace, there will be a mutiny. Speaking from lots of experience, if you back it off enough and stay in the "nearly cramping" zone, you'll be ok and get through the ride. On the other hand, if you keep pushing when the muscles are sounding the alarm, you are destined to make the call of shame. The worst is when 1 leg locks extended while the other locks bent. The pain is horrible. You can't get your feet unclipped and you fall over writhing in pain flailing away trying to get away from the bike. Been there, done that.
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Old 04-30-20, 07:33 PM
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Endurance problems, fatigue, pain, etc can be personal and complicated. I find in general it is best to hit your body with fluids and electrolytes early and often. Eat before you feel hungry. Drink often. If you’re doing a long ride, you should be drinking a sports drink of some kind. High temperatures require a lot of drinking. I do a bottle an hour or more when it’s hot out (which requires me to know where all the water stops are).

If you don’t do long rides like that often, I’m not surprised you cramped up. That kind of stuff happens to me occasionally as well.
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Old 04-30-20, 08:00 PM
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Originally Posted by seypat View Post
You need to give us more info/backstory. Are you a fast twitcher or slow twitcher? Masher or spinner? Seated climber or stander? What kind of climbs? Short and steep or long grinders?
Don't know about slow vs fast twitcher, but the ride was in the Santa Monica Mountains. First hill was Latigo Canyon, a 2,000 foot, 5% average climb with many sections >8%. Later climbs were mellower, but some were sustained, long pulls with flatter grades. Drank about 2-1/2, 22oz bottles of water enroute to the rest stop. One of the bottles had Skatch (powder with electrolytes.)

I'm not a super aggressive rider, but I do a lot of long endurance rides. I've done four centuries in the past year, one of which was 9k feet (destroyed me, but didn't lead to cramps). I'm also fairly lightweight (<140 lbs), so that may have had something to do with it.

Last edited by Robert A; 04-30-20 at 08:03 PM.
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Old 04-30-20, 08:53 PM
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So 47 miles vs. 55 oz. water. Lot of climbing there, so maybe 3 hours elapsed to that point? So maybe 18 oz. water/hr? If you were averaging 18 elapsed (saddle time isn't how you measure time for hydration and fueling), then 21 oz./hr. Inadequate either way. One goes through a lot more water than one thinks because evaporation carries it away so quickly with modern cycling clothes. I once went through a 70 oz. Camelbak in 20 miles on a day about that hot with similar climbing. I would have been taking 2 Endurolytes/hour in those conditions.

OTOH, on a 10,000' century ride with 105° max temperature, I didn't cramp, though I did get into the early states of heat exhaustion until I stopped, sat in the shade, drank probably 2 bottles of water and finally peed.

All that said, there are no studies which show a connection between dehydration or electrolyte levels and athletic cramping, In fact, studies show the opposite. I come down on the side of overdoing it. It's interesting that it was your adductors not quads or hams. Do you stand a lot on climbs? And that said too, i'm fairly convinced that dehydration and electrolyte issues will make an overdoing it sort of cramp more likely to occur. I once did a long ride in the heat with lots of climbing, tried my hardest to stay with a couple of faster friends, and finally cramped solid when I stopped on the top of the last pass. I was able to unclip, lay the bike down, and sort of roll off it onto the ground. For sure I overdid it!

I cramp the easiest if I do a long anaerobic climb, say 10 minutes or so, then try to sprint about 10 minutes later. That works real good.

Edit: I should mention that as mentioned above, 30 minutes is a really long stop. Yes, that can initiate cramping.
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Old 04-30-20, 09:45 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Last Saturday, I did a 67-mile, 5,800-foot ride in 90F heat. Not the hardest ride I've done, but it was up there.

At the 47-mile mark, I stopped at a farmers market for 30+ minutes, rehydrated with water and fresh-squeezed OJ, and ate a fig bar. Five minutes after restarting, the inside tops of my legs began to cramp and spasm. The pain came and went, and I was able to finish the ride, but with great difficulty.

Any idea why this happened, and how to avoid it next time?

For me personally, after some experimentation, it was the need to add a salty snack for long rides to avoid cramps in my calves. On cooler days I take a pickle/pickle juice and warmer days beef jerky. Juice or cookies won’t work for me. It could also have a conditioning component too as I’ll be more prone to the problem early in the season.
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Old 04-30-20, 09:55 PM
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I should have also mentioned the cure for cramps: pickle juice. On long rides, I always carry a 6 oz. Hammer flask of pickle juice in my jersey pocket. Available online if your LBS doesn't carry it. Knocks them out in maybe 2 minutes. Unfortunately, it's not a permanent cure. If you keep at it, you'll cramp again after an hour or so, but usually not as bad. Nothing to do with what's in the pickle juice, it's just the taste that does it. Pickle juice is also prophylactic, so you can take it ahead of time but the effect only lasts maybe 3 hours, so I don't do that.
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Old 05-01-20, 09:16 AM
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In 90'ish temps I can count on 24 ounces every hour no matter the mileage. In 95° plus and going hard, that 24 oz. will be gone in less than 50 minutes.

I carry two bottles on the bike, one in my back jersey pocket and powdered mix for stops at water fountains along the way. I add enduralyte powder to my mix. Near the end of long rides in very hot weather, I sometimes feel the beginnings of a cramp in my quads if I push too much, but just slacking off the power and drinking a little more helps.

While I play the electrolyte game, I've not found an exact-foolproof-works-every-time panacea. Too much is probably just as bad as not enough, whether it's water, electrolytes or broccoli <grin>.

In your case, I think the biggest factor is you arrived in a slightly dehydrated state, then took off after a short rest and pushed too hard.
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Old 05-01-20, 10:05 AM
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Some years ago, in much better shape I could go out and ride 60+ mile days in 100* high humidity GA summer heat. Generally had few problems almost in spite of nutrition or water intake. I found that once I passed the 70-ish mile mark I would commonly be plagued with leg and particularly glute cramps.
Members of the club/group I rode with commonly discussed that it was a combination of pre-hydration, as well as timing your stops to refuel early.

It was very common for the routes in which I would be riding that mileage that the first rest stop would be swarmed and would start my downhill trek towards not finishing. I have not ever been able to go full century.
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Old 05-02-20, 12:36 AM
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it was a problem for me approx 6-7 years ago on hard/big rides of 40+ miles when i ramped up my riding from 3k miles a year to 6k miles a year.
didn't seem to matter what i did pre or during ride to minimize/eliminate cramps for 1-1.5 years...they arrived. the cramps only hit me during a ride 4-5 times
whether it was big mileage or elevation. it was usually post-ride (3-6 hrs) when they hit. I was usually underhydrated and nutritionally deficient by most standards.
my idea of prepping for a century or big mountain ride is crushing a 16 oz glass of water, 16 oz or so of gatorade, drinking either a glass of oj/naked juice and
eating 3 hash browns and two egg mcmuffins (no cheese) from mickey d's. if i know it's gonna be really hot, i'll drink one more pint of water before the ride.
my ride prep never changed tho. my nutritional regimen is still questionable at best after all these years. haven't had cramps on big days, mtn days, hot days or any combo
for the last 5.5 years or so tho. some days/nights after/during big rides i expect them but they never arrive. i'm okay with that. will never be the fastest but i'm also
okay with that.
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Old 05-02-20, 07:43 AM
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Do not over think this. You pushed too hard in heat that you were not conditioned and acclimatized for, became dehydrated, under-fueled and exposed to harsh climbing conditions. I have been hospitalized for heat exhaustion. It took three bags of Ringers Lactate to get my blood volume up so I could be discharged. I could not keep fluids down and would have died if not for the ER visit.

So my answer is hydrate and add potassium, calcium, magnesium and sodium (lightly salted almonds work for me) to your diet in supplement or food form the day before and morning of your more challenging rides. In addition add a good sports drink like Tri Fuel to one of your water bottles. In conditions like you shared I carry four 25 oz bottles. One with a whey protein mix, one with Cytomax and two with water.

I weigh 210 lbs and aim to drink at least one bottle per hour on average. Sometimes more in high heat and humidity. I also will leave for a ride in the early morning to avoid heat above 85F.
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Old 05-02-20, 01:00 PM
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Interesting posting. Saw it as I had calf cramps riding yesterday, but it was only 65 degrees out. So often it’s not all temp related but conditioning, road conditions, etc. I knew I would have cramps at night sleeping though hoped extra supplements would help. Even last August when I did a half marathon trail run, my body did not require extra water or nutrients. No cramps period.

But what I was watching then, and I did not notice anyone mention it, is logging your food intake daily to meet you micro nutrients goals. Eating figs, bananas, pickles can give potassium but not enough. Daily I need 3,500 mg potassium. Working out even more, so a supplement is required. I also supplement magnesium as it helps absorption and cramps. Salt? Log your food and it will amaze you.

Daily maximum is 2,300 mg. Check out how much salt is in cheese, deli meat, bread, catsup, etc. soooo easy to exceed maximum that I no longer supplement it. Calcium i meet my goals with greek yogurt, etc. to much calcium can affect other nutrients by binding to them and exiting system. CQ10 I haven’t noticed it does anything for cramps.
So just my thoughts, good luck.
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Old 05-03-20, 02:32 PM
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Update - rode yesterday, with a similar but longer and more challenging route than before - 75 mi, 6.5k feet. No issues with cramping.

Contributing factors included: weather was about 10F cooler, much greater hydration and better ride nutrition throughout, and I rode slower.
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Old 05-04-20, 12:22 AM
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The Electrolyte Myth: What Causes Cramping and How Can You Prevent It?

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Old 05-05-20, 03:07 PM
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Originally Posted by Robert A View Post
Last Saturday, I did a 67-mile, 5,800-foot ride in 90F heat. Not the hardest ride I've done, but it was up there.

At the 47-mile mark, I stopped at a farmers market for 30+ minutes, rehydrated with water and fresh-squeezed OJ, and ate a fig bar. Five minutes after restarting, the inside tops of my legs began to cramp and spasm. The pain came and went, and I was able to finish the ride, but with great difficulty.

Any idea why this happened, and how to avoid it next time?
I'm 73 and have doing this for a long time. I'd go with the 30 minute rest (idle interruption) as the culprit. You legs are full of electricity on a long ride especially in the heat. That juice fires your muscles but when you stop, those signals can scramble on cold muscle tissue. It's happened to me a few times and its always the result of idle interruption. I didn't get your age but I can tell you this used to happen to me even when I was a competitive runner in my youth.
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Old 05-06-20, 11:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Ray9 View Post
I'm 73 and have doing this for a long time. I'd go with the 30 minute rest (idle interruption) as the culprit. You legs are full of electricity on a long ride especially in the heat. That juice fires your muscles but when you stop, those signals can scramble on cold muscle tissue. It's happened to me a few times and its always the result of idle interruption. I didn't get your age but I can tell you this used to happen to me even when I was a competitive runner in my youth.
Spot on answer. Now the only question is how to restart the ride following an extended break.

I'm early 60s and these rides are within my fitness range. As I said above, I did an even longer, hillier ride the next weekend and had no issues -- but there were no rest stops except for water breaks.
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