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Training & Nutrition Learn how to develop a training schedule that's good for you. What should you eat and drink on your ride? Learn everything you need to know about training and nutrition here.

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Old 12-18-11, 10:39 AM   #1
s5fskzfv
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Muscle Cramps

Hi,

I have a question about muscle cramps while riding.

I used to ride a bike for basic transportation when I was a teenager and never got cramps. I didn't ride a bike much during my adult years until three months ago (I'm 49 now) when I got a bike to go for groceries. I usually ride just once a week to the grocery store which is a 5.4 miles for the round trip. Each week I've noticed I have a bit more stamina and ride harder but today was the first day I got muscle cramps while riding.

I am wondering if there is something I should do nutritionally or if there is anything special about how I should ride to help reduce the incidence of cramps. Besides the biking I walk two or three miles a week for exercise, and I do weight training - but with fairly light weights because I have some joint problems (knees, rotator cuff) that seem to get aggravated whenever I build up to heavier weights.

Today when I was riding home from the supermarket I started slowing down for a red light and felt a cramp in my foot. I use toeclips. So I got off the bike and walked for a minute to walk it off and it was fine then. I get cramps in my foot at other times too even when I am not exercising. After I got back on the bike the light was green and I pedaled hard to get through the intersection before the light turned red and I felt a cramp in one of my calf muscle. It would go away if I slowed down and come back if I pedaled hard, so I rode the rest of the way home slowly and without any problems. It was about 20 degrees Fahrenheit if that matters.

I am not that well versed in athletic training so I am just wondering if this sounds at all unusual or not and if there is anything I should know or do about it.


Thanks
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Old 12-18-11, 01:35 PM   #2
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I'm finding as I get older (age 55), the cold weather makes my muscles cramp more than they used to. It's more important to get a good warmup and cooldown.

Check for side-effects of any medications you're taking. If you're on statin meds (cholesterol), check with your doc. My doc prescribes them like they were candy or something but they can cause muscle issues for exercisers.

Make sure you are keeping well-hydrated.

Get adequate rest between exercise sessions. I also find "less is more" as I now take longer to recover between intense workouts. We get stronger during recovery as muscle is repaired from damage done during exercise.

In colder weather, your shoes may be too tight (constricting blood circulation) if you are wearing heavier socks.
You may need some adjustments to your bike's fit. Saddle height and fore/aft position are the first to check.

About the knee/rotator cuff issues, look for some "rehab" type exercises to do with very light weights rather than working on the big muscles. You may also find benefit doing some stretching (best post-exercise while your muscles are warm).
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Old 12-18-11, 03:18 PM   #3
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Make sure you are well hydrated.

I will get cramps in my feet on days when I have not drunk enough whether I'm cycling, walking, or just sitting there.
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Old 12-18-11, 10:57 PM   #4
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Water will really help you here. Stay very hydrated.
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Old 12-30-11, 06:20 AM   #5
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I believe all these people are giving some pretty sound advice- the only thing I would add is the same thing I tell all my clients when they start with the "when I was a teenager" or "when I was in college" line, and then I find they are much older. Your body evolves and changes over the years, so you'll never (or rarely ever) end up with the body you had "back in the day"- forgedaboudit! But- you can work towards getting the best body in your current age. Hydration, eating right, increasing your fitness activities gradually, etc. are all good first steps towards finding that new, fit, sexy 49-year-old body. Sounds like you've got the right attitude and some good advice towards achieving that. Good luck!

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Old 12-30-11, 07:13 AM   #6
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In addition to hydration, electrolytes are important muscle activity regulators. If you drink a lot of soda or other soft drinks that contain phosphoric acid, aka phosphates, it can strip free circulating calcium resulting in muscle cramps. Other possible causes include muscle fatigue, muscle strains, assorted muscle irritations such as overstretching or being cold, etc. An occassional isolated muscle cramp can be just one of those things that comes with being human.

If you are well hydrated, nourished, and rested, your bike fits well, and you are not injured or overtrained, you can still have an occassional mild muscle cramp. Rest it for a minute with gentle massage and stretching, then ease back into the activity. Only if the problem persists should it be a concern.
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Old 01-01-12, 07:28 PM   #7
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Disclaimer - I'm not trained in anything relevant to the OPs question.
Hydration and electrolytes definitely seem to come into play in dealing with cramps, but the OP is talking about cycling 5.4 miles once a week. I'm going to suggest that "going harder" and once a week could easily produce a muscle cramp just due to overuse. I captain a tandem and am reasonably fit, but a single, ill-advised push up a short, steep grade, let's say 16%, can precipitate cramps, the result of a short, maximum effort. I'd suggest either taking it easier on a weekly jaunt to the store or riding more.
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Old 01-02-12, 12:38 PM   #8
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Unless you're talking about a 5 mile ride up a 15% grade, I doubt very much that electrolytes or fluids are your problem. The number one cause of this might be that you're simply out of shape. Cramping caused by being out of shape, vs. cramping that occurs in trained athletes are two different things. Yes, they're both cramps, but if you're doing a 5 mile round trip, even at a slow pace of 10 miles per hour, we're only talking about 30 minutes max. At that rate, you won't be dehydrated, and it's extremely unlikely you'd sweat enough to deplete your body of electrolytes. Cramping "solutions" that are meant for people doing intense exercising are not ones that will work very well for people who are just starting out.

Sorry to be so blunt, but the solution may be as simple as increasing your mileage until you're cycling for 30 minutes to an hour every other day.
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Old 01-05-12, 03:26 PM   #9
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there are a few studies of cramping in marathoners in the medical literature. they found that electrolyte supplemntation before/during the event didn't do anything to lessen the chance of cramping or the severity (but test it and see what works for you- tho if you're just grocery shopping.... I doubt that is the issue). A lot of hard core cyclists that I know munch on TUMS (for the calcium) if they are experiencing cramping issues. They also include a good magnesium source in their diets

the warming up;/cooling down gradually, increasing exercise volume in moderation and stretching are all great advice. So is keeping your legs warm in cold weather. If the problem persists talk to your doctor.
good luck

Last edited by Sekhem; 01-05-12 at 03:38 PM.
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Old 01-06-12, 12:05 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Sekhem View Post
there are a few studies of cramping in marathoners in the medical literature. they found that electrolyte supplemntation before/during the event didn't do anything to lessen the chance of cramping or the severity (but test it and see what works for you- tho if you're just grocery shopping.... I doubt that is the issue). A lot of hard core cyclists that I know munch on TUMS (for the calcium) if they are experiencing cramping issues. They also include a good magnesium source in their diets

the warming up;/cooling down gradually, increasing exercise volume in moderation and stretching are all great advice. So is keeping your legs warm in cold weather. If the problem persists talk to your doctor.
good luck
Agree with you completely. But I'm curious about the Tums. My wife has bad muscle cramps, not related to exhaustion, apparently not related to hydration or electrolytes either. They yield almost immediately to 500mg Tums, nothing else. We take 500mg cal/mag after a ride and with breakfast. We're sure not low on it. And the 1000mg Tums don't work nearly as well, almost don't work at all. And the cramps' cessation is so immediate, maybe 30 seconds after a Tums. So what's going on? Seems like maybe a ph change rather than anything to do with the specific mineral calcium. We can't figure it out.
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Old 01-06-12, 11:15 AM   #11
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Does that mean I can still have a bowl of chili at the lunch stop and take the Tums afterwards and I'll be ok for the rest of the century ride?
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Old 01-06-12, 12:23 PM   #12
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Only take the Tums after the technicolor yawn.
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Old 01-06-12, 05:31 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by Chaco View Post
Unless you're talking about a 5 mile ride up a 15% grade, I doubt very much that electrolytes or fluids are your problem. The number one cause of this might be that you're simply out of shape. Cramping caused by being out of shape, vs. cramping that occurs in trained athletes are two different things. Yes, they're both cramps, but if you're doing a 5 mile round trip, even at a slow pace of 10 miles per hour, we're only talking about 30 minutes max. At that rate, you won't be dehydrated, and it's extremely unlikely you'd sweat enough to deplete your body of electrolytes. Cramping "solutions" that are meant for people doing intense exercising are not ones that will work very well for people who are just starting out.

Sorry to be so blunt, but the solution may be as simple as increasing your mileage until you're cycling for 30 minutes to an hour every other day.
OP is possibly riding with heavy groceries on his ride. He gets hill credit for that.

We don't know all what else goes on in his life. He can be dehydrated from sitting in the spa/sauna at the gym after weight-lifting, from heavy breathing during his outdoor exercise (dry air), wearing "weight loss" neoprene/plastic exercise clothes that make you sweat, diuretics/blood pressure meds, alcohol/hangovers, ...

All we can do is throw out possible causes but OP is going to have to figure it out what makes sense.
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