May 2, 2017 at 12:22 pm #214532
I get really bad leg cramps on long rides, particularly in the summer when I sweat a lot. Anyone have any tips I can include in an upcoming article on the topic?
I’ve had decent results with electrolyte pills, but I usually take these after the fact. Looking for ways to prevent muscle cramps in the first place!
May 2, 2017 at 12:36 pm #214533
May 2, 2017 at 1:24 pm #214537
Have you tried taking the electrolyte pills before the cramps start? If they occur at around the same time each ride or if you can tell when you’re pushing yourself to the point where cramps start, maybe you could take the electrolyte pill before you reach that point. That way you may avoid having the cramps at all.
May 2, 2017 at 3:39 pm #214554
Another very good thread Mr. Jeff !!!
more fluids would be my best guess
May 2, 2017 at 3:55 pm #214558
You have to start hydrating at least 2 days ahead of time. I remember when I was in Germany I planned a 26 mile ride. It took a lot but I didn’t drink any beer for almost a week and I drank a lot of water and power aid for 2 days before the ride. I also consistently drank water throughout the trip. I didn’t get crams until the very end because the ride ended on a steep incline. Hydration and your fitness level is the key to avoiding cramp when I ride. I hope that helps. Make sure you add in some healthy high carb meals in there too.
May 2, 2017 at 5:21 pm #214559
hydrate, and banana before a ride.
May 2, 2017 at 6:03 pm #214560
There are many ways to answer this Q, including some of the aforementioned. Hydration, pre/intra/post, are all key. Existing fitness, climate, bike setup/fit are all other key items that come to mind. As we all known hot/humid conditions increase sweating (increase salt loss -> potassium follows), hence, increased likelihood of cramping at the muscular level. I do quite a bit of endurance road bike racing and mountain bike racing, >100 miles on road bike and > 50 miles on mtb is what I consider endurance racing for this conversation. I personally use a combination of tailwind powder and salt sherpa in my water bottles. The combination of both of these provides adequate sodium and potassium repletion, in addition to other mineral/electrolytes/glucose. Taking all these things into consideration and applying the tailwind and the salt sherpa, adequate training to increase exercise tolerance specific to the efforts that bring on the cramping is very important. If climbing a certain section/grade brings on cramping, replicate that in your training on the trainer or do specific hill sprints. I hope this helps and I thoroughly enjoy reading the threads you guys start. Links to both can be found below, and I have no financial ties to either:
May 2, 2017 at 6:34 pm #214563
The best thing for cramps is pure Pickle juice. Nothing works better.
May 2, 2017 at 11:56 pm #214569
Many people of course add salt/sodium in some form, and this seems to work for them. For me, I was cramping a couple of years ago on longer rides in the summer. More sodium was not the answer. I started focusing on other cations such as potassium, calcium, magnesium. All my cramps disappeared. In the summers especially I try to eat a lot of bananas, low fat yogurt, veggies and homemade soups, potatoes and various citrus fruits and melons. On the trail on longer rides, I carry yogurt, some melons and use Emergen-C Electrolyte mix in my water. I add those on top of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with an apple as my main energy source. I also supplement with a quality multi-vitamin.
May 3, 2017 at 6:09 am #214570
There seems to be 2 major methods used to avoid cramps (other than the obvious things like being hydrated and fit). There’s the electrolyte method and the nuero-muscular (NM) treatment.
I’ve always had moderate success with various electrolyte methods but I discovered the latter works wonders with really long efforts. I personally used the product “Hot Shot”, but I understand the same effect can be had with peppers, pickle juice, and others. In a 50 mile race I had done twice before, I always had my first cramp at mile 20 and then had to milk the legs for the next 30 with comical success (read: severe cramping). With my third attempt at said race with the use of the NM treatment, I only had one minor cramp twinge at mile 40 that resolved in 2 minutes and never came back.
May 3, 2017 at 6:47 am #214571
Aside from those electrolyte tabs, I also stop every 5-10 miles and do some quick stretches. I also recently started wearing compression sleeves during my ride, and compression socks afterwards. Both have helped a lot. A lot of people forget how much proper recovery can help with the next ride.
May 3, 2017 at 7:31 am #214572
I second the pickle juice vote. My wife showed me research about it, but I was admittedly too bored with it to actually read it all the way through. Think about it, if my wife reads it, isn’t me also reading it an inefficient use of my time? But I’ve used it, it worked.
May 3, 2017 at 8:03 am #214575
Mustard packets are handy for on trail cramps. They don’t take up any room in your pack. Just maybe keep them in a plastic bag so you don’t end up with a mustard covered multitool.
May 3, 2017 at 8:22 am #214577
Great tips everyone! I’ve tried most of these products (including Pickle Juice shots) and they do seem to help.
@TheCaptain mentioned taking breaks to stretch and I think he might be onto something. I don’t stop often during my rides, even to eat or drink. I need to be more regular about taking breaks (maybe setting an alarm to go off every 30 minutes) to fuel up and stretch.
A few folks mentioned Tailwind and based on some research we did a while back, it’s one of the best choices out there thanks to its high electrolyte content. I actually used Tailwind for a while and still got cramps–but probably because I wasn’t drinking it often enough during my ride. 🙂
May 3, 2017 at 9:19 am #214587
Knowing your distaste for wearing a pack that’s not surprising. I too don’t like packs, and I sometimes end up not drinking enough for that reason. Like on the Brutal Loop I only drank about 2 bottles, which was dumb. Probably should have had more like 4-5.
Packs do have bottles beat in terms of ease of drinking.
May 3, 2017 at 9:29 am #214589
May 3, 2017 at 9:58 am #214595
@JeffBarber: “I don’t stop often during my rides, even to eat or drink. I need to be more regular about taking breaks (maybe setting an alarm to go off every 30 minutes) to fuel up and stretch.”
Wow. You sound like you’re a blast to ride with. Maybe not. Hey, no worries. Whatever turns you on.
However, rather than just heckle you, I will share with you an observation. My number one riding buddy of the last eighteen years is one of the fastest riders I’ve ever met. This is not just among my group of friends, but with all riders I’ve come across. He can out ride more 95% of the people we’ve ever ridden with (we’ve ridden all over N America and in Europe). He rarely races, but when he does he is always top five if not on the podium. The kicker is that he is huge, standing 6’3″ clocking in at 245 lbs and he rides huge big travel bikes (currently a Wreckoning). I’ve seen him on multiple occasions chase down spindly lil’ XC kooks on wispy hard tails and beat them UP the climbs. Oh, and on the downhills…fughettaboutit. Gone. If I can keep him in sight on a ride I’m kicking ass.
He used to be like you. He’d ride like a maniac and never stop for anything. About a half dozen years ago he started getting cramps so bad that his only relief was rolling around on the ground where we’d find him after eventually arriving where he stopped. His intensity nearly permanently sidelined him when he could no longer ignore back pain that kept flaring up on his masochism fests. He had to have spinal surgery due to portion of vertebrae that had broken from strain. Fortunately, he recovered, but his approach changed. He began stopping every so often, maybe every 20-30+ minutes. Maybe to have a snack, check the bike, wait on the rest of us, take in any view, etc. He now is riding stronger than ever and still fast as hell too. His cramping issues are all, but gone and he says he is just simply having more fun. Stopping to smell the roses…or maybe chain lube (or bear scat?)…what a concept; madness.
I am nowhere near the rider he is, but stopping to have something good to eat (meat bar, Clif nut butter, dried figs, a beer [especially an Orpheus Atalanta…yum!!!] if it’s a long ride) has given me much faster Strava (such an a-hole!) time segments and many PR’s shattered. While I don’t take much of anything serious beyond my lack of seriousness, I realize that some riders only joy comes from how fast they ride and/or push themselves. Again, whatever turns them on. Meanwhile, I will continue to heckle them, laugh at myself and ride on.
May 3, 2017 at 10:04 am #214600
Wow. You sound like you’re a blast to ride with. Maybe not. Hey, no worries. Whatever turns you on.
I’m just trying to keep up with the faster guys–no time to wait! Haha, mostly kidding. Your #1 riding buddy sounds a lot like me, thanks for sharing.
May 15, 2017 at 9:06 am #215634
I was sometimes cramping up after long rides, and on rare occasions waking up from leg cramps the night after doing long rides (+20 miles), so I told my doctor. After some tests, she told me that my hydration levels and sodium/electrolytes looked good, but I had low potassium and low vitamin D.
For potassium: potatoes, bananas, tomato sauce, water melons, spinach, beans, and yogurt.
For vitamin D: fish, milk, yogurt, eggs, sunlight (be very careful with sun-burn), mushrooms, some orange juices, and some breakfast cereals.
A good bit of stretching before and after the long ride also helped too. I rarely ever get the cramps anymore.
May 15, 2017 at 9:48 am #215641
note on the vitamin D,,, you really need it!!!!! without proper vitamin D levels your body will not process testosterone. And of course if you are not processing T properly it causes all types of fatigue and muscle issues. I personally take vitamin D supplements every morning.
Also a note on hydrating two days ahead. I would think if you have to start that far ahead, you probably are not hydrating enough on a day to day basis.
May 17, 2017 at 9:57 pm #215960
Sorry buddy for the cramps. I understand your frustrations because I have been there myself. The tips shared here are all helpful …..However, I strongly believe hydration and fitness level are important here. Also make sure you boost yourself up with some electrolyte pills. It helps a lot…Trust me! Meanwhile check out the links below should you require a HYDRATION SET & CHAIN/BIKE LOCK . You can put it in your cart pending when you will be ready, that way the prices will still be the same even though that for the public may go up.
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May 18, 2017 at 7:37 pm #216106
Do you cramp during the ride or later?
I mix a hydro-flask of Gatorade plus carry a bottle of water for my rides. Try to drink plenty of water afterwards, especially if I’m drinking alcohol. Also drink tonic water instead of pop (though I do like a good root beer).
May 19, 2017 at 7:55 am #216148
Do you cramp during the ride or later?
It’s almost always during the ride. I rarely get cramps afterward or even at night.
Also drink tonic water instead of pop
You may be onto something with the tonic water. One of the things I read is that quinine may prevent muscle cramps, though in the US the only way you can get quinine is through tonic water. Just don’t ingest too much quinine or you could end up like Kurtz in Heart of Darkness. 🙂
Thanks for all the tips everyone, we’re publishing an article on the subject on Tuesday which incorporates many of your suggestions.
May 19, 2017 at 3:34 am #216135
After a ride mix Cinnamon and Honey in a tablespoon and take it, I don’t get too many cramps might have to do with the fact that we also tend to mix honey into our coffee during breaks at our usual pitstop, apparently it works.
May 25, 2017 at 3:03 pm #216806
I have been riding for many years, so have deduced it is not the muscle exertion that necessarily brings on cramps, as my legs are conditioned to the movements and intensity of mountainbiking (professional footballers who are paid to train all day every day also suffer from cramps ).
I stretch every morning (whether riding or not), eat bananas and yoghurt daily and believe I hydrate correctly, having tried all the (expensive) proprietary anti-cramp tablets available now take salt tablets before during and after a long ride or on a stage race, or when doing my work ( mountainbike trail building), which can also be intensive.
This seems to keep the cramps I used to experience on the rides under control, but I also suffer from cramps in bed at night when asleep and not exercising ( scares the hell out of the wife when I leap out of bed whimpering) at restaurants ( embarrasses the kids when hamstring cramp locks my leg under the chair and I dance around gritting my teeth and grimacing like an idiot) or the other day just getting out of the car ( awkward when you look like a drunk because you can’t stand up). Researching the internet suggests it is to do with the electrolyte balance in the body but I haven’t found a definitive answer yet. Please let me know if you do!
May 31, 2017 at 12:29 am #217310
I did a solo race on Saturday Glentress7 Tweedlove event Scotland. I suffered cramp to the point it was forced me out.
No amount of bananas electrolyte drinks was making it go away hours after either. Even a massage session (as he wretches on the table in contractions)
A friend gave me this link
All the years I tried a lot of things. The article is the closest to pining it down so far for me anyway.
May 31, 2017 at 8:49 am #217329
A magnesium deficiency will increase leg cramps.
May 31, 2017 at 1:46 pm #217396
Here are few that I have not seen mentioned yet that have helped me.
Infinit is a good option if you don’t like to stop often or eat much (I know some IRONMAN veterans that just us GoFar). Bonus, is you can order custom blends to add extra anti cramp ingredients (e.g. sodium). Additionally, the recently released Tripwire, that comes in Dill Pickle flavor, that apparently is more cramp specific (I’m yet to try). https://www.infinitnutrition.us/
Base Performance Electrolyte Salt, unlike others on the market this is not in pill format. Instead it is loose salt you just lick you thumb shake the container on the wet spot and lick the salt for faster absorbstion. https://www.baseperformance.com/collections/supplements
November 16, 2017 at 8:13 pm #229037
I am 67 years old and started mountain biking at 63. I have participated in many sports all my life and suffered many cramps over the years way to often. (It may run in my family since all six of us deals with this). I have tried several different things and the one remedy that I know works every time and I keep with me on EVERY ride is muscle rub such as icy hot, max-freeze, etc. It does take a few excruciating minutes absorb into the muscles but once does the cramp is gone.
P.S. I am a vegetarian and that probably contributes to my cramps. However I have been taken liver pills every meal for around a year now and the problem has significantly decreased.
November 16, 2017 at 8:46 pm #229039
I almost never cramp because I eat lots of pickles and mustard. I race CAT 1 DH and haven’t had one cramp do to this formula!
November 17, 2017 at 8:25 am #229048
Here’s a link to an article about leg cramps if anyone is looking for more tips:
July 6, 2020 at 4:52 pm #484199
I went through a stretch where I was constantly experiencing debilitating leg cramps on the trail or shortly after I finished a ride. Usually hit me in my inner quads and they were brutally painful. I tried a sugar and salt solution in my Camelback, pickle juice before a ride, electrolyte tablets and I experimented with all manner of different foods before riding. The only thing that worked for me was fitness. As I began riding more frequently and got in better shape the cramps went away. I was riding 7-8 very technical miles and getting horrible cramps and feeling completely exhausted when done. Now I’m riding twice that mileage with no cramps and feeling great at the end of the ride.
July 26, 2020 at 7:49 pm #500102
Thanks for this thread sir Jeff, I learned a lot. And to all contributing bikers, shout out to all of you.
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