3 causes and 7 solutions for cramping

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The 3 causes of and above all the 7 solutions for cramping

Cramp is one of the most mysterious phenomena in exercise physiology. One has never had to deal with it, while the other seems to be his eternal archrival. But what exactly is cramp or, more importantly, what can you do about it.

What is cramp?

Cramp is actually an involuntary muscle contraction. Without wanting it, the muscle contracts, often in all its intensity, making further cycling impossible. Cramps can occur at several places in the body, but for cyclists it is usually the thighs or calves that suffer. Apart from possible medical causes of cramp, such as kidney failure or pregnancy, there is actually never one cause for cramp. So it is not at all the case that exercise physiology has been in the dark for decades as you sometimes read here and there. It’s only not really satisfactory that there is not one cause and therefore unfortunately not one cure for it. Actually, there are only three causes that unfortunately also have an effect on each other to make things a bit more complicated.

The 3 causes of cramp

  1. Overuse of the muscles. Cramps due to exercise never occur during your recovery ride with your hands on the handlebars. Therefore, the first and most important cause is very simple. If you have ridden too long and too intensively, cramp may be lurking. As a result, the muscles are no longer properly supplied with nutrients because they are running out, for example, to be able to function normally and cramp may be the result.
  2. A disturbed fluid balance. Without water, everything in the body stops. The body consists for 55% of water and is the building block for all tissues. In addition, it ensures that transport of nutrients can take place. Water contains minerals, also called electrolytes. Magnesium, potassium, sodium and calcium, for example, are minerals that are essential for normal muscle function. These minerals ensure that the sodium-potassium pump in the muscles can continue to do its work, causing the muscles to contract. In case of a disturbed fluid balance due to too much loss of fluid and therefore also loss of minerals, it is precisely this lack that can contribute to the development of cramps.
  3. Reduced blood flow. When less blood can reach the muscles and the supply of nutrients is again compromised, cramps can also occur. Reduced blood supply can be caused by a pinched blood vessel, but also vasoconstriction, the narrowing of the blood vessels in very cold weather, for example. Most often, however, a cyclist’s blood supply is reduced due to dehydration in very hot weather.

The question that now stands up is, of course, how you can arm yourself against cramp. Again, it is not a solution that will make a difference, but a combination of factors.

What to do against cramp?

  1. Buy a power meter and know where your limit is. It can be as simple as that sometimes.
  2. Keep drinking on your ride. During warm weather, try to drink at least 500 ml of isotonic sportsdrink. Preferably not water, but a little (10-30 grams of dissolved carbohydrates) plus some extra electrolytes.
  3. Keep eating well on your ride. Rides in which you ask a lot of yourself and which last longer than 2 hours, you should actually take at least 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour. Preferably even 90 grams per hour in a ratio 2:1 glucose:fructose, but that’s actually step two.
  4. Extra electrolytes. Some people swear by magnesium pills for example, but a banana full of potassium can contribute as well. As literature shows, a tablet of magnesium is really not a panacea. It is a combination of all the above mentioned points to which a banana, magnesium and extra electrolytes in your water bottle can certainly contribute.
  5. Be careful with alcohol and coffee. Alcohol has a considerable diuretic effect on the body. A lot of alcohol the evening before the race is never a good idea for many reasons, but it also causes you to leave with a disturbed fluid balance. Coffee, although only slightly, also has a diuretic effect on the body. A lot of coffee before the start is best avoided.
  6. Acclimatize. Humans are incredibly capable of adapting to warm conditions. Unfortunately that only takes 7 to 10 days to really be optimally acclimatized, but even in 4 to 6 days big differences can be noticed. It has been shown that acclimatized athletes lose less moisture, but also less minerals in the same amount of moisture. So a few extra days before D-day to get used to the temperature is also a way to prevent cramping.
  7. A good bike position. A wrong position may cause the wrong or excessive use of certain muscle groups, but it may also restrict the blood supply. A good bicycle position can prevent this and ensure as efficient a transmission as possible.

Our sport dietician can help you with a better food and drink planning on and off the bike. We can also help you with our bike fitting services. If you want to train better, take a look at our training plan app JOIN Cycling or take a look at our personal coaching plans.