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  1. #1
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    Protein VS Cramping:

    last season I had horrid leg cramps all race season. I have narrowed it down to a few things.

    Being a new rider starting riding 2 years ago, I know I need to get in some longer rides. (I consistanly cramp around the 20km mark). I have a cross bike that will help me get in some longer low power rides.

    I eat ok....no fast food or anything like that but I do have a sweet tooth the odd day(butter tarts are awesome) but I am wondering if lack of protein would have an impact on cramping. Mabye taking a protein supplement on a regular basis (No soy for me)

    One other thing I have noticed is I drink alot of water the night before a race trying to hydrate to prevent cramping. I have read that can dilute electrolytes. Any truth to that?

  2. #2
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    The two things that come to mind when you say muscle cramps is dehydration and vitamin deficiency. Since you say you consume a lot of water before a race I would be looking into the vitamins/minerals. B vitamins, Vitamin c, Calcium and Magnesium deficiency can all cause cramps. I would supplement one at a time to see if it eliminates the problem and if it does I would start eating foods rich in this vitamin or mineral.
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    Dam my wife is almost always right. She has been trying to get me to regularly take calcium/mag suppliments.

    I am going to try to get in to a plan so as race season is 3 months away.

  4. #4
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    Electrolyte replacement. No sports drinks. Something like Endurolytes, GU, Elete or even home brew (there are a couple of recipes in this forum). There are other choices, try them out before a big ride, make sure you can stomach them.

  5. #5
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    If calcium, magnesium, vitamin, salt or other deficiencies caused cramps, they would be generalised and not just in certain body parts. Hyponatraemia caused by over hydration (water intoxication) could be a cause, but it usually causes nausea, vomiting and faintness as well as cramps.

    No-one really has the cause of cramps sorted, but overuse of specific muscles seems to be the likely cause. That could mean muscle imbalance, tightness, poor cycling technique or poor ergonomics (setup). Perhaps get your riding position assessed and work on some specific exercises addressing the muscles that are cramping.

    By the way, I am not saying magnesium and calcium supplements will not help, but how they help is not understood. The human body maintains homeostasis and will excrete anything not needed if it can (we are not talking heavy metals though).

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    I tried GU during races and I found I got more gassy then normal. After a big ride or race I get gassy. I did have some luck on a 50km mtb race/mix of roads and single track with gels. When I would feel the cramps coming I would take one and it would keep them at bay for 20-30min. I went through 4 of them to finish the race only to go into full leg cramp (quads hams and calves). About 10 min later all was fine and legs were not sore the next day. kinda weird considering I was near screaming pain when it happened.

    im rambling on. Mabye I should be taking the electrolyte drink the night or day before?

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by machine4321 View Post
    I tried GU during races and I found I got more gassy then normal. After a big ride or race I get gassy. I did have some luck on a 50km mtb race/mix of roads and single track with gels. When I would feel the cramps coming I would take one and it would keep them at bay for 20-30min. I went through 4 of them to finish the race only to go into full leg cramp (quads hams and calves). About 10 min later all was fine and legs were not sore the next day. kinda weird considering I was near screaming pain when it happened.

    im rambling on. Mabye I should be taking the electrolyte drink the night or day before?


    If you wait until a day before you are setting yourself up for failure. You need to stay hydrated and with a good electrolyte balance all of the time, your daily diet might need some tweaking to keep you up on trace minerals etc. Its surprisingly hard to meet some of the daily recommended minimums on some things like Potassium etc.

  8. #8
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    So really you answered your own question in your first post. Like Ridnparadise said there is nobody who has pinpointed the cause of cramping in sport. So there is no one real answer and there is no magic bean to stop it, sorry.

    The best way is to keep up with your training keep hydrated and fuelled during training rides and races. Good nutrition and hydration during the rest of the week will also help make you feel better all around so keep that up.

    As far as protein goes you are not trying to get big so you don't need to worry about it too much as long as you are eating a balanced diet. Anywhere from 20 to 35% of your cal coming from protein.
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    Quote Originally Posted by machine4321 View Post
    ...
    but I am wondering if lack of protein would have an impact on cramping. Mabye taking a protein supplement on a regular basis (No soy for me)

    One other thing I have noticed is I drink alot of water the night before a race trying to hydrate to prevent cramping. I have read that can dilute electrolytes. Any truth to that?
    High protein can trigger cramping if not consumed with enough water, although that does not sound like your cause. Your body needs water to process the proteins and utilize the amino acids. If you do not drink enough, it will rob the intercellular fluid (and then, indirectly the intracellular fluid as the body tries to maintain fluid equilibrium). And thus cramping as the now water deprived tissues are unable to efficiently transport Na and K.

    Ca and Mg deficiencies can also be cause. Rather than Ca/Mg supplements, just drink some milk. Yeah, I know it is fashionable in some circles to eliminate all dairy from your diet, but IMHO that is junk science (and there is a lot of nutrition junk science on the internet, even from some hucksters with MDs after their name).

    Take a look at your diet first. If that seems OK, look at your pre-ride stretching and warm up routine, and your post-ride stretching/cool-down.

    I am beginning to sound like a broken record with my advocacy of formal education in nutrition. Here is a free MOOC on nutrition that starts on Jan 20. Other nutrition related courses are scheduled to begin over the next few months. Free college level courses in nutrition and physiology. They are not easy, and require an effort on your part to get maximum benefit. However, you can do the coursework on your schedule, and download all the material for future reference.

    https://www.coursera.org/course/lifenutr
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  10. #10
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    I find a protein/carb sports drink (Accelerade or similar home brew) helps amazingly with recovery and muscle soreness. I ran a 1/2 marathon Saturday and felt great Sunday.

    When I was training for my full marathon I found I had to be super critical about hydration and diet before long rides...

    I couldn't eat Mexican and salty/spicy foods before training runs and had to be critical about my coffee/tea/soda intake.

    I now kill a Nalgene (or 3) a day while at the office.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by hokiebrett View Post
    I find a protein/carb sports drink (Accelerade or similar home brew) helps amazingly with recovery and muscle soreness. I ran a 1/2 marathon Saturday and felt great Sunday.

    When I was training for my full marathon I found I had to be super critical about hydration and diet before long rides...

    I couldn't eat Mexican and salty/spicy foods before training runs and had to be critical about my coffee/tea/soda intake.

    I now kill a Nalgene (or 3) a day while at the office.
    Did that training for a marathon include carb loading (glycogen loading) prior to the race and if so, for how long (sorry, my question mark key has karked it) Did you get cramps in the marathon or training runs, or only when riding. There may be some messages in that as well as hydration in the days leading up to events.

    dave54 gave a good summary of protein metabolism and I totally agree with his recommendation for full cream milk. As far as nutrition courses go, I am not so sure. For the elite athlete (international level), the details of nutrition are controlled by trainers, nutritionists and dieticians and do have an impact on outcomes. However, for most people it is food that makes the difference, not supplements. I am not a fan of reductionist nutrition.

    There have been endurance athletes for a long time and still there is no consensus on cramps. Therefore, what you have to do is think about the details of your cramping:

    Is it the same muscle or muscles every time, or different ones
    Does it happen consistently after certain foods or with certain diet regimes leading up to events
    Do they reduce with electrolyte drinks or glucose on the ride
    Are they associated with heat
    Are they more likely after a series of rest days or not
    Does cadence have an influence
    etc

    Despite all the research and money that goes with micro-analysis of nutrition, for almost everyone the best way to avoid cramps is to stay active at all times, as well as doing your chosen sporting activity regularly, plus eat real food, balancing protein, fat and carbs the way it was in the western world, pre-1940's.

    So, rather than the 15-20% fat, 25% protein and 55-60% carb proportions internationally promoted as "healthy" for decades now, I favour protein 30-35%, Carbs 30-40% and fat 30-40% on no fixed daily regime.

    What that means is eating the best food you can afford, mostly grown rather than made and bought as fresh as possible. Lots of seafood, meats, poultry, none of them fat reduced or lean or trimmed or otherwise, eggs, herbs, vegetables, all natural and historical dairy products including butter and ghee, nuts of all kinds, plus seasonal fruit when you feel like it, plus preserved foods whether in fat, pickled, dried, or shredded and compacted like salami, but not with added sugars (except for the little bits in beer and pickled preserves). If you live in Europe you can add quality bread at times and in other places grain-based, local staples without making them the single largest part of the energy intake. Plus sensible amounts of alcohol and real chocolate.

    When your cells have established access to energy continuously, they will function well and cramping is far less likely. Access to energy from glycogen, blood glucose and fat stores is better than access to glycogen and blood glucose only. The only way to consistently access durable energy stores is to limit reliance on carbohydrate based energy stores over a prolonged period of time.

    What I am saying is that before you get into the minutia of cellular energy production and the mystery of cramp pathophysiology, it makes more sense to put more time, money and effort into finding, buying and preparing real food that has not been processed or separated from the less marketable bits that people used to eat. It may not stop you cramping all the time, but I bet you cramp less often. And I bet you will find a better way to live and ride.

  12. #12
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    Never fought cramping while running. Muscle fatigue (primarily due to 2-4 hrs of impact) and mechanical pain was my issue... Protein helped. I'd also stack a protein recovery shake with creatine and glutamine to help muscle repair and joint soreness.

    Carb wise, I actually did the opposite. I read a bunch about carb depletion training and found it really does make you strong on long runs.

    I really didn't focus much on sports nutrition. As a general rule, I tried to eat healthy and stay hydrated.

    Post training runs, I would gorge myself as a cheat meal...

  13. #13
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    Think it's still not fully understood, and can also be very specific and personal. I know for me that I have greatly increased carbs, protein and fats during bulking phases with no effects on cramping. The same is true when in a cutting phase when the only thing i don't cut is veggies. One sure fire way for me to bring on cramps is to drink too much too soon before exercise.
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  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by theMeat View Post
    One sure fire way for me to bring on cramps is to drink too much too soon before exercise.
    x2

    Ohhhhhh yeah. Learned this lesson a long time ago. Nasty stomach cramps if I drink too much before (and during) extended exercise.

  15. #15
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    Quote Originally Posted by Ridnparadise View Post
    ... However, for most people it is food that makes the difference, not supplements. I am not a fan of reductionist nutrition...
    I agree. Real food is better. You get all the nutrients and in the same amounts/ratios that your body evolved with and adapted to. Supplements should be used if diet alone cannot correct a nutrition imbalance.

    I suggested academic coursework as a counterbalance to all the junk nutrition advice on the internet. If you understand how the body utilizes the various nutrients and the processes of digestion and cell metabolism, you can start recognizing the crap advice on the snake oil .com web sites, as well as fine tuning your diet to suit you as an individual.
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  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by dave54 View Post
    I suggested academic coursework as a counterbalance to all the junk nutrition advice on the internet. If you understand how the body utilizes the various nutrients and the processes of digestion and cell metabolism, you can start recognizing the crap advice on the snake oil .com web sites, as well as fine tuning your diet to suit you as an individual.
    While I'll agree that knowledge is good, and that you're more likely to get more consistent good info from an academic establishment, likely being the key word there, I'd guess op just wants to know how to help with his cramping, not to be nutritionist. Furthermore, if you promote academic courses as the only way to get good info, well, that's just more junk internet advice.

    OP, if I think back to when i used to get cramping pretty regularly, once i figured out that hydrating too much too soon before exercise was a cause for me, that helped alot, but i still did get cramps occasionally. Then, not for cramping reasons, I cleaned up my diet a bunch and did a few cleansing cycles and since then haven't had any cramping that i can remember. Talk about some snake oil bs, look into cleansing. There are a few that I've tried, after much research, that I have to say helped produce good results, but also have to say that you don't have to buy any special pills to get a good cleanse, just the right foods for a time will do it. You may want to give it a try. The only things you have to loose is probably a few pounds, and sacrificing some of the foods you like for a while.
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  17. #17
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    Good info in here! Thanks.

  18. #18
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    You're welcome, and like "AZ" said, when it comes to hydration, slow and steady wins the race.

    If you do a thorough cleansing you'll be removing lots of healthy needed bacteria from your digestive track, so up your live cultures after.
    Round and round we go

  19. #19
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    The OP is asking about muscle (leg) cramps, not the same thing as stomach or side cramps.

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    I have been reading alot lately and the conclusion is my nutrition really needs to be worked on as well as good'ol working on distance and intensity.

    I take no vitamins and have always pigged out after a hard ride. I am not learning how important it is to replace with the right things.

    Thanks for the info and keep anything else that might be relivant.

  21. #21
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    Just an update. Had an early season training camp in N.C and no cramps. The cal/mag zinc and potassium must have helped. Every day I was riding 20-30km with an average of 1500ft of climbing. Even got a 100km road ride with 6000ft of climbing and I felt great. Even the next day I tried my best to cramp up and no go.

    Race pace may tell a different story but as of right now all is well.

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