After approximately 3 hours of riding (mountain bike only, not road bike, hiking, etc), I begin to develop quadricep cramps that result in severe quad soreness the next day. I am using Cytomax or Gatorade, so electrolytes don't appear to be the problem. My pedals are Shimano 520's. Could it be my riding form, or something else?
I too have experience leg cramps. My last 24 hrs race by the 4th lap my legs stiffen so bad I could not walk. Today, i rode for an 1 1/2 hrs and I had calf cramps. I am a pretty strong rider and have good endurance but cramps seem to always get me. It has be a problem for a long time. I was advised to drink sport drinks, take vitamin c, L-glutamine and eat plenty of bananas, i still get the cramps. If you hear or read of a solution please pass it along.
No good answer
I have never had cramps until recently. Twice in the last 6 months I developed quad cramps severe enough to put me on the ground while riding. The second time was yesterday after a 2-3 hour ride. I am just getting back in shape, so I suspect that muscle fatigue is the main cause.
I did a search of the medical literature and found it relatively unhelpful. Sodium concentrations appear to be lower after an endurance race (marathon / triathalon) in athletes that cramp but the differences are minor and still well within normal ranges for sodium in the blood and the other electrolytes (potasium / chloride) seemed unchanged.
REF: Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2005 Jul;37(7):1081-5
Br J Sports Med. 2004 Aug;38(4):488-92
One study did show that hydration with an electrolyte / carbohydrate/ sodium solution delayed the onset of cramping but did not prevent it. Unfortunately, they only compared the cramping in people using the solution to cramping in people who were not able to hydrate at all, so there results may only show that hydration is better than dehydration at delaying the onset of cramps. No Duh.
REF: J Athl Train. 2005 Jun;40(2):71-75
If you want to look at the medical studies done on this subject, go to:
and then type "exercise associated muscle cramps" in the search window.
Here's an excerpt from an article in the Journal of sports medicine that seems to sum up medical knowledge on the subject.
"There are no proven strategies for the prevention of exercise-induced muscle cramp but regular muscle stretching using post-isometric relaxation techniques, correction of muscle balance and posture, adequate conditioning for the activity, mental preparation for competition and avoiding provocative drugs may be beneficial." Sports Med. 1996 Jun;21(6):409-20.
For me, I hope that better conditioning and better stretching before and after riding will fix the problem and since sodium/electrolyte/glucose/banana's ect. don't hurt, any one of them is worth a try. I plan to add Gatorade to my long rides since it is a cheap balanced salt solution.
Thanks for the reply, it was very informative. I believe my cramps are due to fatigue since I am getting back in shape and training harder. I always warm-up and stretch before and after my ride. After reading your reply realized I drink more water then sport drink (cytomax) and maybe I should balance the two a little more. I might not be taking in enough electrolytes. I will experiment on my upcoming rides.
Fact or fiction, I do not know. But, this is what I found concerning my cramps.
I was diagnosed with asthma and was taking Advair, Intal and albutrial (sp?). I was later tested and told to stop all of my asthma meds.
Thinking back, my cramps tended so start with my asthma meds and when I stopped my cramps all but went away.
Double-metric mtb man
I'm on Advair, Singlair and salbutamol (ventolin) for my asthma and can regularly do 4-5 hr rides without any cramping. Unless it was the Intal, the meds may not be the case.
I'd say hydration is one possible issue for the cramping, but perhaps seat and pedal geometry are a bit off and contributing? It seems off that the OP can road bike the same duration (hopefully at a similar intensity) without issue but has a problem with the mtb. I'd recommend giving the seat height and position another look.
Fatigue on its own can cause cramps even if you are well hydrated, fed and electrolyted.
Temperature is also a big factor. It is easy to get your legs cold even when your core is warm. I really f*cked myself up just before xmas by doing a longish (but not super-long) ride in the cold without enough layering on my legs. My butt went into spasm, which in turn started to press on the sciatic nerve, basically causing Piriformis Syndrome. I couldn't sit down to work for a week. It was horrible, and just caused by riding in cold weather and getting tired. (I had a very, very slight back strain which referred down and set the whole thing off, but it was really really slight).
All problems in mountain biking can be solved by going faster, except the ones that are caused by going too fast.
I get cramps, but not very often.
I started with orange juice, basically all pottasium (K) no sodium (Na), pretty good.
Then since this is no good (not scientific and expensive)??, I went to gaterade K and Na equal to the blood, not so good more cramping.
Then I tried Powerade, higher K than Na, better.
Now I am back to orange juice (diluted with water). Best results.
Now my cramps seem to happen only when I stop so I need to streatch right away.
I read in MTB Action that best is probably a low Na diet with a high Na/K replacement during activity.
I'm sticking with orange juice and water.
I d o not take any meds so they are not the issue. although, I hydrate maybe it is not enough and I have to reavaluate how much fluid I am taking in. Seat height and pedal geometry will be look at as well.
My experience with cramps is too heavy of exercise when returning after time off requires more warmup time and more stretching. It also takes more recovery time after workouts. Save the high intensity rides for when you're in shape.
Oh sh!+ just force upgraded to cat1. Now what?
Best thing about an ultra marathon? I just get to ride my bike for X hours!
The problem with most sports drinks is that they only replace sodium and potassium...you also need the rest of the electrolytes to prevent muscle cramping......try Endurolytes at Hammernutrition.com. As a cyclist, I take these,my active friends take these, but the best is that my dad (in his mid 60's) started taking them because he kept cramping (leg muscles) after gardening. He said this is the first time he has not had cramping in his life after working in the heat.
3 hours in? I suspect you're just bonking. Bring some snacks and eat them at the 1 and 2 hour mark.
If that doesn't work, try creatine.
I never had calf cramp problems until the day I started wrestling. We ran everyday and it seemed the more I stretched the worse it was. It got to the point where I couldn't run at which time coach yelled at me :/ Ever since I stoped running everyday it hasn't been a problem. I think it was just because I jumped into running every day.
I do this race every year and always get cramp about 2-3Hrs in, I drink electrolyte which probably helps..so I'm told.
Last year I was at the 3Hr mark going up the last hill (30-40 minute ride/push) cramp hits me so bad in both quads I fall on the track and can't get my bike or me properly out the way of other riders, it was horrendous, then a rider stopped and gave me two sprays from a bottle called Cramp-Stop. 2 Minutes later I'm back up and riding without problems. No idea if it was a placebo effect or not.
So this year I'm thinking maybe it worked and I should get some of that, writing myself little reminder notes and so-on. I also get Magnesium tablets which I take for two weeks before hand as I read somewhere a lack of magnesium may be the cause.
So anyway 40 minutes before the race I am trying to get some of this Cramp-Stop stuff and I can't because the local pharmacies don't have it so I get some other anti-cramp 'naturopathic' (I don't really believe in that stuff) spray that they just happened to have which I buy because I'm desperate and will try anything!
So usual thing 3Hrs in I cramp up and so I start taking this stuff, it seemed to help everytime but not to the same extent. In the previous race I had got the one really bad bout of cramp and then was fine, this year cramped to a lesser extent but lots of it.
So I don't know what to think. Some guys swear by this Cramp-Stop stuff and it may have worked for me or maybe it was just coincidence?
So next year I will get my lazy butt organised and get some of it and try the experiment again.
Magnesium supplements work well against muscle cramping...and it keeps you regular
I know this is an old thread, but I figured it needed my input.
Cramps are very simple. Treat them as such.
All of these suppliments and electrolytes that are apparently missing, thereby causing cramps is only a small, very small part of the equation.
You need to look at the root cause of WHY you are cramping. Yes, electrolytes, vitamins and minerals play a key role. Yes, fatigue and colder/hotter than normal temps play a key role. But these keys are are fairly uncommon unless the rider is feasting on doughnuts and pop every day before a ride or is riding in Death Valley or Alaska in February. Your body has a knack of being able to handle these imbalances quite well.
So, in a nutshell, unless the temperatures are TRULY extreme and/or your body is simply lacking proper nutrition altogether, your muscles make do.
What people fail to realize is that MOST of the time a cramp happens because of one thing... generally. This one thing is simple, but has two parts.
Your muscle needs to do two things, contract and relax. Period.
The contraction is what most people focus on primarily because it is what "gets the work done". Therefore, the RELAXATION is simply forgotten about because, heck it's only relaxing so it can CONTRACT again to do more work.
This is the problem.
When you paid $400 for a "bike fit" what did they do? Yep, they set up your seat height so your leg is in that "sweet spot" for a maximum extention for greatest efficiency. GREAT!
Here's the problem with that.
A muscle NEEDS to relax fully at least once in a while to complete the cycle. This never happens in a full pedal stroke. It's impossible. A truly FULL relaxation of the muscle is with your heel touching your buttocks. Do you ever kick your butt while pedalling? Nope.
So this full contraction/ partial relaxation cycle slowly builds up toxins and lactic acid from the partial movement and the muscle doesn't have a chance tp "flush" so to speak.
So enough on the technical stuff.... So obviously you can't touch your heel to your butt while cycling, so here are some tips to MINIMIZE the possibility of cramping.
1. Proper nutrition. Before, during and after a ride. REAL nutrition... you know, fruit, veggies, protein, fiber and water. Not diets, not Taco Bell, and not pop. Real food the way God intended. (sorry athiests) Beer is ok as it is the nectar of the earth.
2. Stretch your key muscles prior to riding. Not too much, just a good 45-60 second stretch to get the blood flowing
3. Water intake. I didn't say Gatorade, Powerade or Enduralytes. Water. Your muscles need to be hydrated to flush toxins and lactic acid away. You're already screwing them over by only partially relaxing your muscles while pedalling so good hydration gives them the best fighting chance to do their best for you.
4. Electrolytes. This is actually debated in many scientific fields stating that your body has more than enough to sustain itself for many hours of strenuous excersize, but that supplimentation "can't hurt" and if you ARE deficient to begin with (see #1) then supplimentation is going to be a plus.
5. Seat height. While I have discussed this earlier as being more of a cause than a cure for cramps, improper seat height can still cause cramps in many other ways, especially if it is too high which will carry your cramps into your calves. A seat that is too low is inefficient, but will aleiviate some cramping in the calves and quads, but will start to cause cramping in the hamstrings. I always tell people on the trail to lower the seat a bit if they are quad/calf cramping and raise it a bit if the hammys are going nutso.
6. Crank length. This is an expensive solution, but a longer crank arm will give you a little bit more relaxation in each crank, will lower your center of gravity and even give you a bit more climbing power... but the downfall is more pedal strikes, especially on a full squish.
7. Stretch: If you get a cramp. Stop. It won't go away. Suck up your pride, get off the bike and stretch it out. Hold the stretch for at least 45 seconds and 60 if possible. Release slowly and repeat a few times. While doing this suck down as much water as you can afford. Eat something as well. The extra carbs and sugar get your blood flowing which is what your muscles need... the water hydrates them.
8. Consider cutting your ride short if there is ample climbing left. Once you cramp, it's difficult to not re-trigger them on the next climb... especially if you're trying to keep up with faster riders.
9. Don't push it after a cramp. That's a guaranteed re-cramp. Spin
10. Feel a cramp coming on? Stop right then. It's easier to stretch out a budding cramp than a full blown muscle blaster that already has you in the fetal position and begging for your mommy.
11. Stretch: Again??!! Yeesh! Yep. Like I said before, it doesn't have a be a long drawn out event, but you need to give those muscles a chance to go through a few more good full relaxation cycles to help flush the buildup and to ease them back into regular life.
12. RECOVERY. Did I mention recovery? Well then, RECOVERY. If you just took a little spin for an hour, chances are you didn't tear down your muscles too bad. But that same spin at full intensity or an epic 40 mile endurance testosterone fest with maps, six Camelbaks and lack of civilization will do significantly more muscle fiber damage that needs to be repaired. So let it happen. A healthy and undamaged muscle will give you many more miles of cramp free service than one that is damaged and screaming at you to piss off and die. Give your muscles a minimum of 48 hours of passive or active recovery. Both are acceptable.
13. Train: Yes, believe it or not, you probably weren't cut out for that particular ride that day... get over it. Keep riding and alternating short "sprint" rides with longer endurance "epic" rides. Keeps your muscles on their toes and on a constant state of alert and adaptaion mode. This is a good thing.
14. Give yourself a pat on the back after a good cramp.... it means your cranked your arse off and were pushing it. That's just simply being an athelete in my book. Don't be ashamed of a cramp. It happens. To ALL OF US. I once had a fellow rider tell me,"Suck it up, aw you're just faking it." Which is what he truly thought until I pulled my face out of the dirt (to muffle the cries) to look at him... my look was unmistakable and his attitude changed as well. Trust me... there's no face quite like the face of a rider enduring a true cramp.
15. Adapt: Your muscles WILL adapt. They will be able to sustain those short relaxation cycles for many more miles than they did a year ealier. They will be more efficient, requiring less stringent nutritional needs, and they will be more responsive to post cramp treatment (stretching) when the time arrises that you cramp again. You will. Even the endurance racers get them... and noone has legs more adapted to long rides than they do.
I hope this helped.
My fingers are cramping.
Last edited by Mork; 12-16-2009 at 02:16 AM.