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  1. #1
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    Help me with my cramps?

    So if I go out on a ride where I pedal up a mountain for 10 or more miles or just a big day like 30+ on random terrain- after that when I'm standing on a downhill and go to put some hard cranks in to hit a feature or something I will cramp up. Admittedly my fitness fell off with a very snowy winter but I'm not tired. I've tried pregaming with coconut water, taking electrolyte drinks, eating well before and during, etc. I've started taking magnesium citrate every day for a few weeks too. I still get them. Is it a function of fitness, diet, am I a bad person? It may be of use to know that after I start to cramp in my quads and or hammies during a ride i will also experience cramps in other places in my body for the rest of the day. I also experience frequent muscle twitching spells in every day life. It's really starting to suck. I appreciate and insight.

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    Contrary to popular belief, it's usually not hydration/electrolytes issues that cause cramping. I've found high intensity interval training, over-geared/low cadence climbing drills, and isometric strength training (wall sits or "chair pose") to help. It can also help to get deeper with your hip hinge (get your butt farther back) when descending. That fires up your posterior chain, taking some of the load off your quads (and improves handling at the same time.)

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    A recent article from Bicycling mag (calf cramps, but cramps nonetheless)...

    https://www.bicycling.com/training/g...ing-on-a-ride/


    Like CT said above, conditioning is important. I've also found that when I cramp, I push through them (which is painful initially) and they fade.
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  4. #4
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    At the risk of sending this off into where everyone will start to talk about all sorts of crazy remedies and drinking horse urine, you are burning out and you only have so much given to you by your fitness. It's likely you are pushing yourself too fast too quickly, if you go slower, you may not keep up with the riders you want to keep up with, BUT that's infinitely faster than laying on the side of the trail unable to move from cramps. Some of the smaller ways I fight this is to pedal small fast circles, rather than cranking large (high gear) slow circles. Another is staying seated at almost all costs while climbing/pedaling. Won't go so far as to say I never stand, but I use it very judiciously, because it's far less efficient than seated pedaling, so you burn out faster/earlier if you are standing and springing a lot.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    At the risk of sending this off into where everyone will start to talk about all sorts of crazy remedies and drinking horse urine, you are burning out and you only have so much given to you by your fitness. It's likely you are pushing yourself too fast too quickly, if you go slower, you may not keep up with the riders you want to keep up with, BUT that's infinitely faster than laying on the side of the trail unable to move from cramps. Some of the smaller ways I fight this is to pedal small fast circles, rather than cranking large (high gear) slow circles. Another is staying seated at almost all costs while climbing/pedaling. Won't go so far as to say I never stand, but I use it very judiciously, because it's far less efficient than seated pedaling, so you burn out faster/earlier if you are standing and springing a lot.
    That's funny, I've been having good luck with using a lower cadence and standing up frequently and pushing a high gear for a few strokes.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stickyface View Post
    So if I go out on a ride where I pedal up a mountain for 10 or more miles or just a big day like 30+ on random terrain- after that when I'm standing on a downhill and go to put some hard cranks in to hit a feature or something I will cramp up. Admittedly my fitness fell off with a very snowy winter but I'm not tired. I've tried pregaming with coconut water, taking electrolyte drinks, eating well before and during, etc. I've started taking magnesium citrate every day for a few weeks too. I still get them. Is it a function of fitness, diet, am I a bad person? It may be of use to know that after I start to cramp in my quads and or hammies during a ride i will also experience cramps in other places in my body for the rest of the day. I also experience frequent muscle twitching spells in every day life. It's really starting to suck. I appreciate and insight.

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    I suspect when you have cramps in your non-cycling muscles, then you probably have a systemic problem like dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. I've had really hot, sweaty races where I cramped not just in my legs, but also arms and abdominals. Conversely, if it's just your quads/calves/hamstrings then it might be an issue of training/fitness/overexertion. This is just my own theory, backed up only by personal experience.

    I've had good luck with magnesium + calcium supplements relieving nighttime cramps/twitchiness. Just keep taking more until your poop gets too runny, then take one less than that from there on

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by spsoon View Post
    I suspect when you have cramps in your non-cycling muscles, then you probably have a systemic problem like dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. I've had really hot, sweaty races where I cramped not just in my legs, but also arms and abdominals. Conversely, if it's just your quads/calves/hamstrings then it might be an issue of training/fitness/overexertion. This is just my own theory, backed up only by personal experience.
    I would agree with this assessment.

    Have you ever measured your sweat rate? Do an hour ride on a hot day, do not drink anything (or keep track of how much you drank). Weight yourself in Kgs before and after. Normal is 1.5 to 2.0kg loss per hour. But heavy sweaters can be 4.0kgs per hour. If you fall in that heavy sweater area then you are likely to have some dehydration or electrolyte imbalance issues.
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    Quote Originally Posted by spsoon View Post
    I suspect when you have cramps in your non-cycling muscles, then you probably have a systemic problem like dehydration or electrolyte imbalance.
    This^^

    if you are having full body issues with this, you have a problem with Hydration and fueling. I have seen no studies proving that coconut water will fix this or even helps. Its great that the coconut industry has found a way to sell a bi-product that is delicious and refreshing and packs a pretty good amount of potassium.

    Do you weigh before and after a ride to track water loss? What on bike hydration and nutrition are you using? Once I found a good fit for me, it is rare that I experience these types of cramp fests, although they do happen occasionally due to different circumstances.

    I use Gatorade endurance powder mixed to specifications. I also use the 3x sodium Cliff blocks. This is my Go-to for marathon XC race events.


    Single body part issues could be anything, but are frequently due to fatigue and overuse of that muscle, or frankly pushing beyond fitness. I personally find calf cramps to be a mild nuisance when going hard and can still push through by pointing a toe down for a bit and keep ripping along. I tend to have hamstring and groin issues in races where I have a lot of sudden wildly high cadence moments >120 (needs training)

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    Thanks. I appreciate the majority of the comments. I'll probably grab some calcium supplement and chalk it up to being in worse shape than before.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    Another is staying seated at almost all costs while climbing/pedaling. Won't go so far as to say I never stand, but I use it very judiciously, because it's far less efficient than seated pedaling, so you burn out faster/earlier if you are standing and springing a lot.
    At the risk of derailing this thread, I'm not sure I agree with this tactic in general. If you're riding near or above LT, it's a really good idea to alternate between sitting and standing to keep the power down. The different positions will engage slightly different muscle groups/patterns, which helps combat fatigue. Now, if every time you stand you're also sprinting, then yes, you're going to blow up.

  12. #12
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    Overexertion is main reason for cramps. Whenever you push through rides that your legs are not in shape for, cramping is very evident. If you gradually build up your rides slowly then you can decrease chances of cramping. Once your legs get strength and fitness for those bigger rides, then the cramping generally disappears.

  13. #13
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    I used to cramp all the time on longer rides, road or mtb, and especially when there was a bunch of climbing. I even cramped when training with a structured plan.

    Went to the doc, he had some blood tests done, and found out I was magnesium deficient. I now take the dose he recommended, and no more cramps unless I seriously over-do it!!
    I need a cool saying to put here.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    Won't go so far as to say I never stand, but I use it very judiciously, because it's far less efficient than seated pedaling, so you burn out faster/earlier if you are standing and springing a lot.
    They've found that at lower outputs, standing is less efficient than sitting, but as the effort goes up, the gap gets narrower.
    Full noise standing or sitting are about equal.

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    As a member of the 50+ club, drinking a protein shake before riding prevents my cramping and helps stamina... when I donít, my cramping during and after gets bad...

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stickyface View Post
    I've tried pregaming with coconut water, taking electrolyte drinks, eating well before and during, etc. I've started taking magnesium citrate every day for a few weeks too.
    Are you getting enough plain old salt? Electrolytes or not, you could still get dehydrated. The "frequent muscle twitching spells in every day life" would be most concerning to me. If it were one muscle group maybe a mobility issue, but as you describe it, and if this has been going on for more than several weeks, maybe it's time to see your doctor.

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    Quote Originally Posted by sapva View Post
    Are you getting enough plain old salt? Electrolytes or not, you could still get dehydrated. The "frequent muscle twitching spells in every day life" would be most concerning to me. If it were one muscle group maybe a mobility issue, but as you describe it, and if this has been going on for more than several weeks, maybe it's time to see your doctor.
    I have considered this but I'm military and they have a tendency to give you some ibuprofen or tell you to drink water for things that aren't pressing. I guess I should at some point.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stickyface View Post
    I have considered this but I'm military and they have a tendency to give you some ibuprofen or tell you to drink water for things that aren't pressing. I guess I should at some point.
    It sounds weird and counterintuitive, but eat 2-3 olives next time you have this problem and see what happens. It's harmless, cheap and easy to throw in a zip lock bag.

  19. #19
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    Magnesium!

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    When I am cramping, and stand -it is game over. I have to stay seated, slow down and spin a little quicker. I can't even stand to stretch the muscle if I'm fending off a cramp. The only that makes it subside is continued, easy effort. I don't cramp often, it has to be for good reason. I did a few weeks ago, inner thigh on both legs. I had to walk it off once up a hill for about 2 minutes, taking long strides, like if one were doing lunges, but obviously without dipping my hips.

    Do you get enough potassium? Carry a banana with you, or half anyway. Have it at top of a hill if you are taking opportunity to break and rest. Use it as prevention, not as a cure after the fact.

    Do you stay away from salt/sodium? Perhaps increase your sodium intake if it's now warmer and you are sweating more.

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    Quote Originally Posted by NordieBoy View Post
    They've found that at lower outputs, standing is less efficient than sitting, but as the effort goes up, the gap gets narrower.
    Full noise standing or sitting are about equal.
    I'm going to use that one. Thanks!
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  22. #22
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    I take magnesium supplements, get plenty of salt, have no shortage of calcium or potassium.
    When I cramp up, it's always due to dehydration. Plain old water.

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    Everyone is different - mixing in a lot of standing works really well for me - at higher or lower outputs. It does seem that it doesn't work as well for most people though.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Heist30 View Post
    As a member of the 50+ club, drinking a protein shake before riding prevents my cramping and helps stamina... when I donít, my cramping during and after gets bad...
    Protein shake 6pm last night, 11mi fast XC 900ft elevation, no cramping during nor after; Protein shake 7am this morning, 9mi trail grinding 1400ft elevation, no cramping during nor after... when I donít have one Iím in cramping agony during and especially after, thighs, calves, feet, etc...

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jayem View Post
    It's likely you are pushing yourself too fast too quickly, if you go slower, you may not keep up with the riders you want to keep up with, BUT that's infinitely faster than laying on the side of the trail unable to move from cramps.
    This is me. I know just how hard I can push without bringing on cramp. If I push too hard, I get cramp.

    Another thing that helps me is not wearing shorts. I don't cramp on the MTB, ever, so I wear shorts. I cramp on the road regularly but I've never cramped while wearing bibs/trousers. Ever. Go figure?

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    Quote Originally Posted by krankie View Post
    Magnesium!
    this helped mine for sure

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Mac View Post
    this helped mine for sure
    OP is already taking magnesium, stated clearly in initial post. Electrolytes + water is simple, when it works. But when it doesn't things get a lot more complicated. There are underlying conditions that can defy your best efforts to get enough water and electrolytes. You can also get too much water, or too much of one mineral can work against another.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mr Pig View Post
    This is me. I know just how hard I can push without bringing on cramp. If I push too hard, I get cramp.

    Another thing that helps me is not wearing shorts. I don't cramp on the MTB, ever, so I wear shorts. I cramp on the road regularly but I've never cramped while wearing bibs/trousers. Ever. Go figure?
    Seems like compression clothing helps your muscles?

  29. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by sapva View Post
    OP is already taking magnesium, stated clearly in initial post. Electrolytes + water is simple, when it works. But when it doesn't things get a lot more complicated. There are underlying conditions that can defy your best efforts to get enough water and electrolytes. You can also get too much water, or too much of one mineral can work against another.
    As well as the brand of magnesium or minerals. There's a lot of crap on the market that doesn't do anything to help, clearly stated in this post.

  30. #30
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    pickle juice
    a swig before the ride
    carry some if your doing more than a 2 hour ride
    take 3 swigs - about 2-3 hours after your ride
    keep some at hand to swig if the cramps come
    Guaranteed to work, I'm a cramper (quads) and I've done a lot of riding (almost 500000 feet one year)

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    Quote Originally Posted by 3034 View Post
    pickle juice
    a swig before the ride
    carry some if your doing more than a 2 hour ride
    take 3 swigs - about 2-3 hours after your ride
    keep some at hand to swig if the cramps come
    Guaranteed to work, I'm a cramper (quads) and I've done a lot of riding (almost 500000 feet one year)
    Think that is much the same mechanism as olives (less sugar, plus fats). The acetic acid dissolves the minerals making them available in your bloodstream. It is crazy how that just works instantly.

  32. #32
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stickyface View Post
    I also experience frequent muscle twitching spells in every day life.
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    Go see your Doctor !!!!

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    Quote Originally Posted by joe j View Post
    Go see your Doctor !!!!
    Yeah, it's not normal. Once in a while could be over doing it, a regular occurrence means something else is going on.

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    I agree with the others who suggested to see a doctor, what you are experiencing doesn't sound remotely normal.

  35. #35
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    Some muscle twitching is normal, maybe in the way the OP said it makes it sound not-normal, sounds like it would be worth getting checked out. May show a mineral deficiency that helps with cramping.

    I have absolutely gotten the "other body cramps" when doing endurance stuff, like my finger will cramp up all of a sudden, this is like 50-100 or more miles into a race, not much I can do about it. What you hope to do is simply not hit a debilitating wall that keels you over in agony. For short races, at maximum exertion, it's not a concern. 2-3 hours and I can go as hard as I want. It may feel like I'm about to die and I can't push any harder, but I'm not worried about cramps. But more than about 3 hours and I have to be thinking and planning long-term as far as nutrition and sustenance. Less than 3hrs, it's mainly about keeping glucose up for me. More than 3 hours and I have to consider my base carbs, protein, salts, etc. The longer the race, the more I have to be careful about all of this and stick to a more strict regimen of base carbs, protein and fats, and sugars, not to mention salts.

    Funny thing happens "after" the wall though, I'm usually able to pick up and ride back up steep stuff again, without cramping. Anyone who's been there knows a little bit of overdoing it in that state and your muscles lock up, but post-cramps I find my body resets itself and I'm able to actually push fairly hard again without worry of muscle lock-up. Not all that mysterious if you've studied the chemical processes involved, but it feels strange out there 10-12 miles in to have this happen.
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  36. #36
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    Keep in mind that the suspected causes of sodium depletion or improper hydration are not totally supported by the literature.

    Everyone has their own take on it. I've willed myself to push through them in lengthy races because stopping and getting off the bike is just as painful IME. I've not been in a situation where they haven't subsided with concerted effort that involves continued pedaling.
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    I also push through them and am a chronic sufferer for years.

    The worst bout I had was some 9y ago where I showed up for a marathon, completely unprepared, but driving a pace as from remembering the days I was fit - cramps ultimately had me lying on the ground for 5 mins, unable to move, and the strongest bout was triggered (ironically) on a downhill section where I stretched legs.
    That was the only time I was wondering why I don't have a cell phone in my pocket in races, and hoping I was not dead last.

    I pay more attention to burning my matches now, and when I feel them coming, chew a prepared bag of chili peppers, ginger and mustard seeds. It is painful for both mouth and stomach, usually on a verge of vomiting in a combination of pains, but it helps me.

  38. #38
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    This sounds like some type of deficiency and it might be worthwhile going to see your doctor for some testing to identify exactly whatís going. Back in my serious soccer playing days I would run into cramping issues in particularly tough games where we went into extra time. As a preventative measure I would consume banana or two 1-2 hours before game time and this did seem to help Also, make sure you are stretching. I usually do a quick stretch before hopping on the bike and a longer stretch after Iíve gotten all warmed up.

    In other news, why is your face sticky?
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  39. #39
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    Quote Originally Posted by 3034 View Post
    pickle juice
    a swig before the ride
    carry some if your doing more than a 2 hour ride
    take 3 swigs - about 2-3 hours after your ride
    keep some at hand to swig if the cramps come
    Guaranteed to work, I'm a cramper (quads) and I've done a lot of riding (almost 500000 feet one year)
    Mustard packs work for me, too.

    It is a fascinating topic, so much so that a nobel prize winning neuroscientist has attempted to address. His claim is that cramps are about treating the nerve, which he claims is why pickle juice and mustard packs have some positive impact.

    Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your view, he has also developed a product, which may represent a conflict of interest.

    Still, any leg cramps I get, I stop and take a few mustard packs and good to go. You can get a box of 500 really cheap from amazon prime.


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  40. #40
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    Well. To set your minds at ease I now have an appointment with the doc. Had a muscle spasming left tricep for the majority of the day. Thanks for all the insights. I'll try the pickle/mustard trick (olives are grody).

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