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Cramps - what I have learnt

kiwiboy's picture

By kiwiboy - Posted on 12 November 2007

Hey all, thought I would share a few years worth of experience with cramping and how it may be avoided.

We all know inadequate hydration is one culprit, but it is also worth noting excessive water will exacerbate it.

For me, I finish any event in hot (or in fact any) weather with a salt crusted helmet strap, pack straps and clothing - mute testimony to the amount of salts I am losing (but then I am a prolific sweater - paedophile on a school bus kinda thing) and how much I need to replace.

I also have a family history of a propensity to cramping, so really, erm, stuffed from the start Smiling.

Things all came to a head for me last year after a particularly excruciating ride on the Six Foot Track, which for those who don't know it is not really a fit track for riding, but some mad folk run an off road marathon over it, and some idiot suggested we should ride it. It was 35 degrees and I hurt for around 5 of the 10 hours we were out, since we were in the middle of nowhere there was not a lot of alternative but to tough it out. Possibly the worst pain I have experienced in my life.

I went to a sports doctor not long afterwards, and have done a fair bit of research on it.

So here it is, a few comments:

MAGNESIUM - absolutely a definitive aid to cramp, however it takes about 1 week to be absorbed when taken as a tablet or nutritional supplement. The Endura folk claim that they have a special ionic salt or something that will be absorbed almost immediately. The GU guys say this is crap. Take your pick, they both have experts to prove their point. I personally find that a drink bottle of full strength Endura with regular sips helps. I tend to load tablets for at least a week in advance (in fact I take one every day anyway) and drink Endura the day before a ride.

WATER - well of course we need it, but if you drink vast quantities without an electrolyte you will accelerate your cramps as the soluble salts are leached with the water flowing through your system. I fill my hydration pack with about 3-5 scoops Endura to 2 1/2 litres water, and drink about 1 bottle full strength to 2 1/2 litres pack fluid.

Endura vs Gatorade vs GU etc: Endura is the only one to contain magnesium (as far as I know) but I know GU has a high electrolyte mix. Gatorade, Staminade etc are primnarily just sugar drinks for a bit of a boost, with minor amounts of electrolytes (check out the labels sometime.

The magic bullet for me seems to have been QUININE SULFATE which is a prescription only substance. The sports doctor I went to turned out to be the Roosters team doctor, and evidently this is what all the league players take about 30 minutes before a game. I have taken this now on a number of rides, and it seems to have lessened the likelihood of cramp immensely. My usual routine is one around 30 minutes before, and in very hot conditions 1 every 90 minutes or so. I also carry electrolyte replacement tablets from Hammer Nutrition called Endurolyte which are designed for endurance events, and can be bought online. Their website is a fountain of information.

I also carry nurofen gel caps as an anti-inflammatory, which seem to help if taken at the first twinge along with a quinine, and of course if the cramp hurts, well its a pain killer after all Smiling

None of the above is guaranteed to help, nor should it be taken as gospel - this is just my experiences I am choosing to share.

I must say that I still get cramp, but far far less frequently and severely than I used to - I believe that the cramp I now experience is more related to muscle over-use that nutritional aspects - in other words I need to train my fat arse more before events.

Happy trails.


Rob's picture

Wow, you take 3-5 Endura in your backpack over a race? OMG! Perhaps, as you say, this is OK for you 'cos you have a propensity to cramp but the gumf on the package says 4 servings (scoops) max per 24 hours.

I've only ever taken that amount at the 2006 (I think), Dirtworks. During the race all was good, but afterwards (on the way home) I had the $hits something rotten. If you're not used to it magnesium is supposed to mess you in in that way isn't it?

Anyhow, so since then I only do 2, maybe 3 scoops tops in the 24 hours around a race.

Not sure if it's an old wives' tale, but everyone says bananas are good for avoiding cramps. I eat loads (2 a day at least) the week before an event and despite the other troubles, cramps are not one of the problems I have suffered in any event this year. Even when massively dehydrated at Dirtworks. Suppose there is something to be thankful for after all Eye-wink

Truthman's picture

Thanks for sharing the info Kiwiboy!

Quinine sounded familiar from somewhere, from the net it seems it is used for Malaria treatment also.
It seems there are also some dangers/issues with taking it for cramps according to some:

I love to stick to natural stuff as much as possible. So I had a search for what foods are naturally high in Magnesium, found the following info:

"Foods which are naturally high in magnesium are: barley grass, oat grass, wheat grass, nutritional yeast, kelp, brown rice, sunflower seeds, cashews, almonds, buckwheat, dulse, millet, wheat, pecans, walnuts, beet greens, dried coconut, dried figs, dried apricots, dates, avocado, cheddar cheese, parsley, prunes, cooked beans, garlic, raisins, banana, blackberries, beets, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, asparagus."

Also, I read somewhere unprocessed natural sea salt contains Magnesium too.
I stopped using regular salt a while back since I learned that natural salts have lots of important minerals!


Bernd's picture

..have the cheddar cheese and a glass of red, thanks!

kiwiboy's picture

sounds great, but sadly red wine seems to worsen the likelihood of cramping, specially if taken the night before!! Or is that a bottle?!?

As far as the FDA banning quinine, clearly nobody in this region considers it an issue. My brother has also been prescribed it (unknown to me) as he suffers cramps worsened by heart surgery, with no apparent side effects, despite daily doses. I only take it on race days, so I guess that lessens the likelihood of any side effects.

As for the Endura, erm well never read the label re max doses .. oops!! However does not seem to affect me with the squits although yes excess magnesium is sposed to have that effect.

Bananas are of course high in Potassium which is in the same family of salts and also assists.

Like I said - everybody needs to experiment, but for those who suffer badly and regularly, its a worthwhile exercise to try quinine.

Flynny's picture

may contain a bit of magnesium chloride, magnesium sulfate and calcium sulfate, but they are traces only and are nutritionally insignificant.

Truthman's picture

From what I have read, sea salt contains around 80 mineral elements the body needs, some are only needed in trace amounts.

Sea Salt = NaCl (98%) + 80 elements(2%)
Table Salt = NaCl (99.9%)

Anyway, I believe over a longer period of time, getting these extra minerals is important.

Nic's picture

Sweat contains 1 to 2g (or more) of salt per litre.
Sports drinks typically contain a few hundred mg of salt per litre. They don't put more salt in, because it doesn't taste so good.

If you are drinking half sports drinks and half water, you are replacing only 10 to 20% of the salt you are sweating. This assumes you are drinking as much fluid as you are losing - if not, situation is worse still!

Depending on how much surplus salt you have in your body, you can run out of sodium in as little as an hour.

Magnesium is good too. I make up a bottle of Endura at full strength (3 doses out of the recommended daily dosage of 4) and add gram or two of salt. Too bad about the taste. Drink mix of boosted Endura plus plain water.

= no more cramps.

See also:

By the way high sugar sports drinks rot your teeth, especially if your mouth is dry. Ditto with gels. Best to drink the sports drink/gel, then rinse with plain water.


ps Adding sea salt instead of table salt sounds like a good idea. Alternatively drink sea water diluted 15:1 - apparently sea water has about 3% salt (= 30g per litre), plus the other minerals.

Gary's picture

Replace the red wine with gin and tonic if you require some quinine, am afraid it wont go particularly well with the cheese though.

Paul's picture

As an added bonus the quinine will also stop you getting malaria!

Bernd's picture

haveing the cheese and the glass of Red right now!!!
so I'm ready for the next ride!?!?!

kiwiboy's picture

Well I see quite a few blog entries mention cramps at DW so I thought I might bring this to attention and also share my last few weeks experiences.

Having run out of Quinine Sulfate (QS) and not got a new prescription I bought an over-the-counter med in the US for leg cramps that claims to contain quinine. Turns out to be pretty much hopeless. QS is banned in the US as so many people over there used to use it daily for night cramps - it works, but repeated and long term use has some well documented side effects. Over here is it not banned, and as I mentioned earlier the Roosters team doctor was the one who prescribed it to me - they all take it before the games apparently.

I have trained a whole lot for DW 50 so last weekend we went out to thrash the legs - up Western Commission, through past the bridge and along the GNR at the hop and back Devines Track- about 45Km.

25km in got horrific cramps - despite having taken my pills and drinking endura and loading and all. Managed to eventually ride through them but in a lot of pain - and for the next couple of days also. Didn't bode well I thought

Went to docs, got new prescription, (and btw no issues here) and hoped for the best.

To be fair our training ride was probably worse than the DW 50, but still - I managed to take nearly 30 minutes of last years time, rode everything except the first hill and had not a sign of cramp. One tablet before starting and one halfway through.

So for me, no further doubt - quinine sulfate is a magic bullet - at least for salts-based cramps as opposed to muscle overuse.

if at first you don't succeed, try not to look astonished.

Nic's picture

I can't believe I wrote the note above 18 months ago - then forgot what I had learned. Since then I have never cramped - until the 45km mark at Dirtworks...

I had taken magnesium tablets - one per day leading up to the race, two on the Saturday night, two on Sunday morning and two during the race, plus Endura plus six banana.

But not enough salt to match the seven or eight litres I drank during the day... I would have killed for a couple of salt tablets.


LadyToast's picture

This link makes Quinine sound a bit dangerous?

kiwiboy's picture

Its a personal judgment thing.

If its good enough for the Roosters, good enough for me.

On the other hand, I suggest anybody considering it be sure to check with their doctor.

if at first you don't succeed, try not to look astonished.

PIVOT MACH 5's picture

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