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Cramps???? The Big Question

Sinkes's picture

By Sinkes - Posted on 02 May 2011

After a very dissappointing DW 100 suffering from severe cramps. I need a little advice.
I spent what felt like half of the race on the side of track doing the mambo no.5. I was a quivering mess.
I am curious to know as to what others are taking during the race and also the week leading up to the event. What works???What doesn't.
My current strategy:
1. Drink water every 10 minutes - 100ml
2. Protein bar - every hour on the half hr
3. Gel - every hr.
4. Current weight - 80kg (Supreme speciman...well i thought, before today)
Reading Antsonline blog, he mention that he consumed 11 gels. Is this the answer?
Others have mentioned salt tablets and Magnesium. What brand?
Any help would be appreciated.

[Mod. moved to nutrition & food]

Logan's picture

In my bottles and never have a problem with cramps, its tailored to how much I sweat and yeah dont get that many problems, at the Willo I was on the verge but didnt cramp.

I also carry Salt stick tablets as backup as well, they seem to work quite well and I keep them as backup. I would say if your only drinking water, a Protein Bar isnt going to have enough salt in it and a GU doesnt have any salt in it I dont think (I am probably wrong) but I would say the issue is your not replacing enough electrolyte that your losing.

You probably have enough carbs in there, but yeah I would guess not enough Electrolyte replacement.

Try Inifinit Powder.

Rob's picture

Everyone is different and don't think there is any one magic solution. You should experiment long before an event and find what works best for you. Do this on long training rides - sorry, it's the only way.

A few of popular suggestions would probably be:

- Build up your mineral levels before the event. Eat loads of bananas the week before. Take magnesium daily while you train in the weeks leading up to an event. Don't introduce too much magnesium suddenly - it gives many people an upset stomach.

- Salt/magnesium tables on the day (many people swear by them).

- Don't over/under hydrate. To me, 600ml an hour doesn't sound enough but depends how much you push yourself and how warm it is.

- There are any number of 'food' and hydration drinks on the market, try a few and see how you go.

FWIW, I mix my own drink: 60g of pure Maltodextrin, 10g of pea protein and a pinch of salt in a standard bottle for one hour. You can mix this double strength if needed. Always alternate with water in a second bottle or backpack. When I was on form I would take magnesium supplement daily and sometimes put a teaspoon in the above concoction on hot days.

GAZZA's picture

I take high doses of magnesium daily and still used to suffer from cramps on the longer races.
Now about three days before a race I take two or three salt tablets, two or three times a day prior to an event as well as increasing the salt on my food. This works a treat but make sure you're drinking lots more water than usuall.
A couple more the morning of the race and a few at the halfway point and I'm pretty good nowadays!

Discodan's picture

I take Magnesium tablets (from a health food shop)for 3 days before an event and have never had any cramps. I won't say The Mg tablets are the sole contributer as I've never had too many camping problems before that but since taking them I've never cramped. For no downside I figure it's cheap insurance just in case it does make a difference

Fatboy's picture

@sinkes - as @rob says, we are all different so really you just need to experiment.

The obvious starting point that stands out to me is your fluid intake as this is the single biggest cause of cramps. Again we are all different but 1L per hour is what I drink and I know that is a common figure amongst many of those I race with. I do have a mate who hardly sweats and a drink bottle for each 5okm is enough!

The next thing is water on its own doesn't hydrate you properly when exercising. You should search the net for articles that explain how the salts help the water absorb. You will not find a single elite rider drinking plain water (at least none I've ever spoken with). What you put in your bottle is a whole different discussion as there are millions of variations. Try starting with something like powdered Gatorade - say 4 or 5 teaspoons per drink bottle.

The next biggest cause of cramps is actually due to fitness - if you train heaps then you are less likely to cramp. If you ride weekends then do a 100km marathon then you will most likely stress your body ...

I don't know why you would have protein during an event. I don't know what positive effect that would have. Protein aids muscle recovery so best after you finish. You need carbs during the event to give energy.

As a rough rule of thumb you should consume 1g carbs per kg of body weight per hour during a race. So if you weigh 80kg then consume 80g carbs per hour. If you have plain water and 1 gel per hour then you are consuming about 25g per hour of carbs. I weigh about 80kg and take 2 gels per hour and about 30-40g carbs from my drink. I also have bars every hour and a half on top of that so I ensure I consume at least 100g carbs per hour - that way I can guarantee I won't bonk.

Yes magnesium apparently helps but there are conflicting studies. Focus on hydration and the things above first.

ps's picture

I tried magnesium tablets and electrolyte drinks but the only thing that always works for me is saltstick tablets. See

Also I have never ever cramped after having a few beers the night before a race. Had three on Saturday night watching the foty at DelRio and no cramps. I did take 1 saltstick tablet before the race though so it may not have been entirely the beers.

Sinkes's picture

@ Fatboy
Powdered this same as Gatorade you purchase from any shop???
Point:: 2010 Fling i tried running Gatorade as a liquid and it messed with my stomach. Hence the I reverted back water for this years DW. Also you mentioned CARBS! What sort? Brand?

Logan's picture

A few beers is alright, I tried to race the CCOMTB 6 Hour last year with a few litres of German Beer in me from a night in the Lowenbrau, that was a recipe for cramps lol!

Rob's picture

Gator/Power-ade get their carbs in pretty much all sugar.

You would probably do better with a drink that supplies carbs in a complex form. This is why I just mix direct from Maltodextrin.

If you are looking at a product that says it's 60-70% carbs, but 60-70% sugar then you'll get the energy in a spike and feel great for a while then feel very tired. Unless you are eating Gu once every 20 minutes, but I don't know how the pros stomach that. Practice? Eye-wink

Fatboy's picture

Yes @Sinkes. Powdered Gatorade, powerade & staminade are all good. The reason I said 4-5 teaspoons per 750ml bottle is it is a dilute mix so won't effect your tummy like the liquid version which are full of sugar but gives you carbs.

Also if you read the contents panel on the bar or gel wrapper you look for 'total carbs'. Gu gels have 25g per gel while bars average about 45g per bar.

BigJosh's picture

Sorry to burst the bubble here, but protein isn't actually useful during exercise. You're probably thinking "don't be ridiculous everyone has protein during physically intense events" The truth is that protein doesn't actually do anything other than making you feel full. In fact, protein can be a hinderence to the body's endurabce as it is difficult for the body to breakdown and digest. There is no research to prove that protein strengthens or builds muscle fibres. This is not to say that protein is bad and should be removed from your diet, I am merely saying it doesn't do you any benefits in the way of preventing cramping. I understand that you need sustanance during an event but try other foods or sources than protein.
Hope this helps, Josh

Buck's picture

Reading Ant's blog even he suffered cramps and this is someone at the very pointy end of the field. I don't think cramps can be put down simply to nutrition.

I think not going too hard at the start of a long race is the key for me. I rarely ride for such extended periods at such intensity when training so when it comes to races I blow my legs out if I get carried away early and try and power along too hard.

That said I did put some electrolyte tablets in my camelbak, sports drink in my bottle and also gels for the DW100. I had to stop several times to stretch the legs out a bit but I never had severe cramps where the muscle is fully locked out.

Edit: Oh also I don't think there is much carbohydrates in a protein bar. Intake of carbohydrates is probably more important than protein. PS: I'm no nutritionist though so please feel free to correct Smiling

Brian's picture

I have nothing to offer.

I had twinges on GNR and then on the road to Womerah I was a mess. My right quad contracted so hard and my leg was locked straight. If anyone saw me I was the one lying on the side of the road still clipped in. I had a couple of cars stop thinking I must have been run over or something. It took a while but I recovered to finish Smiling

Buck's picture

Well at least you fell in a heap on the road shoulder. Would have been a little more dangerous if you fell into the middle of the road and lay there Brian Smiling

hawkeye's picture

One of the key determinants for cramping is how fit you are and how deep you dig during the event. The better trained you are and the less deep you have to dig into effort, the less likely you are to cramp. After that, what you eat and drink on the day definitely has an effect, but the help it will give you if you're under-trained and digging too deep is limited. Having a good stretching program is an integral part of your training regimen for cramp avoidance.

Given that your training was interrupted badly by having that car hit you, I think you've done pretty well.

+1 to Robs comments on sugar-based hydration drinks. They suck. A mix of fruit sugars and complex carbs like maltodextrin will fuel you much better, without the spikes and dumps. Electrolytes are important to replace salts lost in perspiration. Endura and Hammer Nutrition's hydration products hit the target with their ingredients list. At the moment I like and use High5's hydration drink powder and gels. They have a great sustained burn. Evil

I used Mark Fenner's 100km training program last year before the Back Yamma and I managed to keep the cramps at bay. The previous event I did I was in agony from them. His advice regarding on-the-bike nutrition was also really helpful, and the further advice I got from Rob, ps, and a couple of others here helped me develop a strategy that works well for me. (Thanks again you two in particular, you've made a big difference to my enjoyment of mtb Smiling )

I have copies of Fenner's articles from AMB if you have trouble sourcing them.

evan's picture

My preference now-a-days is the powdered Staminade. I use 2 scoops per the larger size drink bottle. According to directions 3 scoops makes 1 litre. From memory Staminade is the only one with Magnesium in it.

Just my 1cent worth.


philberesford's picture

It was either just after or just before I saw you at the side of the road is where the Red Belly slithered out at the riders ahead of me.

malnosaj's picture

Try Endura. A friend recommended it a while ago and I have been using it religiously for any endurance-based event ever since - it eliminates all cramping for me. That said, be careful of your intake as overdosing on it can induce stomach cramping etc. Endura is primarily magnesium based and as people have already mentioned above, magnesium is pretty effective in targeting cramps.

For 24hr events I use it to replace water as my body starts to struggle to maintain/hold-on to the water I consume. I found this out during one of the Oxfam Trailwalker events ... halfway through I noticed the water I consumed was going straight through me. I switched to a diluted Endura mix and straight away that stopped. For the last couple of Trailwalker's I've used just Endura and not had a single cramp - let alone a twitch (I used to always cramping in my calf 40kms in).

Personally, Gatorade has little to no effect on me in avoiding cramps, maybe a sugar high, but I find it too sweet for sustained use. Maybe try one of those little Endura satchets too see how it works for you before investing in a big tub.

jdb's picture

Fuel during racing is more then just what you take in during the race, you also need to consider carbohydrate loading and also a proper diet. Best money I've ever spent in regards to mtb racing was to a sports nutritionist, I'd recommend seeing one.

Also make use of your tax dollars, the AIS provides lots of information some great reading here

Be careful with endura, it can solve cramps but too much will give you the runs...

hawkeye's picture

... or gas Evil

Logan's picture

Will also give you an upset stomach as well, so be carefull with them as well.

If you know your gonna smash a few GU's worth taking stomach settling tablets as well.

kiwiboy's picture

that keeps popping up after long events.

Discussed in detail here:

Since this I have also discovered a topical spray - colloidal magnesium, also known as magnesium oil. It ain't an oil but feels oily when you spray it on.

Turns out magnesium is well absorbed by the skin (it is our largest organ after all) and I find rubbing it on my legs before a ride is also helpful. PLus, no upset stomach.

Still use the quinine though, and by far and away the best treatment I have found.

Logan's picture

Gav made a great post for the Angry Doctor last year about race fuelling as well:

rp91's picture

Endura should be used instead of gels from what I've heard
In terms of powders, Powerade has no salts, Gatorade has some and Staminade has the most salts. Look on the Nutritional Information label. Magnesium and sodium are the 2 main salts. Drinking cordial is as good as drinking powerade. No idea what gu is like.
Too many sports drinks have the opposite effect on me and I end up dehydrated. I only use half the recomended amount of powder and it seems to work better.
Gels provide glucose and caffine to stimulate the muscles. No idea what their salt content is though.
Mum's a nutritionist and she has always said there is no 1 answer for cramps. 600ml per hour sounds too little. I usually aim for 1 800ml bottle per hour, start well hydrated and still need 3 or 4 cups of water after a ride but it all depends on how much you sweat and the temperature on the day.
Check what your protein bars and gels are made of but cramping is usually lack of fitness (doesn't sound like the case for you) not enough salts or dehydration (from not drinking enough or too much salt).

Discodan's picture

I've never agreed with Staminade as it makes you feel like puking after each swill, not good for concentration in a race

Todd_Mc's picture

A sponsor of many mtb and other endurance events. They have a range of products to suit nearly everyone. I use the Endurolyte tablets, 1-2 every hour stopped low level electroltye cramps, only lack of fitness causes cramps now.Download the free ebook,Endurance Athletes guide to Success. It explains a lot. eg how many carbs you need, why you need protein after 2 hours and why you need to re fuel the body after exercise to promote recovery.

Scottboy's picture

a lot of Aussies have it most mornings on there toast , Vegemite it is full of salt so u can carry a squeezy tube next time u are on a big ride or tomato sauce as well slam some fluid down after it tho . I have increased the sauce I have on the things I shouldn't enjoy like sausages & hamburgers & I haven't cramped for a while now .

armo's picture

I put Endura in the bottle and plain water in the back pack this seems to help.I know it does help some people as my dear old 79yr old mum was haveing trouble with leg cramps after playing tennis i put her onto Endura, she has a class before bed the night before and a 800ml bottle dureing her cames and problem solved.

Antsonline's picture

I certainly dont have all the anwers (as I cramped like freak on the weekend), but cramp is caused by two main things.
One is a deficiency of something (electrolytes etc). Lots of supplements can help this.
The other (agree with Fatboy) is just pure muscular fatigue. No amount of carbs, amino acids, electrolytes can help this.
Its just training.

Example - at the extreme end of the scale - give a complete newbie 100km to ride, but give them a sports scientist with a van of unlimited products to support them....
...they'd still cramp.
Buy / consume all of the lotions and potions, try what feels best, but there is no avoiding the hard yards.
Training stops you cramping. I cramped with Jase and Shaun because they were fitter than me, their muscles were better conditioned.

Eddy Merckx once said "you dont win the Tour de France on a glass of water and a nice smile".
Might have been talking about other 'supplements' but you get the point...

Lach's picture

I remember Pat Rafter used to regularly cramp up in 5-setters on hot days. Just used to sweat more than he could put back, even with regular drinks breaks. When you look at perspiration rates in warm weather, it's tough trying to put that much fluid back in, especially when you are on the move and / or with a limited supply.

From what I've read / experienced there are 4 things you can do to minimise the effects:

1. start well hydrated (possible trade off with a need for an early pit stop)
2. magnesium supplements (haven't had a problem since I started taking them, single tab while training, double dose for a few days prior to races - my nephew who races with Suzuki ACTAS swears by it as well)
3. electrolytes during the race. I got by with water doing the 50 at DW, but usually have dilute Gatorade or similar in the hydration pack for a 100, topping up with whatever sponsor's material is available at drinks stops if needed.
4. You've got to force yourself to drink - I used to just sip to ease dry mouth / throat, but sipping doesn't stop dehydration. You need to be able to suck / swallow while breathing hard at times. A bit like playing the didgeridoo... apparently.

Not that I'm an elite athlete. But this is what stops an ageing clydesdale from cramping. That and not overdoing it.....

hairylittlehobbit's picture

My brother in law is reckons Medium Chain Triglycerides are the really good for energy and cramping but very hard to get, only from milk fat, palm oil and coconut oil.

Sinkes's picture

I have alot of great advice to work with. I appreciate the comments from even the elite riders, very nice of you to share your secrets with us wanna b's.
The plan for the next race is to spend more on the track than on the side studying the flora and fauna.
I will take everything on board and process it all.
I owe you!
cheers, happy trails ahead.

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