Muscle Cramps Deep Dive, Fitness Plateaus, Protein Guidelines and More – Ask a Cycling Coach 340


1 Like

A happy cramper here. For me personally, I did not notice, but the cramps have almost faded since I dailed my nutrition-game up. Absolute pleasure to hear Chad elaborate about the subject. Thanks for the insight.

I literally pounded the steering wheel and shouted “YES!” when Chad mentioned the glucose effect on cramping. I was stoked to have my own personal anecdote confirmed, or at least strongly correlated.

I too have a history of massive cramps. Excruciating is a good word. I’ve been on the side of the road with every muscle from the waist down completely locked, including my toes, then sore for days. After a number of years trying everything I could find, I finally reached moderate relief with high-concentration electrolyte tabs (Precision Hydration and SiS). I’m a salt-heavy sweater (I turn black gloves white in an hour at 65°F) so this made reasonable sense.

I’m an insulin dependent diabetic as well, so have an extra layer of carb control to worry about. The type of workout greatly affects how my body handles carb intake, and I sometimes wind up erring on the side of too little (especially in sweet spot). When it’s little enough i wind up with a bonk, just really fast. I noticed that often before serious bonks, I’d start cramping. And when I hit the carbs to un-bonk, the cramps would subside. I’ve started hitting the carbs whenever I start to twinge, and it helps. It’s imperfect, and I think that it’s because my body doesn’t get glucose into working muscle as efficiently as it should. I can also cramp pretty hard after relatively short bouts of high intensity work too an hour of sets of 30/30’s will almost always end in cramps. I’m thinking it’s because stored glucose has been depleted, but replenishment takes too long.

I’ve been considering running some self-experiments to see how I can make this work better for me, and explore the effects of carbs and insulin on fueling and cramping. Now that there’s some independent corroboration of my observations, I’m definitely going to try a few things.


1 Like

As a cramp sufferer, I enjoyed this one as well. I don’t race, but do an outdoor solo ride at least once per week (the other days I’m on the trainer or enjoying rest days). According to my TR data, these rides are usually 0.90IF and approximately 40-50 miles. I just enjoy hammering it when I can, which is one of the reasons why I’ve been using TR for a while.

Regardless of the route, my quads never fail to cramp around mile 25. Nutrition and hydration leading up to these rides are fairly consistent, and I try to maintain a level of it during the ride. If they’re light enough, I try to ride through it. Otherwise I take a break and try to massage it out. It usually comes back after a few miles, but the massage helps reduce the “strength” of the cramp.

What I’ve noticed is that these cramps are nowhere to be found whenever I do a gran fondo with multiple rest stops, or even group rides with friends where we stop to let others catch up. Heck when I climbed Haleakala a couple years back I had zero cramps, likely because I took my fair share of breaks along the way.

At first, I thought the reason for my cramps was just a lack of breaks (with intensity factored in), but after listening to this recent podcast and thinking through those examples above where I didn’t experience cramps, it is more likely nutrition related. The gran fondos around here are almost like traveling buffets. I gobbled up a bunch of food and liquids on my way up Haleakala. And whenever I ride with others, we share snacks we brought with us.

In short, I’m going to try to fuel more often during my rides.

Big plug from Alex for the Karoo 2. Maybe help push TR to work on outside workouts for it. Excited to get mine in a few days!

I have noticed that when I’m suffering from acid reflux I cramp more often. This year I trained for a Century with a couple of friends, I’m the strongest in the group by a lot, but the day of the event I started cramping at 100km and they had to wait for me. I was fueling at 120gr of carbs, but had taken ibuprofen for a couple of days for some back pain and got acid reflux. Could the extra stomach acid make the body re-direct calcium away from muscles to try to neutralize the acid?

Hahaha I didn’t know this was a thing, y’all are way tougher than me!

Coach Chad mentioned that Masters TT nationals are in Flagstaff, AZ this year. Does this mean all the road masters nationals are supposed to be there? Any idea where to find information on this stuff? USA Cycling’s website does not appear t be helpful.

Maybe there is an intensity correlation (higher intensity → more likelihood of cramps)? Maybe the breaks pull down your overall intensity and another way to do that is to just not ride as hard?

An experiment might be to do that 40-50 mile route at the same intensity you average over a GF or one of those group rides but without the breaks and see if cramps occur.

1 Like