Muscular Cramping and Cycling

Muscle Cramps and Cycling

We as cyclists know the feeling of an oncoming cramp, and if you don’t, stick to endurance sports and you most definitely will. Muscle cramping is a frustrating issue for both athletes and scientists alike. There is surprisingly little known about the specific causes and ultimately about the prevention of muscle cramping. There are multiple times when cramping can occur including during intense athletic competition, immediately following a race or competition, or even during sleep.

There are multiple theories regarding the causes of cramping, including exercise-induced, neuromuscular fatigue, and electrolyte deficits. Exercise-associated muscle cramps cause painful, involuntary contractions of skeletal muscle. Essentially cramping involves the over-firing of neurons, which leads the uncontrollable spasm of the skeletal muscle, most commonly in the legs. This painful condition frequently results from muscle overload and overuse, lack of proper conditioning, and excessive and prolonged exercise. Cramps also occur in athletes who have been sweating profusely for extended periods of time, which leads to sodium and chloride imbalances.

What can you do to prevent or treat cramps? Well as previously stated in the article, scientifically speaking, little is actually known about the prevention of muscular cramping. Treatments include REST, light stretching of the affected muscle, massage, and the application of ice to relieve the pain. Fluids should also be taken to ensure adequate hydration and to alleviate electrolyte losses. If you feel that familiar twinge in the muscle, start drinking and ease back on your effort.  Speaking from personal experience, I find that it is best to race the way you train. In other words, stick to the same hydration mixes that fuel your training, maintain the same dietary habits, don’t ever use race day to “test out” a new gel or hydration mix! Remember to always stretch after intense cycling or running, and be patient, it takes years to reach your maximum athletic potential!

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