The bane of many cyclists is exercise-associated muscle cramps: a sudden seizing up of the muscle. – By Dr Jeroen Swart
The underlying cause for exercise-associated cramps is still a contentious issue in the scientific community. Numerous hypotheses have been put forward, including electrolyte depletion, dehydration and sodium depletion. None of these hypothesis have been proven. A recent study indicated that there was a relationship between cramping and athletes training routines and family history.
Evidence shows that the most effective remedy for cramping is to do the following:
1. Stretch the muscles involved regularly. Do three stretches of 1 minute each at least a few times each week.
2. Do intervals regularly as part of your preparation.
3. Make sure you have done the race distance in training at least a few times before a big race.
4. Start slow and finish fast (hard to do when you are trying to stay with your group in the 947, but effective against cramping).
5. Try to lose some weight, as this can be a cause of cramps.
6. Drink a sodium-rich energy drink. (Controversial, but still not proven or disproven).
7. Slow down but don’t necessarily gear down.
8. Stretch the muscles involved once cramping starts.
9. If you can’t stretch, get someone to massage the affected area.
Dr Jeroen Swart is a sports physician and exercise physiologist at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa.