Muscle Cramps

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    Topic
  • #25860
    Stuart
    Participant

    Was not sure whether to post this under ‘Injury’ or under ‘General Training Discussion’. For years I have dealt with intense muscle cramps in my legs on the first day of a trip during the approach. It is always on the first day, and I struggle and then the second day and so forth it is like I am a new person with a renewed fitness level.

    At first I thought it was a hydration, nutrition issue but it occurred again despite my best efforts to hydrate effectively and worked to improve my nutritional strategies.

    Training wise, I’ve been focusing recently on increasing my aerobic base and less time on muscular strength/endurance. But this issue has also affected me previously when my training was more focused on muscular endurance/strength rather than aerobic fitness as well.

    Any thoughts or ideas?

Posted In: Nutrition

  • Participant
    kylebrundage on #25880

    I’d love to know the answer to this as well.

    I’ve had the same issue on my first climb of both Rainier and Hvannadalshn├║kur in Iceland. In my opinion it comes from a salt deficiency or electrolyte imbalance. I was drinking Propel mix in my waters but I think the salt capsules would be ideal. Keep in mind I didn’t have these issues until the 2.5-3hr mark. How much are you sweating on the approach? Also try to look into rest stepping. This will help prevent contracting the leg muscles too much. Each time I had the cramps, they were solely in my quads and hip flexors. I too felt fine after the first day, maybe because of the salty foods and soup you have your first night at camp. You definitely are not alone in this issue.

    Participant
    Stuart on #25894

    That had been my assumption as well. But I do not think it is 100% of the issue. My most recent trip in particular I tried really hard to consume lots of electrolytes throughout the week, hydrate and eat a salty meal the night before.

    I am familiar with the rest step as well and recently I have tried to manage my pacing strategies. Likewise it occurs to me around the 2.5-3 hr mark and in my quads and hip flexors as well. I do struggle with sweating. I sweat a lot and have not fully mastered the art of preventing that. The pace it would take for me to not sweat would be slower than a crawl.

    Participant
    kylebrundage on #26052

    Stuart,

    Where are you getting your electrolytes from? I ask because when I was using drink mixes on my trip I couldn’t help but feel like something was still missing. I’ve used the salt capsules found on amazon and haven’t had issues since. If it isn’t hydration or electrolytes, it’s probably just straight up fatigue. In training, are you strictly doing stairmill/treadmill work? Or also long weekends in the hills and mountains? Perhaps when you finally make it to the climb your muscles are taxed partially in a new way. For example I live at sea level and the only training I can do is stairs and 15% on a treadmill. I don’t have much of a way to tax my legs at 20-30-40% incline.

    I strongly suggest on your breaks to try doing some stretches while eating and drinking.

    Participant
    Dada on #26174

    Does one of you have asthma?

    Participant
    Stuart on #26235

    Dada,

    No, I do not have asthma. I have never heard of any association of asthma with muscle cramps. Are you presuming that it could have something to do with oxygen delivery to the muscles thus leading to premature muscle fatigue?

    Kyle,

    I might try the salt tablets. I use Nuun tablets and most recently used Hammer High Energy Electrolyte powder. Due to two young kids (2 1/2 and 10 months) my ability to get regular long weekends in the mountains is difficult. My training consists of long slow runs, weight lifting, and loaded walks up a local trail (600 ft gain/1 mile) during my lunch break.

    My training does need to improve. Curious to see if others had similar issues and what they have found has solved it for them.

    Participant
    Dada on #26253

    Some inhalers cause muscle cramps. Have you had checked your electrolyte levels in your blood?

    Participant
    kylebrundage on #26294

    Dada, no asthma that I know of. Never used any inhaler.

    Stuart, I realized the other day that maybe these mixes and tablets are effective for someone that doesn’t already have cramps, but in vigorous conditions or the less-than-ideally trained individual maybe they aren’t helping because getting enough of the sodium, potassium, magnesium etc. means drinking more water, which might be negating the effects we are looking for. If using the caps or pills it may be possible this allows the body to catch up its levels without being diluted with all the extra water.

    Participant
    Stuart on #26358

    Kyle, I do believe that to an extent you are correct. Though I do not believe that cramping is 100% an electrolyte issue. What brand of pills have you used?

    Dada, I’d be interested to see any resources/references you have in regards to cramps and inhalers. I have not heard of that connection before.

    Participant
    Participant
    Pete Dickinson MS,PT on #26410

    Interesting discussion here. I think the initial line of treatment would be to investigate your electrolyte ingestion prior and during the event. Failing to see improvement would lead me to look at your training and preparation for the specific type of activity. Can you reproduce the loads, duration, heat load during training without seeing symptoms? Often we really don’t recreate what we are aiming for causing a type of ‘training error’, or failure to properly prepare the demands you are facing.
    Pete

    Moderator
    Rebecca Dent on #26767

    Hi Everyone,

    I am the uphill athlete dietitian, in answer to your questions as Pete has highlighted, there is research to suggest that cramping is in fact related to muscle fatigue/neuromuscular over load, more so than an electrolyte imbalance (depending on environment, if it is hot weather again as Pete highlighted then cramping may be caused by dehydration/electrolyte loss).

    If it is the first day of a trip, which is the ‘main event’ you have been training for, perhaps pace and effort are greater on this first day due to a number of variables compared to training when back at home, hence resulting in muscle fatigue 2-3hrs in. Perhaps as you settle in the trip, you adapt to the environment, pace/effort settles to that which is comfortable enough to not induce cramping.

    Some research based alternate solutions to try for cramping include;

    1) Magnesium supplementation (perhaps take this on the morning of the first day of a trip). Be mindful of quantity as magnesium supplement can be poorly tolerated by our guts and can cause stomach upset so test it out before you leave. Aim for approx. 200mg of magnesium supplementation. Also check if your electrolyte table does in fact contain magnesium.

    2) In the UK there is a supplement called ‘cramp fix’, but it is in fact pickle juice (and a required taste) again good research has shown that taking this approx. 5-10mins prior to the onset of cramps can help alleviate the severity of cramps or stop them from occurring. Anecdotally I have heard people report that apple cider vinegar has the same effect.

    I hope this helps to answer your question.

    Participant
    JGwartney on #28135

    Hey everyone,

    I’ve attached a paper I found explaining the differences between cramps that are induced by fatigue and those that caused by dehydration/electrolyte issues.

    There is a section that lists signs and symptoms of each cause to help you differentiate which one is your primary concern. Understand that both causes could be effecting you at the same time.

    I hope you find this helpful.
    -Jon

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    Moderator
    Rebecca Dent on #31376

    Hi everyone,

    I have just seen this new paper published and thought of this forum post.

    This paper ‘Muscle Cramping During Exercise: Causes, Solutions, and Questions Remaining’ is hot off the press and published online today.

    https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-019-01162-1 (link to full paper).

    It is written by two of the worlds leading researchers/practitioners in the field of sports nutrition. It is a really great in-depth paper, but relative easy read and will hopefully answer your questions regarding muscle cramps during exercise. You won’t get a more accurate insight to muscle cramps during exercise than this. Enjoy : ).

    Rebecca Uphill Athlete Dietitian

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