News

CRAMP 101

November 8th, 2015


Most of us have experienced the below scene while racing, it hurts its demoralising and theres nothing worse than being laid in the mud, in pain and simply unable to move. So here are the answers you’ve been searching for….

Your Facebook plea about a mid-race muscle cramps now has 32 comments:

Eat bananas!

Salt tablets!

Mustard!  

While everyone means well, the advice they’re dishing out may be zero use.

Experts can’t even say with certainty what causes exercised-induced muscle cramps. They hurt, they slow you down, and they negate months of hard training by costing you precious time in a race. To fight cramps, you’re told a million and one different things by people around you. You’ll read that a lot of top professional athletes especially endurance athletes take salt tablets during their racing and training to avoid cramps due to loss of much needed minerals like sodium during sweating.

You’re Mid-race and having the time of your life when that twinge turns into a tearing burning feeling and your muscle then decides to stop working all together. Not a good place to be immobilised sat in the mud. If Cramps hit especially when wet mid race the cold is soon to follow. I’ve put this information together because I’m(Editor Carl) someone who suffers (or should i say used to) from cramp and when it hits it hits hard, out of the blue mid-race! The worst I’ve personally ever suffered from it was probably at Tough Guy in 2014, I’d just come out of the water and next thing i knew i was stood like a scarecrow with no real hope of getting my legs to bend. I was sat on my backside, already colder than I’ve ever been before……So thats where the research began

WHY?

 

Now this is probably one of the toughest subjects I’ve ever had to try and research, purely because no one truly has an all encompassing answer to the question of ‘why do we get cramp’?

One of the reasons highlighted for cramping is the loss of fluids in the muscles. When you exercise, your body sweats, releasing liquid to cool, minerals and electrolytes like sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium, and chloride are also lost in this. 

 

Scientifically Supported Theory 1

 

As you continue to lose water and electrolytes during your workout, your body becomes depleted of these. Electrolytes help conduct nerve impulses throughout your body, which allows your muscles to contract. When your body loses enough water and/or electrolytes, the nerve impulses from your brain to your muscles become deranged. This makes your muscles cramp.

This is why you’re told by scientists to consume sports drinks, electrolyte tablets, and lots of water during and around your workouts to help prevent it. Unfortunately, there’s almost no evidence this works.

Drinking water is the best method to rehydrate the body. However, if your run lasts for more than 60 minutes, sports drinks may be necessary to replace salt and electrolytes – deficiencies in these contribute to cramping.

The body takes time to process the fluids that prevent cramping. If your run will be longer than 10 miles (16 kilometers), you’ll want to begin hydrating 2 to 3 days prior to the event.

A good rule of thumb is to take in 5 to 12 ounces (148 to 355 ml) for every 20 minutes of activity. Additionally, drink 4 to 8 ounces (118 to 237 ml) before and after a run. The amount will vary depending on your weight. The longer your body stays hydrated, the lower the likelihood of cramping during outings.

 

So just to confuse you, heres the opposing argument

(don’t worry the answer is on its way) well soon…

 

Why Electrolyte Loss and Dehydration Probably Don’t Cause Muscle Cramps

 

There are four reasons why losing electrolytes and water probably doesn’t cause — or isn’t the primary cause — of your muscle cramps.

 

1. Sweat contains far more water than it does electrolytes.

-When you become dehydrated your blood levels of electrolytes actually rise or stay about the same.

2. Athletes who get muscle cramps have about the same level of electrolytes and dehydration as athletes who don’t cramp.

3. Not all of your muscles cramp.

-If your cramps were caused by losing too many electrolytes, then all or most of your muscles should cramp — not just some of them.

When people develop a real electrolyte deficiency, virtually all of their muscles go into uncontrollable spasms. On the other hand, athletes almost always get cramps in the muscles they’re using the most during their workouts. For example, in one study on ultra-marathon runners, over 95% of all cramps occurred in the leg muscles during the race.

4. Stretching, resting, and drinking pickle juice shouldn’t help stop cramps — but they do.

If muscle cramps were caused by dehydration and electrolyte loss, then there’s no good reason why stretching, resting, and sipping pickle juice should help cramps disappear — but they do.

Stretching and resting a muscle doesn’t increase its electrolyte or water content, but both of these strategies do help muscle cramps go away.

 

In one study, pickle juice helped cramps disappear faster than drinking water or nothing at all. You might think that the salt and other electrolytes in the pickle juice were what stopped the cramps — not so. The cramps stopped long before the sodium from the pickles could be absorbed, so it didn’t work because it was replenishing lost electrolytes.

 

AND HERES ANOTHER ONE TO THROW IN THE MIX  

 

Scientifically Supported Theory 2

The newest and most scientifically supported theory is that muscle cramps are caused by premature fatigue. As you get tired, your muscle’s reflex control becomes dysfunctional. Instead of contracting and relaxing like they’re supposed to, they keep firing. Basically, your muscles become “twitchy” and can’t stop contracting. 

This theory is supported by several lines of evidence.

 

1. The muscles you use the most during your workouts are the ones that usually cramp.

2. Muscles that cross multiple joints are more likely to cramp than other muscles. These muscles generally have more activity during exercise when they’re more likely to get tired.

3. You’re far more likely to cramp during a race than you are in training — when you’re pushing yourself harder than normal. Cramps also tend to occur at the end of races when you’re most fatigued.

4. If you don’t pace yourself properly, you’re more likely to cramp. Athletes who go out too hard relative to their training experience are much more likely to cramp than those who stay within their limits.

5. Drinking pickle juice helps cramps disappear faster than drinking water or nothing at all, and this happens before the salt from the pickle juice can be absorbed. Researchers think this is because the salty taste of the pickle juice “tricks” the brain into relaxing the muscles.

6. Some evidence indicates that athletes who cramp have more muscle damage before races.

At this point, there’s no direct evidence that consuming extra electrolytes will help you avoid muscle cramps. There’s some evidence that dehydration might be involved, but it’s almost certainly not the primary cause of your muscle cramps.

 

 NOW HERES THE BIT YOU’VE BEEN WAITING FOR

 

 HYDRATION AND CRAMP SOLVED(well kind of)

 

 Most people suffer from cramp at one time or another but to some exactly why can remain a mystery, so they just resign themselves to the fact they will just have to suffer.

Well it doesn’t have to be that way. I was one of those people thinking cramp was just something I had to put up with until I started to research the subject.

Ive literally tried everything from Compression layers right through to the latest tablets on the market.  But what I have found is getting your hydration well and truly nailed through the week is an absolute must as a base for the rest of what I’m about to tell you, and this means not just hammering it down two days before the race. It means starting now, yes right now and keeping it up through out the year!  Sure you’ll pee a lot for the first week but to be rid of cramps surely thats a small price to pay.

Water is your body’s principal chemical component and makes up about 60 percent of your body weight so Its no wonder it can have such a dramatic effect on everything you do.

So first of all what you need to know is that you should be aiming for around 9 cups(2.2litres) of FLUID a day. This will be hard at first as you’ll find yourself making a lot of trips to the loo but this will only last around a week before your bladder adapts.

So that’s the fluids sorted so what’s next, what else do you need to do to be able to complete this perfect cramp free equation.

The next part of the equation is based on repetition. If its leg cramp you suffer from then you need to make sure you get the miles you need into your legs. Without these you’re setting yourself up for a fall. One theory about cramp is that it’s the bodies way of protecting your muscles from further damage by basically making them immobile, so to avoid this you will need to make sure your muscles are well prepared for what your about the put them through. If your doing a 5 mile race make sure you have at least that in your legs, if you’re going to be on the course for 4 hours then you also need to make sure this is something your legs are ready for. If you’re about to race up Snowdon, well first of all good luck and second of all GET THOSE HILL RUNS IN.

The next part is also a very important piece to the equation. You’ll need to start supplementing your diet with something that contains sodium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus and calcium like mountain fuel or High 5 tabs for example. These need to be taken throughout the week which will ensure you top up your levels of these very important vitamins and minerals as you lose them through normal depletion or sweating. You will get a lot from your normal diet but this will ensure you get ALL you need to combat cramp.

 

Follow the rules below and I guarantee you’ll be cramp free

 

THE THINGS YOU NEED TO DO

DRINK AROUND 7-9 CUPS OF FLUID AT DAY(DEPENDING ON EXERCISE LEVELS) 

+

TOP UP YOUR SODIUM – MAGNESIUM – POTASSIUM – PHOSPHORUS & CALCIUM LEVELS

+

PUT THE MILES AND TIME INTO YOUR MUSCLES TO READY THEM FOR RACE DAY

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 CRAMP FREE RACING 

 

WRITTEN BY: CARL WIBBERLEY(Editor of Obstacle Race Magazine)