Most cyclists will have experienced the onset of cramp, whether on the bike towards the end of a hard sportive or road race, or in day-to-day life.
So what causes muscle cramps? The scientific community doesn’t have a definitive answer, either. There are theories on what causes cramping, but no certainties. The best we can do as athletes is to review each cramping theory and compare them to our own personal experiences.
The current theories on muscle cramping include muscular fatigue, low electrolyte levels, hyper-hydration, dehydration and personal susceptibility.
However, recent researchers found that those who suffered muscle spasms or muscle cramps had the same level of dehydration and blood mineral levels as those who did not get muscle spasms or muscle cramps. So this belief is slowly becoming less important and the search for the reasons for muscle spasms or muscle cramps continues.
A report from the University of Oklahoma (Sports Medicine, April-May 2007) did however discover that salt plays a more important role that the other electrolyte minerals. In their research those who cramped lost more salt during a race than their peers who did not cramp.
If you’re struck down by cramp then it can be difficult to overcome without reducing the intensity at which you are riding. So prevention is better than cur and to reduce the chances of you developing cramp make sure you are adequately hydrated with the right amount of fluid for each hour of your ride.
Train properly for the length, duration, and intensity of the event you are going to do. Ensuring that your body is as used to the demands of your event as possible will help prevent cramping in response to an unaccustomed load.
Make sure you are comfortable on properly and are happy with your equipment and look after any injuries with the help of a qualified physiotherapist, preferably one who understands the demands of cycling. Maintaining a regular stretching and conditioning routine can help to prevent long-term problems.