Latest research findings on cramp in sport/ triathlon

In the July edition of 220 Triathlon there is an article on page 77″The science of cramping” which discusses the research into cramping and how to manage it.

In summary:

The research comparing triathletes and athletes who get cramp with those that don’t identified a common risk factor is exercising at unusually high intensity during a race, family history of cramps and a history of tendon/ ligament injury. Currently there is no exact known reason why cramping occurs.

Studies have found a 6% carbohydrate sports drink can delay the onset of exercise induced muscle cramps in endurance activities, but not prevent them entirely. Low levels of magnesium are linked to increased incidence of muscle cramps. Magnesium supplementation has been shown to help sufferers of “night cramps”

Take away tips:

1. Gradually increase training intensity. Remember unaccustomed fatigue plays a major role in muscle cramps.

2. Stretch regularly, paying particular attention to hamstrings, calves and any other muscle groups that are prone to cramp.

3. Use carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks during longer training sessions/races and/or during recovery, and ensure you consume plenty of calcium and magnesium rich foods.

4. If you’re a long term sufferer of cramps, consider magnesium supplementation.

Personal experience dealing with cramp

I completed the Switzerland Ironman last year and did 1 year of intense training. This year I am doing the Etape De Tour  and increasing my bike mileage from 4 hours to 8 hours on the bike and training 3-4 times per week. I will be going to Portugal to train on my bike in the hills and the heat.

I have suffered from cramp occasionally after exercise but also during exercise. The cramp usually affects my hamstring or calf muscles. I noticed when training for the Ironman muscles were getting tighter in the early stages of training. At this time I was starting to train 6 days a week and running and then cycling in consecutive days. My calves got so tight I had to walk down stairs sideways.

I went to get massage weekly and this helped but I noticed my legs were still very tight with continued training. My experience does fit with the article details above. I usually got the cramps if I pushed hard on time trials or at the end of long hard bike rides. The cramp could occur after training if I had a very hard training session. To get rid of them I stretched and in the end I was massaging my legs immediately after training to loosen them. I also wore compression leggings and this certainly made my legs feel much better.

The most important finding I discovered was the use of Magnesium supplementation. I went to New Zealand and was given a product from the salt Lakes of Utah. I started using it and noticed my legs felt significantly looser. My ITB, calves and hamstrings felt at ease and much better after training. the magnesium was better than the massage in terms of preventing muscle tightness.

I continued to take Magnesium through my training. I added it to my  alkalising drink I took through the day and also to my electrolyte drink in training. In my Ironman I did not suffer cramp during or after the race and my ITB friction syndrome did not occur.

I think I was suffering cramp because of the change in intensity of training and number of days trained and I was sweating out salts in my body and not replacing them in my diet.

Recommendation

I am a physiotherapist and an Ironman and I think the information in the article above is spot on. I would try magnesium supplementation, get massage and look after your nutrition. Stretching and self massage is important as you don’t have the time and resources to get a trainer and massage therapist to work on you everyday. If you do then get them in everyday.

If you would like contacts in the fields of stretching, nutrition, triathlon training do contact us here at Physical Edge and we would like to help in anyway we can. Got to love triathlon.

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