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Are cramps seizing your performance?

Posted by Strength & Speed on December 16, 2017 at 5:05 PM

Exercise induced muscle cramps are often multifactorial and one intervention may not always immediately solve the problem. Unfortunately, there is no strong research behind the definitive cause and most of the recommendations come from expert opinion and/or athlete anecdotes. The theories regarding cramping are related to poor hydration/electrolyte imbalances and nervous impulse “misfire” that prevents a muscle from relaxing. In the past athletes would use pickle juice or mustard to alleviate cramps and noticed improvements almost immediately. This was credited to the sodium content but newer research indicates that this would not be an adequate amount of time for sodium absorption. Exogenous electrolyte consumption can take upwards of one hour for absorption if provided under optimal conditions. New discoveries suggest that certain flavors (like those present in pickles and mustard) trigger a neurological impulse that negates the misfire which allows for the muscle to relax. When it comes to preventing and treating cramps, the best approach is to incorporate all interventions.


General recommendations:

1.) Warm up effectively

2.) Pace yourself and do not push beyond thresholds experimented with during training for too long

3.) Stretch thoroughly and remain limber days prior to a race

4.) If you do cramp, stretch immediately and pursue myofascial release techniques


Nutritional recommendations:

1.) Maintain hydration for days leading up to the event

a. Do not wait until the night before the race to achieve optimal hydration

b. If dehydrated 2-3 days prior to an event, do not chug down water in high volumes. Increase water consumption by 8-16 ounces three times per day (with or without meals). Tapering will also serve to prevent normal fluid losses from reduced volume of training.

c. Urine should be relatively clear with a very slight yellow coloration. Once this has been achieved prior to the race, hydrate to match losses and maintain hydration status.


2.) Hydrate before, during, and after racing

a. Before: 16 ounces 2 hours before and then 8 ounces <30 minutes before

b. During: Enough fluid to prevent >2% weight loss during exercise

c. After: 16-24 ounces for every pound lost during exercise

d. Volumes may be subject to change depending on race length, temperature/humidity, and altitude


3.) Marginally increase electrolyte consumption days leading into the race and have an electrolyte rich meal the morning before a race

a. Example: oatmeal with peanut butter, banana, and a pinch of salt

b. If this is not possible, consume a sports beverage one hour prior to start of competition

i. Gatorade (or other equivalent product), Hammer Endurolytes, or Nuun electrolyte tablet


4.) Consider carrying a single serve packet of mustard or dill relish on the course for emergency cramping. These condiment packs can be found at most restaurants and grocery stores.


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Luc is a registered dietitian with his M.S. in Nutrition and certifications in personal training and wellness coaching. Luc hones his professional skills through counseling athletes/fitness enthusiasts and through his career as a clinical dietitian at East Carolina University. As a member of the Strength & Speed Development Team, his main hobby is competitive obstacle course racing with notable appearances at Obstacle Racing World Championships (2014-16) and a 50 mile completion at World’s Toughest Mudder 2013. Luc can be followed through his Facebook (www.facebook.com/lrlabonte) and Instagram (www.instagram.com/lrlabonte_ms_rd_ld/) accounts.

Categories: Luc LaBonte, Nutrition & Supplements