How to combat cramp on long rides

Subscriber Dylan emails in :

‘Hi Matt

Long time subscriber, first time responder.

Im currently away in NZ on a working holiday from AUS and i hired a bike yesterday and rode around 40kms with a break in between. Coming onto the 35ish Km time, my upper legs started to cramp out and were fighting me the whole time. But i still had plenty of fuel in the tank to keep going.

It was quite painful to push on to make it back to base at the bike park, as I was already deep in the woods.

How do you think i can combat this happening again?

Maybe a pinch of salt in my water bottle?

Before/during food consisted of coffee, weetabix, bananas, apples,
nut bars, fruit bars, protein bar.

Always love reading your emails when im at work!

Thank you

Dylan E’

So this could be from a few causes.

The biggest 2 causes of cramp are dehydration and also tightness in the muscle/fascia that surrounds the muscle.

So these would be the first places to look.

First up – ensure you are drinking 1-2l of water per hour of riding. Then if you are riding for over an hour or sweating a lot you’ll want to add an electrolyte tab (rather than just salt). I typically use one elecrolyte tablet per 2 hours of riding.

​​​​​​​So…if riding for 3+ hours I’d be looking to have drunk my 2 Litre hydropack by half way (with one tab in) then fill up when you stop and add another tab in.

This will ensure you are adequately hydrated.

As well, you need to be drinking 2-3litres of water per day.

If you typically drink less than this there’s a good chance you’ll be madly dehydrated before you begin – which massively decreases performance and increases risk of cramp.

Second, and this is more a long term solution, you want to ensure you are stretching and have full range of motion.

I could be wrong, but it sounds like Dylan spends a lot of time sat down with his job(?), in offices/cars/planes etc. (again, I’m just assuming here)

This will tighten up your muscles and restrict range of motion.

​​​​​​​This can increase the chance of cramp.

So, what you want to be doing is start stretching for 30 minutes daily until you have full range of motion in each muscle…

​​​​​​​When you’ve done this and have good flexibility everywhere
you can decrease this to every other day.

These would be the first 2 places I would look.

Then on top of this, if you don’t already, start weight training 1-3 times per week. This will make your muscles stronger, improve their efficiency and when done properly improve posture and range of motion. This also helps a LOT!

Lastly…the break in the middle may have caused your ​​​​​​​muscle to cramp up and stiffen up. If you must have a big break mid-ride (a pub lunch for example) then spend 5 mins warming up doing squats etc. before you get on the bike, then spend 10-15 mins gradually getting up to pace when you ride. Really, you only want to rest for 10-15 minutes when you stop for a break or your muscles/body will start to relax and cool down 🙂

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