2 Ways to Conquer Cramps on the Bike

You're feeling good, riding strong and keeping a good pace going. And then, out of nowhere, your calf seizes up, becomes as hard as a rock and forces you to slow down and work it out.

Yep, nothing can derail a good ride quite like a muscle cramp.

Though temporary and generally not permanently damaging, a cramp can put the immediate brakes on a ride and cause quite a bit of discomfort as you work to loosen it up. It's something you don't want to mess with during a day of riding, whether it's an organized century ride or just a group ride with buddies.

More: 12 Common Century Ride Mistakes

So how do you prevent cramps?

John Hughes is a longtime cycling coach and author of Distance Cycling: Your Complete Guide to Long-Distance Rides. He's done extensive research on cramping among cyclists and found a common thread, which he presented at a recent Human Kinetics webinar:

More: Solutions for Common Cycling Aches and Pains

Sodium Depletion

A loss of sodium in your body during your rides has an obvious cause—sweating.

To combat this, Hughes recommends food and drink with high amounts of sodium. This can include a variety of salty foods such as:

  • Pretzels
  • Chips
  • Dill pickles
  • Sliced deli turkey
  • V-8
  • Tomato juice

In addition, Hughes says he has dumped salt packets into his sports drink for added sodium, and sodium supplements are available as well.

The nutrition label on all foods includes sodium content. Find foods you like that can also replenish your sodium, and your muscles are less likely to seize up.

More: Determine Your Century Nutrition Plan

Muscle and Nerve Fatigue

Hughes says that "as nerves fatigue during prolonged exercise they become more excitable, and more likely to overreact to prevent a muscle from stretching too quickly."

The solution?

Stretch. During the week, stretch. When you stop at rest stops, stretch. Never forget the importance of stretching for cyclists.

If your muscles are limber and loose, your nerves are less likely to overreact and seize up. And just maybe, you can then enjoy a long ride without any unexpected, unwanted cramps.

More: 3 Roadside Stretches for Cyclists

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For more insight from coach John Hughes, check out his work on RoadBikeRider.com or Coach-Hughes.com.

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