A Commuter Rides a Century: How to Avoid Cramping and Bonking

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How to Avoid Cramping

I recall a feeling of pure ecstasy when I saw the finish a mere 200 yards away. While my teeth had seen plenty of sunlight from my near-constant grimace, this was the first time I voluntarily smiled in four and a half hours.

The pain was a 15 on a scale from one to 10.

And, like all who wish to mask their struggles as they approach an audience, I decided to sprint for the finish line as if I were Mark Cavendish.

The cramp came with two feet to spare. The pain was about a 15 on a scale from one to 10. I couldn’t have pedaled another stroke if my very life depended on it.

A combination of muscle fatigue and a severe lack of electrolytes had officially shoved its fork in me. I was done.

Electrolytes, while undoubtedly complex, are—to my simple mind—a fancy way of saying sodium chloride and potassium, which is also a fancy way of saying salt and, well, potassium.

However, electrolytes also include magnesium and calcium, and a lack of these minerals combined with muscle fatigue causes the abrupt pain and paralysis that is a cramp.

I wish such excruciating discomfort on no one. Here’s how to avoid it:

1. Stretch and stay hydrated. This is obvious, but it bears repeating. Make sure your muscles are limber before you saddle up and your two water bottles are full of your favorite beverage (sans alcohol). If, like me, you sweat profusely before the ride even starts, you’re losing massive amounts of water and sodium, both of which you’ll need to replenish.

2. Eat sweet potatoes. Jam-packed with healthy goodness—and delicious to boot—one sweet potato contains a whopping 694 mg of potassium, making it the food with the highest amount of this essential mineral. Kick that banana to the curb and have a sweet potato for breakfast instead. Why not?

3. Pick pickle juice. Of nearly any liquid you can buy (legally, at least), pickle juice contains the greatest amount of potassium, magnesium and calcium. It also contains the all-important sodium chloride (salt), making it super rich in electrolytes. And, though it’s a matter of personal taste, I much prefer the flavor of pickle juice to a salted caramel GU.

4. Pull your toes. For many, these suggestions are all for naught. The cramp has already set in, and you’re down for the count. The dire tightness in my right calf and hamstring lasted a good 30 seconds before I stretched my leg out and pulled on my right big toe. The relief was almost immediate. While you’ll need to combine this with hydration and refueling your electrolytes to truly eliminate the cramp, give this a whirl the next time you’re in an extreme amount of pain.

Much of this will seem obvious to the seasoned century rider, but for someone who’s never counted a single calorie in his life and continues to ride in cage pedals, I need to write these on my hand with a blue ink pen before I ride.

No matter what you choose to do with this information (tattoos excluded), never enter a long ride without a solid nutrition plan to combat these dreadful occurrences.

Stay limber, stay strong, stay hydrated and for God’s sake keep pedaling.

More Articles From This Series:

  • 7 Tips for Buying a Used Bike
  • A Commuter Rides a Century (Part I)
  • 4 Quick Tips for Shifting Gears

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