You’re cruzing along a trail feeling great and all of a sudden you fall to your knee clutching at your quadricep as it spasms in pain. Muscle cramps are not new to athletes, including endurance runners. What causes it and how can you fix it during an event?
Muscles cramp for a variety of reasons, and usually a combination of them. Novice athletes are more likely to cramp than experienced athletes. Novice athletes pushing their bodies beyond their limits these fatigues muscles seize up as they are continually pushed.
Heat is a major culprit in muscle cramps especially for athletes who do not train in the heat. Their bodies are not accustom to dealing with scorching temperatures while making sure muscles continue to fire. Imbalances in electrolyte’s, dehydration, and depleted carbohydrates also create a higher chance of cramps.
Unfortunately, these factors hit an athlete all at the same time more often than not. Dehydration increases the risk of cramps, but it’s not a guarantee you will cramp. When you are hydrated there is a balance in the amount of fluid inside and outside of your cells. If you are dehydrated, there is less fluid outside of your cells. This situation causes nerves to be squished and fire which then causes twitches and then cramps in muscles. So just drink more water right? Sorry it’s not that simple.
Electrolytes make the cell walls permeable allowing the fluid to move in and out of a cell. If this can’t happen, an imbalance of fluid inside and outside the cell occurs and you have the same situation as above.
To further complicate the matter, insufficient carbohydrates leads to cramping as well. We all know muscles need glycogen to function and there is only a finite amount held in our muscles. When that is depleted we have to consume more carbohydrates. Glycogen is the fuel our muscles use to contract and relax. If our muscles can’t relax, they cramp.
What can you do about it? make sure you are drinking to thirst, taking electrolytes on a regular basis, especially in the heat, and train for the conditions you will be running in.
Sodium and Chloride(aids nerves in firing and permeability of cells) are not the only two electrolytes although they get all the attention. Here are the others and what they do:
- Calcium – aids muscle contraction
- Magnesium – aids healthy cell function
- Potassium – helps regulate pH balance
- Phosphate – helps regulate pH balance
Choose electrolyte replacements containing all of these. If you want a good explanation of how each electrolyte works read this.