Cramping

Question:

I cramped badly during a recent cycling race.  I never cramp on training rides no matter how long they are.  What is the best nutrition plan for race so I can avoid this happening again?

Kelli’s Answer:

First of all, there are many reasons why you might cramp during a race, and they are not all nutrition related.  In fact, there’s little conclusive research to support the theory that low electrolytes directly cause cramps (although it makes very good theoretical sense) while there is research to support that poor mechanics or simply pushing yourself up to or beyond your physical limits CAN cause cramps.  In your case, I would lean towards the latter being the cause of your cramps since they don’t happen in training rides.

That said, if you do believe it’s nutrition related, or just for a good nutrition plan the week before a big race, here’s my recommendations:

Since you don’t cramp except when going at race-pace, I suggest that you also add calcium, potassium and magnesium each day leading up to the race for at least 5 days. Then, during the race you need to pay extra attention to hydration and electrolytes. You simply won’t get enough relying on sports drinks – they don’t give you physiological amounts.

Overall nutrition plan for week before:

There is a finite amount of glycogen your body can store – this will not change with diet adjustment the week of a competition. On the other hand, there is an indefinite amount of fat your body can store, and overeating compared to how much you are training during your taper can cause you to store fat and feel “heavy” during your competition. Also, while you may be able to use and store some extra electrolytes, more than what’s necessary will simply be filtered out. So, the week of your big competition:

1) Continue to follow your meal plan if you are not tapering your training. Be diligent with staying hydrated.

2) As you taper your training, eliminate training fuel as needed. Continue to follow your Daily Eating Plan.

3) The day before your competition, if you are not training or training very little, consider doing 1-2 short sprints and follow with your normal recovery snack/meal. This can replicate the increased enzyme action that loads glycogen after a normal training session.

4) The day before your competition, only eat foods/drinks that you know do not cause stomach upset, bloating, or extra gas. Avoid any fatty foods (fried or high in animal fat) and maintain a balance of carbohydrates and lean protein. You can eat vegetables with dinner if you’d like, but avoid gas-producing veggies such as broccoli or cauliflower. Instead, try a salad with spinach, tomatoes, & bell peppers.

5) The evening before your competition, add a small amount of extra carbohydrates – just about 30-60 grams. Don’t overdo carbohydrate loading or you’ll go into your competition feeling heavy rather than fueled. Some example additions include:

  • 8 oz. 100% juice = 30 grams carbs
  • ¼ cup raisins or other dried fruit = 30 grams of carbs
  • 8 oz. honey milk (made w/ 8 oz. milk + 2 tbsp honey) = 37 gm carbs
  • 1 large piece fruit or 1 medium banana = 30 gm carbs
  • 1 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 English muffin = 30 gm carbs
  • ½ medium bagel + low-fat cream cheese = 30 gm carbs
  • 2 slices toast = 36 gm carbs
  • 1 slice toast + 1 tbsp honey or jelly = 33 gm carbs
  • 8 oz. yogurt = 30 gm carbs

6) The day of competition, follow your plan for pre-, during, and recovery nutrition (do not try anything new on race day!). Now’s the time for “quick-energy” sports foods! Make sure to stick with foods and drinks you know you digest well. If you have multiple events in one day with breaks between them (such as being on a team for a 24-hour race), make sure to eat the recovery snack or meal after you finish each activity.

Electrolytes 5-7 days leading up to the race:

A good place to start is ~500 mg calcium + 200-300 mg magnesium + 100 mg potassium after training or every evening leading up to a race (5-7 days out). You can try: NSI Calcium Citrate-Vitamin D-Magnesium (http://www.vitacost.com/NSI-Calcium-Citrate-with-Vitamin-D3-Magnesium#IngredientFacts) and NSI Potassium Citrate (http://www.vitacost.com/NSI-Potassium-Citrate/?pd_section=pr#ProductReviews) @ 2 tablets of calcium citrate and 1 potassium citrate capsule each day to get this amount.  Additionally, drink 64-80 oz fluid. + 24-32 oz. per hour of training each day leading up to the competition.

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