Recently, a reader and a former client contacted me to ask how to reduce their leg cramps. One was experiencing cramps ride after ride once he hit the 30 mile mark, and another was experiencing them in the middle of the night after riding, and occasionally on a random evening.
Neither are any fun. But, it seemed like a good time to post about cramps again.
For the cyclist experiencing them on the bike, I recommended starting with the basics, and then, if this didn’t help, continuing to explore other factors. You’ll see my response to him below. As for the evening cramp cyclist, we discussed how it can often be remedied by extra evening calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Since he preferred to stay whole-food rather than supplement if possible (as do I), I shared my anti-cramp-evening smoothie recipe with him.
Recipe of the Week: Anti-Cramp Funky Monkey Smoothie
- 6 ounces plain Greek yogurt
- 1 small banana
- 2 Tbsp dark chocolate chips, 70%+ cocoa (or broken up bar)
- 1 tsp organic apple cider vinegar (optional, but generally not noticeable in taste)
- water/ice as needed for desired consistency
- Place all ingredients in a blender and process until desired consistency. Drink 1-2 hours before bed.
First, my comments on this smoothie, evening mineral supplements, and Epsom salt soaking. This week’s smoothie combines a good dose of calcium, potassium (banana) and a bit of magnesium. I also add vinegar as an anti-cramp ingredient, as it has a way of calming cramping nerves/muscles (see more below). If you prefer a pill, you can try: 400 milligrams calcium each night along with 200 mg magnesium (in 1 pill). Add a banana, or 100-300 mg potassium alongside.
In the case of magnesium deficiency (somewhat common), you may need more than this. Unfortuanately, it’s not easy to get in enough through digestion since it cause loose still and digestive issues at high doses. It is bioavailable through the skin though, and a hot bathe soak with 1-2 cups Epsom salts for 20-30 minutes can increase magnesium blood levels and help.
And, my response to the LTB reader:
Hello Joe LTB Reader,
Thank you so much for your email and question. First things first, let’s make sure you’re getting enough fluids and sodium.
I recommend at least 18-24 ounces fluid per hour and 400+ mg sodium per hour on any ride >90 minutes (some cyclists need much more sodium than this). Beware, your drink won’t have all the sodium you need. So, you’ll also need some from other fuel sources, or by adding 1/12 tsp salt to your drink (usually, you won’t even notice this and it add 200 mg sodium).
Then, if riding >3 hours, you also need ~100-150 mg potassium (most sports drinks have this) per hour and calcium/magnesium.
The easiest way to get enough cal/mag for a ride, in my opinion is to take a supplement w / ~400 mg cal/200 mg magnesium before the ride, and then every 3 hours during it for long rides. Do not overload with a bunch of magnesium at once, or you may experience loose stools (no thank you on a bike!).
A great easy drink for fluid, potassium and sodium is: 10 ounces organic 100% juice/lemonade + 10 ounces water + 1/8 tsp salt each hour. This will get you at least 300 mg sodium, so you only need a bit more from any other training fuels you are using.
I do recommend getting sodium in a steady flow through drinks/foods for most cyclists b/c many experience stomach bloat w/ large amounts of sodium at once via pills.
That said, for those who can’t get enough thru foods or simply have very high sodium needs, I recommend s-caps (www.succeedscaps.com).
If this doesn’t help, try these specific anti-cramping foods (pickle juice, relish, mustard, vinegar): https://lovingthebike.com/cycling-recipe-idea/loving-the-bite-vinegar-mustard-pickle-juice-and-cramp-free-cycling
Of course, there is data out there that suggests that electrolytes and fluids have nothing to do with cramping. That’s fine. Cramps in research are often not indicate or fully representative of cramps in the real world. And, I’ve worked with too many clients with too high a success rate or relieving cramps to forego hydration and electrolyte recommendations as a first line of defense.
Lastly, if you want my full recommendations and plan to help with daily nutritional AND all training nutrition, check out my instant download complete nutrition plan: Fuel Right Race Light. Use lovingthebike for a 15% discount.
One more thing: there’s a chance it has nothing to do with nutrition and it’s out of my scope. However, bike-fit, bike posture, and good cycling technique are all cramping factors. Also, if you’re simply pushing yourself more than you’ve trained for, your muscles may simply cramp (although this does not sound like the case).
This week, let’s fight cramps again with good fundamental replenishment of fliuds and sodium on the bike, and extra minerals off. Don’t take these cramps lying down…they are often the sign of a deficiency OR a posture issue. Fix both and become a better, cramp-free cyclist this week!
Fuel Your Ride. Nourish Your Body.