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03 Mar 2003

I would appreciate it if you could advise me of what to take to prevent getting leg cramps when cycling long distances. I have been told to take magnesium but I am not sure if this is correct.

Answer 412 views

01 Jan 0001

Muscle cramps are defined as spasmodic, painful, involuntary contractions of muscles. Cramps that runners experience are usually of little medical consequence and tend to either occur at night (nocturnal cramps), or during prolonged exercise (exertional cramps). Exertion cramps tend to occur in people who run further or faster than they are accustomed to.

Research performed at the Sports Science Institute, suggests that stretching before and during exercise helps to decreases muscle cramps. The scientific evidence that supports this is that the inverse stretch reflex inhibits excessive muscle contraction. It becomes inactive in those muscles that contract in a shortened position for prolonged periods. Without the protection of this reflex the muscles may go into spasm. Examples of these muscles are: the diaphragm in all activities, the quadriceps and the hamstring in running and cycling activities and the calf in running, cycling and swimming activities. Only muscles that undergo prolonged lengthening (stretching) frequently during prolonged exercise may be prevented from cramping. Taking supplements does not help, as cramps are NOT CAUSED BY ANY MINERAL DEFICIENCY OR DEHYDRATION.

Some of the causes and the prevention of cramping are:

Poor Flexibility: Poor stretching habits seem to increase the risk of cramps. A regular stretching programme is important, especially for those muscles that are prone to cramping. It is also important that you stretch before a ride.

Inadequate training: Environemental conditions that lead to premature fatigue increase the risk for cramps. If you ride long distances, you need to do enough training of long distance rides for these races. Don’t start a race too fast.

Inadequate nutrition: Pay attention to ingesting adequate fluids and carbohydrates before and during your training and races, because poor nutrition increases the chances of becoming fatigued.

Excessive intensity and duration: Reduce your exercise intensity and duration if necessary

The best method of treating a cramp when it occurs is to relax and stretch the muscle. First, relax the tightened area. You should gently massage the area that's cramped, whether it's a crick in your calf from over exercising or a spasm in your feet. Second, stretch the muscle out slowly and gently, as long as you don't feel pain. For calf cramps, do a wall stretch. Stand about three feet away from the wall, with your knees straight and your heels on the floor. Lean into the wall, supporting yourself with your hands. You will feel the stretch of your calf muscles. Hold for 60 seconds and repeat three times

Hope this has helped somewhat
The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical examination, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.
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