Electrolytes and Muscle Cramping

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Finishing the Pikes Peak Ascent in 3:51:55 (goal was sub 4 hours)

Oh Pikes Peak, how I miss you already!  I’m feeling a little lost now that my main race of the year is over, but it went well so I’m happy about that.  Time goal met!  And I was able to finish without feeling like absolute garbage, which I was pretty worried about going into the race. My stomach started feeling a little nauseous during the last 2 miles but other than that I felt pretty good, which is not something a lot of runners at the Pikes Peak Ascent can say at the end (or middle) of the race.  One of the many interesting things about the race was how many people I passed who were pulled over to the side of the trail stretching due to muscle cramps.  I’ve been lucky in my training and racing that I’ve never (knock on wood) experienced issues with muscle cramping.  Stomach issues, sure, but no muscle cramps.  Or is it luck? I’m pretty good about taking in adequate amounts of fluid, electrolytes, and carbohydrates. I even added an electrolyte tab to my Nalgene the day before the race in an attempt to start the race with all my electrolytes topped off, since I’ve recently read about the benefits of this (not to be confused with eating a high sodium diet on a daily basis, which is not good for your health).  Muscle cramps are an interesting, if not painful, subject and researchers are still trying to understand them completely. It’s commonly believed that electrolyte imbalances, namely lack of sodium, potassium, calcium, and/or magnesium, are the cause of muscle cramps, but many scientists now believe that muscle cramping may actually be related to muscle fatigue from overexertion, not electrolyte issues.

The bummer about scientists not knowing what exactly causes muscle cramps is that there is not one perfect solution if you get them, but there are some things you can do.

–          Eat from a wide variety of foods that provide adequate electrolytes on a daily basis.  For potassium: bananas, potatoes, dark leafy greens, beans.  For magnesium: dark leafy greens, seeds, beans, nuts, whole grains.  For calcium: dairy products, dark leafy greens, (noticing a trend here?) sardines, fortified orange juice.  Consume  moderate amounts of sodium (no more than 2300 mg/day).

–          Adequately hydrate before, during , and after your races and training runs.  Determine your personal sweat rate by weighing yourself immediately before and after a 60 minute run (don’t drink water on the run if possible, or if you do factor it into the equation).  For every pound lost, you need to drink 16 oz of water.

–          Replace electrolytes during exercise when appropriate, such as when exercising for extended periods of time (>2 hours) or in the heat.  Aim to consume 110-170 mg Sodium/ 8 oz fluid, 20-50 mg potassium/ 8 oz fluid, as well as small amounts of calcium and magnesium

–          Be properly trained for your event.  Include high intensity workouts that mimic running on tired legs.

–          Warm up and stretch pre race.

–          If you do get  a cramp, stretching and massaging the affected area will usually lessen it.

–          A lot of people swear by pickle juice to cure cramps, possibly due to the sodium content. I’ve never tried it myself but if you can stomach it go for it!

What other “tricks” do you use to manage muscle cramps?

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One thought on “Electrolytes and Muscle Cramping

  1. Pingback: The Benefits of Salt And Running | Runners Experience

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