Exercise-induced muscle contractions are a heavily discussed topic among athletes. Despite the topic being researched intensely over the past few decades, there remains to be no one factor solely contributing to these painful contractions. Of discussion, however, is that muscle cramps may likely occur secondary to a decreased concentration or serum imbalance of electrolytes (ex. sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride and magnesium), pushing the body (and poorly conditioned muscles) beyond current fitness level, expecting the non-acclimated body to perform at extreme environmental conditions (ex. heat and high humidity) and dehydration affecting blood and plasma volume.
In recent years, it is well understood that athletic individuals require more than just sodium to maintain a stable electrolyte status before, during and after activity. For even the slightest loss in fluid may cause a disruption in the functioning of the nerves, heart and muscles. Due to the great increase of precisely formulated, well-marketed, man-made electrolyte drinks, it’s far too easy to find a suitable sport drink to fit your needs. The key, however, is that you drink it consistently throughout training and racing.
Because electrolytes are present in sweat, blood, plasma and urine, it’s important to note than an overabundance or deficiency in any one nutrient may cause an imbalance in your electrolyte status.
I work with a lot of athletes who experience cramping during racing. I believe the diet has a big component on why athletes cramp and when I say "diet" this is far beyond "sport nutrition" and what you consume during training. In my racing career, I have never experienced cramping. Most of my injuries are soft-tissue/muscular as oppose to involving those painful cramps when the body completely seizes up. Now, Karel, on the other hand, often has painful cramping in his inner thighs every so often throughout his cycling season.....primarily in the first race in the season or when he is sprinting at the end of a 70+ mile road race in the summer. Having said this, I realize that diet is only one component. My pain threshold is minimal compared to Karel and he has the ability to push his body more than I would care to do so in racing. Thus, having said this, we must keep in mind that racing is simply putting your training to the test. With a balanced diet, a proper pacing strategy and consistent liquid calorie-intake, you should find yourself excelling on race day and feeling strong throughout the entire race.
Contact me if you need help with your daily diet or fueling strategy....triathlon season is approaching. Why wait to perfect your race day fueling plan?