I'm a 29-year old guy who has run a marathon, done a sprint triathlon (1/2 mi. swim, 20 mi. bike, 5k run), and ridden a century. On each of these endurance events, I've gotten bad leg cramps, starting with hamstrings and then quads and sometimes calves. I haven't had many problems in training for the events for some reason, but during races it happens. I have a feeling that it's a combination of pushing myself harder and not paying attention to my nutrition during the race.
The most recent was the marathon--my first. I ran in Warner Robins, GA (flat course) on a 20-degree day. I stayed warm until I had to slow down for the leg cramps (it was hot during the triathlon and century). I started having leg cramps at mile 15, and they were worst at mile 22. My pre-race dinner was multigrain pasta with marinara and low-fat ground beef, and for breakfast I had a big bowl of yogurt with granola, strawberries, and a banana before the race. I took four Gu packets with me during the race, planning on having one each 6 miles. I took the first two on my schedule, but the third came at mile 16 and the last at mile 21. I also had a fuel belt with water and Accelerade (31g), and I had at least one cup of water every two miles. Once the cramps started, I stopped at mile 17 and ate a half bananna as well as the third Gu packet, and I had another 1/2 banana at mile 19 or so. I had no other symptoms of dehydration or over-hydration, and I was able to eat a couple cookies, another banana, and have 2 cups of hot chocolate immediately after the race (it was cold!). My 1/2 marathon split time (before cramps set in) was around 1 hr, 48 min. I finished the race in just over 4 hours. I trained to run the entire marathon in just under 4 hours, but I felt great right up to mile 15 (actually, everything felt great other than cramping for the duration of the race).
I'd like to do another marathon and improve my time, and I really enjoy the endurance sports and competing. However, with the leg cramp problem, I'm seriously hampered from doing well or enjoying them to the fullest. Anybody have any idea what I can do to kick this problem? Am I missing something here with the nutrition or training? Thanks!
Hi - am new to Active Insider & wasn't sure when you posted your query. I have problems during the summer in MTB & have found a product called "Cramp-Stop" (I found some info on it on the web site below.
Worked wonders & wished I'd known about it when I was running! Good luck.
I've had this problem in the past and I've found 2 solutions: more water and more potassium (either through food, or supplements). It looks like you have more than covered your bases with your hydration strategy and the number of bananas you ate is actually amazing! The yogurt should have helped too, so in my experience this is not a nutrition issue, it's a training issue.
I am a runner and wanna-be triathlete. I haven't had the leg cramps so much in the run or bike, but frequently during long swims. My training is always full of runs and bikes. I avoid the swims so my leg muscles are not used to the motion as much. I asked a few of my friends and they have said... if they run on different terrain than what they are used to, they experience muscle cramps. Maybe look at where the race was versus how you trained... More hills? More pavement? Uneven surface? All of those can be affecting your body mechanics, as well as if you increased speed.
Good luck & happy training!
Race Director & Owner
How much Accelerade did you drink? Minus that - my quick calculations reveal: 500 kcal, 220mg sodium, and 440mg potassium. During an endurance race your sodium:potassium ratio should probably be the other way around (2:1 as opposed to 1:2). I would try more sodium - it has a lot more to do with cramping than potassium.
I actually prefer Power Gel (by Power Bar) because it has ~200mg sodium per gel (compared to GU's 55).
So you have a similar nutrition plan on your long runs?
I also agree, though, that other aspects of training might be an issue.
Justin Robinson, MA,RD,CSSD,CSCS
Consultant - Optimal Nutrition
I had a similar problem in marathons and found I needed more sodium. Calves started cramping in the high-teen miles, hydration was fine, made sure my potassium intake was good, but only assumed I was getting enough sodium. Various people suggested more potassium, more water or more training miles, but a friend who does ultras knew the solution. I've been using the Margarita variety of Clif Shot Bloks and have had no problems ever since. One hour before start time I eat one piece and continue at 20-minute intervals. There are other products with similar sodium levels. Find one that matches your needs and your sweat rate.
I'm in not a runner, so I don't know if this will help, but I used to get leg cramps at night, and my doctor told me to take coral calcium, and it helped? Good luck!
"And let us not get tired of doing what is right, for after a while we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't get discouraged and give up." Galatians 6:9
Visit my blog Half of Me or follow me on Twitter!
I had the same problem on all of my long runs - 8+ miles. I got a sample of Hammer Perpetuem and the run after that was a dream. I have used Perpetuem for all runs, including one this past Saturday, where it was 90 degrees in NJ. No cramping, good energy and it doesn't bother my stomach at all.
What is the "nutritional" information for the Hammer Perpetuem? Accellerade (31 grams, which is what I had during the marathon) has:
1 gram fat
10 mg cholesterol
190 mg sodium
65 mg potassium
21 g carbohydrates
20 g sugars
5 g protein
All great advice here. I would like to add something though. Another often over looked electrolyte is magnesium. Using a chelated form like magnesium glycinate will prevent stomach upset other wise take a citrate form with food. Magnesium deficiency is relatively common particularly in athletes. Magnesium is important for contraction and relaxation of muscle tissue and for energy transport which is why it is administered post heart attack with great results.
Magnesium is definitely important in a sports drink (if your event is longer than 2 hours, or so), but I do caution supplementing with it outside of that (anything beyond what you would get in a mult-vitamin). Magnesium can cause constipation.
Some sports drinks that include magnesium: Salt Stick Capsules, Lava Salt Capsules, Thermolyte Capsules, Gatorade Endurance, Cytomax, Infinit Nutrition.
Justin Robinson, MA,RD,CSSD,CSCS
Consultant - Optimal Nutrition
I don't have the answer, but I have had the same problem. I want to know the answer. Twice during marathons I had cramps that caused pain and cost minutes. What are the possible solutions?
ACTIVE is the leader in online event registrations from 5k running races and marathons to softball leagues and local events. ACTIVE also makes it easy to learn and prepare for all the things you love to do with expert resources, training plans and fitness calculators.