There are countless stories of elite athletes having a great race than with the drop of a hat start to experience muscle cramps.
This includes Olympian Deena Kastor who suffered from a glute cramp that derailed her from the Rio Olympics in 2016, as well as Kara Goucher who DNF the 2019 Houston Marathon around the 31k mark because of leg cramps.
It’s an issue that happens to everyday endurance athletes as well. There we are miles into the long run when out of nowhere the calf spasms start. These get so bad we are left limping until we can no longer run on.
What causes muscle cramping during exercise?
The jury is still out on that.
The exact cause of muscle cramps during exercise is unknown. But dehydration, loss of electrolytes, muscle fatigue, overuse and not stretching are all popular culprits many sports therapist agree on.
While dehydration and electrolyte loss was always a common cause, more and more research is finding the link here is weak.
That gave rise to another popular theory, poor communication between muscles and nerves. This is believed to happen as a result of extreme muscle fatigue.
Muscle cramps in the legs during exercise is also popularly linked to a build-up of lactic acid.
Lactic acid is the byproduct of exercise. It is caused when glucose is metabolized there isn’t enough oxygen in the muscles to break it down. The more the muscles are working intensely, the more that glucose is turning into lactic acid in the muscles. And since the body isn’t breaking it down, cramping can occur.
If the athlete has ever felt that tint of burning sensation in their muscles when working out, then that right there is the build-up of lactic acid.
How To Prevent Muscle Cramps
So how do athletes prevent muscle cramps?
It’s all about being proactive. Even if the athlete never experienced them before, taking the necessary steps for prevention is key.
And if the athlete experienced cramping before that is nothing to worry about for every single workout. Just stick to these prevention strategies.
1. Stretch and Properly Warm-Up
Intense workouts that require stamina and endurance require a proper warm-up routine. The fact of the matter is that all workouts need to start with a warm-up. But when really using and firing up those muscles, it’s important to get the blood pumping.
Make the time to get in a good stretch. This means focusing on areas like lower legs that are susceptible to cramping.
Get in a dynamic warm-up, not static stretching. This means butt kicks, squats, and jumping jacks before dropping down and touching toes. This is to makes sure muscles and ligaments are nice and loose.
2. Fuel Properly
Athletes need to make sure they are fueling properly when exercising. This is especially the case for endurance athletes and workouts that last over an hour.
First, make sure to stay hydrated. And this means throughout the day every day, not just when exercising. During the workout, consume between five and 12 oz. of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes.
Also, make sure to choose a sports nutrition product that has everything the athlete needs. This includes enough carbs (30 to 60 grams per hour of endurance exercise).
Reach for Kramp Krusher energy chews to get 38 grams of carbs in one bag.
It is also packed with sea salt electrolytes, which prevent the loss of too much sodium while aiding in hydration.
Kramp Krushers also include calcium lactate to promote better nerve to muscle function. This prevents the build-up of lactate acid, playing a vital role in avoiding muscle cramps altogether.
3. Training Is Key
This means training properly for the exercise at hand. Don’t expect to go from a 5k runner to a marathoner without the proper training. This only causes injury, overuse and muscle fatigue to go from low mileage to extremely high mileage overnight.
The same is true when weightlifting. Take the time to feel comfortable at a certain weight then gradually increasing the load over time. This can take weeks.
Also, try to incorporate plyometric moves into training. These explosive moves that involve lots of jumping help to improve muscle and nerve coordination.
4. Run Your Own Pace
Runners often have time goals. But it’s important to run at a comfortable pace for those long-distance miles. Build up the base first to get the body used to the distance. Then play with speed.
Learn to listen to the body when it comes to pushing it too far.
This is important for runners since cramping is common among runners at miles 18 to 20. Make sure to properly train and aim to run at least 10 miles at race pace before the marathon.
Running too fast will lead to muscle fatigue and burnout.