Cramps: What We Know About Prevention
The two primary culprits for cramps appear to be fitness and hydration status.
Fatigue Induced Cramps
Fatigue cramps are the most prevelant types of cramps. They are essentially the consequence of a muscle hitting a point of exhaustion and going into a hyper-excitability state due to aberrant brain-muscle communication.
Have you ever noticed that your muscles seem to cramp only at the worst times, such as during a race? This is most likely to be fatigue cramps, and an indicator that you are missing out on an important aspect of training. That aspect is typically race intensity training.
For those that follow my blog, you know I am a fan of base building using your heart rate for monitoring. This type of training helps prevent injury and results in improvements in “aerobic speed” (see post on heart rate monitoring), which is important to becoming faster over longer distances. I put myself through an experiment prior to last season where I didn’t do anything but heart rate training for several months leading up to the race season. The results? I was a much faster triathlete all season despite not ever doing speed work, but I did have cramping issues during races.
As race season approaches, it is important that you mix in race-effort intensity into your training. If you don’t, you are asking for a bonk, muscle fatigue, and fatigue cramps. A race is generally not the time to introduce your muscles to a new level of intensity. That doesn’t mean you should go out and cook yourself each workout. But, it does mean your body should at least be adapted to the intensity level. Typically, 1-2 days per week of intervaled race intensity work is enough. Anymore, and you risk over-training (see my blog on cumulative stress and over-training syndrome).
Try mixing in these workouts into your routine (for a 70.3 or Half-Ironman distance triathlon):
Key Interval Run Off Bike:
Spin easy on trainer or flat outdoor route for 60 minutes, then do a 1:15 – 1:30 run off the bike with the following sets (4 x 10 minutes at 10 seconds below goal race pace with 5 minute recovery run between sets. Follow this with 5 x 3 minutes at 20 seconds below goal race pace with 2 minute recovery run between).
Key Interval Bike With Short Run Off Bike
On your long ride day, mix in 5-8 sets of 10 minutes at your race pace with 2-3 minutes rest between sets. End the bike with a 20 minute time trial. Do a short, easy effort 20 minute run off the bike.
Drink a protein shake or recovery shake immediately after these workouts. Here is my favorite recovery shake:
1 TBSP Honey
2 Level Scoops Hammer Nutrition Recoverite (chocolate!)
2 Cups Vanilla Almond Milk (Coconut Milk or Regular Milk can be subsituted)
4 Ice Cubes
Make sure you follow this workout with a low intensity day the following day, such as a long easy/moderate swim. Putting your muscles and joints through that intensity requires recovery.
Hydration and Cramps
Both dehydration and over-hydration can cause cramps. Both result in a loss of electrolytes. There are several different opinions on proper hydration leading up to a race. Because of variable sweat and water loss rates among individuals, it is very difficult to give specific recommendations on how much fluid to take in leading up to a race.
I generally simply recommend monitoring your urine color. Prior to the start of the race, your urine should be relatively clear and colorless. During the race, I subscribe to the 1 bottle per hour during the bike with electrolytes every other bottle as a starting point. During the run, grab something every aid station for an Ironman and at least every other aid station during a 70.3 as a starting point. If conditions are hot and humid, or you are at higher altitudes, or you have a higher than normal sweat rate, you may want to increase your fluid intake during the race. But, don’t overdo it. If water is sloshing around your gut, slow the fluid intake down.
Proper hydration can be made more complex than the above if you so desire. I generally choose to keep it simple, as there isn’t a lot of research showing the more complex methods result in better outcomes. This is where experimenting during training can make all the difference. Train in all types of conditions and experiment with different intakes.
What are you eating to charge up and store calories before, during, and after each ride? What kinds of energy sources are required for cycling, and then at how we can refuel after a ride?
Cyclists are mostly concerned with two sources of energy, fats (triglycerides) and sugars (glycogens). Whether you are maximizing speed, distance, or both, your body will have to use both kinds of energy to complete any ride. The problem is being able to access the energy when you need it and burn those calories.
Even a novice rider can pedal for hours before running out of energy if they pace themselves, whereas the most fit individuals hardly hold an all out sprint for even a minute. Why the stark contrast? Sprinting surely requires more energy per minute, even so, our body stores enough energy to sprint for at least half an hour. The problem is that although we have enough energy stored, our bodies cannot burn it fast enough to provide the energy needed for a longer sprint.
We keep lots of fat on reserve, and it takes our bodies a while to use it. We store less sugar and it gets used up fast for quick bursts of energy. The oxidative system converts fat to energy and will supply most of the bodies needs at lower intensities. The body still needs glycogen at lower intensities. Organs like the brain and eyes rely solely on blood sugar. If you start to experience blurred vision or feel light headed it is a sign that they are running out of, or not getting enough sugar. Endurance is usually determined by how long you can maintain your reserves of glycogen. The higher the intensity of the exercise the quicker you will deplete your valuable stores of glycogen. Regular eating will help top off reserves and is quite important in cycling. So what can you do to keep these glycogen levels up?
Before Your Ride
You don’t want to be on a ride with an empty stomach. You’ll feel sluggish and drained throughout your ride without calories to burn. At the same time you don’t want to be completely full from a heavy meal either. If you are planning on a ride, eat a good mixture of healthy food, primarily being complex carbohydrates like whole grain pastas and breads. You should also intake some healthy protein like lean white meat, Greek yogurt, and almonds. A balanced diet is key, and not only that, but eating small portions more frequently throughout the day rather than 1-3 large meals will provide you with sustained energy rather than blood sugar peaks and crashes.
During the Ride
I would recommend bringing a variety of snacks for every ride. The basic rule of refueling on the go is to eat before you are hungry and drink before you are thirsty. If you feel hungry, you have likely waited too long to refuel. A good rule of thumb is to eat at least every 45 minutes of riding time, but everyone is a little different so find what works for you. Eat foods with lots of carbs. Don’t rely on energy gels alone. A mixture consisting of real food and nutritional supplements is best. For example: on a longer ride I like to pack a peanut butter and jelly/honey/banana sandwich, a granola bar, a few energy gels, some Shot Bloks, a banana, and occasionally some M&Ms or Skittles. Be sure to check out our post on: How to Make Your Own Energy Bars. While the simple carbs provide quick energy, the complex carbs will provide longer lasting and stable energy. You can combine heart rate training to burn different types of energy. Lower heart rates will burn fat and higher, more intense heart rates will burn sugar. You can read more about hear rate training in our Heart Rate: 5 Steps to More Effective Winter Training.
When your ride is finished your body needs to recover. If you have been riding pretty hard, its likely that you’ve used up a good portion of nutrients. After riding you will want to eat a good healthy meal to restore those nutrients. Make sure you get some more complex carbs for glycogen restoration. My favorite recovery drink is chocolate milk. The chocolate provides the simple carbs to restore energy while the milk has protein for muscle recovery. Sometimes I make a protein shake with whey protein powder which is even better for muscle recovery.
Proper nutrition is essential to training and improving your fitness. Follow these guidelines to get more out of your rides and increase your performance. You’ll feel better and more energetic before, during, and after each ride. In addition to nutrition, proper training is also essential. Check out this post about Base Heart Rate Training to improve your fitness.
If you are looking for a great way to store food while riding check out the Fezzari Jerseys and be sure to take a look at Saddle Bags as well. The jersey has pockets in the back you can pack with food, and the saddle bag has an expandable pouch to include both food and tools.
Written by: Ethan Galloway
We found this infographic on worldwide obesity statistics to be a little eye opening, so as you gnaw down those holiday treats, keep in mind what it takes to work off that extra pound or two of Pumpkin Pie and candy canes. The writer personally lost 15 pounds by eating healthier foods and exercising. What kind of exercise? Cycling of course. What’s your favorite post-holiday exercise?
I personally lost 15 pounds by changing my diet and riding a bicycle. You can too.
Winter is on its way in and temperatures are declining. Temperatures and shorter daylight hours can make it difficult to keep your body in the shape you want. Whether you are new to competitive cycling, a seasoned racer, or just looking to better your fitness, there are a few simple steps to improving your abilities in preparation for the coming season.
1. Setting Goals
When entering the off-season, the first step to a successful upcoming year is planning. Take a look at your previous season and assess which aspects went well and which didn’t turn out as expected. Think of what you want to improve on this year, set a few goals, and make necessary plans to reach those goals. Perhaps you had great endurance but not very much power. Maybe you felt fast on the flats but not as quick up the climbs. Adjust your training to improve your weakest areas of riding.
Plan out your approaching race/ride calender and focus on the events most important to you. You’ll want to be hitting your peak fitness at these times. Planning can make a huge difference in your season.
2. Decrease Training Intensity
Fall/Winter is a time to slow down your training intensity. If you were to train year-round at your maximum ability, you are likely to burn out much too early. Instead, you want to start your off season at a much lower intensity, then gradually work your way back up to your peak when the time is right.
To regulate yourself, you should consult a target heart rate diagram easily found online. You can customize your own training plan to your age and limitations. First you need to determine your Maximum Heart Rate (mhr). One method to determine your age adjusted mhr is to use this equation.
Male: 220 – (age) = mhr
Female: 226 – (age) = mhr
Once you have your mhr, you can effectively plan your off-season. Start slow by riding at 50-60% of your mhr. In a month or two bump it up to 60-75% mhr. Next, when early spring hits, you can jump up to 75-85% mhr. Then, when the event season starts, you can increase up to 85-100% mhr. Not only will this allow your body to work its way back up to peak fitness without overtraining, but you will increase your endurance by training your body to work at different heart rate zones. To more effectively monitor your heart rate, check out the cycling computers we offer.
There are many approaches to building your base level of cardio. For a great article on base training be sure to check out Garret Rock’s article – The Importance of Base Building: Heart Rate Training
3. Add Variety
It can be difficult to get out and train often in the Winter, especially if you live in a cold climate, but there are many activities you can do to stay fit.
- Get a trainer or rollers. They are simple to use and you can stay fit while riding your bike without leaving the house. Check out the Cycleops trainers we carry.
- Running, swimming, tennis, basketball, soccer, cross-country skiing, and snow-shoeing are great for cross-training
- Pick-up some leg and arm warmers to keep warm when its cold out
- Start interval training more when you get closer to the race season.
The off-season is a great time to use weights to your advantage. Weight lifting can build and tone your muscles while increasing your muscle endurance. Although your legs will be most important to improve, focusing on other muscle groups will improve your overall athleticism as well. The goal isn’t to bulk up, but to increase endurance. This is best achieved by using smaller weights with higher reps. For an in depth article about specific weight training exercises, make sure to check out – Top 5 Weight Lifting Exercises for Cyclists
Make sure you are having fun throughout this process! Following these steps will improve your riding ability and help you have a more enjoyable year. Good Luck!
The off-season is a great time to tone down your intense cardiovascular training and focus on building your leg muscles in the gym. Building your leg muscles will help with overall power as well as endurance. Weight lifting also requires your body to use many of the smaller muscles required for balance and agility. Here are 5 exercises to build stronger muscles for increased power and strength.
Squats for Cyclists
The squat is the single best exercise for developing powerful legs, as it works the entire upper leg muscle, butt and lower back. When done right, you will quickly see results in increased power output and sprint speed weather you are on a road bike or mountain bike.
In doing the squat exercise, you first hold a weight bar across your traps just at the base of neck and top of back. You will want to be in a standing position with knees slightly bent, your feet pointing straight ahead or turned out just a bit, and positioned slightly wider than your hips. Then while keeping your back straight, bend your legs and lower your hips until your upper thighs are parallel to the ground. From this point you then push straight up, returning yourself to the standing position.
If you haven’t done squats before, we would recommend that women use just the weight bar and men can add 10-25lbs as a starting point. What’s great about this weight range is that it allows you to develop proper form, which is most important with a technical exercise like squats.
As with all movements described here, in order to thoroughly exhaust the muscle and attain the most amount of blood flow (increased blood flow brings more oxygen and nutrients to the muscle helping it become stronger and recover quicker), you will need to focus solely on isolating the muscle and not tensing the rest of your body. Pay attention to a complete range of motion at the top and bottom of your movement flexing the muscle at the peak of each repetition.
In cycling, along with your hamstrings, the quadriceps in your upper leg will carry a majority of the load, the squat will help you develop strength quickly.
The Calf Raise is a great exercise to improve your lower leg muscles for two reasons. It will increase your cadence allowing you to pedal faster on a road bike and also increase your ability to push off your pedal transitioning into the next pedal stroke on a mountain bike. There are a number of machines to work this muscle group, all with virtually the same range of motion and movement.
To do calf raises, first position your toes on a raised bar that allows your heels to drop several inches below your toes. A curb or set of stairs will work just fine for this. You can hold dumbbells in your hands, or do this with no external weights.
The secret to this movement is to really stretch your calf all the way down at the bottom of your contraction, and when raising all the way up pinching the muscle at the top. Stand on the ball of your foot with your heel hanging off of the ledge, slowly lower heels down as far as your can then raise up to your tip-toe, and back down. You will feel a nice stretch in the back of your calf. Then raise yourself back up to tip-toe and repeat. Do four sets of this, with 20 repetitions each time.
Strong hamstrings help when sprinting towards the finish line as well as in the steep section of a single track climb. Having strong hamstrings also balances out the quad muscle giving you more power overall.
The Hamstring Curl is done on a bench with a pulley system that allows you to raise a stack of weights. You lay on your stomach, with your legs out straight out behind you. With the back of your lower leg against the bar, you bend your legs so that your heels come up toward your rear, raising the stack of weights.
In this exercise, do three sets of lifts with ten repetitions in each. The weight can be the same in each, but the rest interval between sets should be only 30-60 seconds. Start light at 20 % of your body weight until you find the right weight for you for these exercises. The right weight is one that challenges you over ten repetitions, and failing in the 12-15 rep range.
The Leg Press
You can do three sets of leg presses, performing 12 repetitions in the first set, then 10 in the second and then eight repetitions in the last, getting progressively heavier (10-15%) each time. Allow three minutes rest between sets. This exercise will mainly work the outer muscle of your thigh and your upper quadriceps. This helps to balance the muscles worked in the squat exercise building muscle evenly across the top of your quad.
To determine the right starting weight for your exercise, a good rule of thumb is to start with an amount roughly equal to your body weight. If you can do this twelve times easily, bump up the weight by 10-15%. If it is already too difficult, trim it down by the same amount, making these adjustments until you get to that good starting point.
The leg extension is performed on a bench with a pulley system that allows you to raise a stack of weights. You sit on the bench with your feet and ankles pressed against a bar that, when raised by slowly kicking your feet out and forward, lifts the weights into the air.
In these exercises, do three sets with ten repetitions in each. The weight can be the same in each, but the rest interval between sets should be only 30-60 seconds. Start light — maybe just 20% of your body weight at first — until you find the right weight for you for these exercises. The right weight is one that challenges you over ten repetitions, but that you can ultimately complete.
This exercise will develop the quads right above your knee, along with the squat, hamstring curls and leg press your will successfully isolate all muscle in the upper leg, seriously increasing your climbing and sprint speeds, as well as enlarging your endurance potential.
Whether you are a trail hunting All-Mountain/XC rider or a pavement seeking road cyclist, this group of leg exercises will bring immediate results and bring more enjoyment into your biking.
Riding a century can be a great way to experience cycling with friends, the only thing that could ruin the experience is the dreaded bonk! If you don’t know what that means…good for you!
What Is the Meaning of Bonk?
If you do know what that means, then you will make it a point to try to avoid bonking again. A true bonk consists of depleting your glycogen stores so much that you literally have nothing left in the tank. One of the best ways to avoid this is to replenish your glycogen stores throughout the ride. Most centuries have aid stations along the way that can help fuel you but as a rule of thumb it is good to carry calories with you.
For the average person consuming a minimum of 150 calories an hour will be enough to stave off any huge decreases in energy output. For the more competitive/experienced rider their caloric needs can range up to 500 calories an hour.
Getting enough calories can come from a combination of sports drinks, calorie replacement drinks (EFS, CarboPro to name a few), gels, power bars, cliff bars, peanut butter sandwiches, candy. Of course it is good to test what you like and to try different combinations before your century.
Another major part of nutrition before and for sure during a race or a century ride is to make sure you are taking in enough electrolytes, especially sodium. Most sport drinks have sodium in them but that is usually not enough for your body to be able to use through the long ride. As a rule of thumb people should be shooting to take in between 700-1000 milligrams of sodium an hour. This can be a combination of drink powders and more so electrolyte/sodium tablets. I prefer using a product made by a company called Sports Quest and there sodium capsules are called Metasalts(thermolytes).
I hope this information helps you to have a great first or however many races or centuries you have done and improve your times and strength.
Being a frugal road biker is tricky. At times, it’s near impossible. So when I started training for LOTOJA last spring I instinctively shielded my wallet when the realization struck me of how much I would be eating, let alone pedaling, on my long training rides. Armed with the sum of human wisdom (Google) and a tough set of intestines, my homemade energy bars recipe experiment ended with this tasty number. At less than $.20 per 200 calorie bar, it satisfied my hunger and my budget.
Energy Bars Ingredients List
1 1/4 cups store brand Crisp Rice (Rice Krispies)
1 cup uncooked quick oats
2 tablespoons flaxseed meal
1/4 cup chopped raisins
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Stick your oats, flaxseed meal, raisins, cinnamon, and Rice Krispies in a semi-large mixing bowl. Stir them together a bit so when you add the peanut butter mixture you don’t inhale balls of cinnamon that throw you into a coughing fit at mile 65 this weekend.
On the stove, warm up the peanut butter and syrup. Heat and stir until they form a nice, smooth mixture. After you take it off the heat, add the vanilla. Why you do this, I have no idea, but one cooking blog insisted. Who am I to argue.
Pour your peanut butter goop into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Mix until everything is coated in peanut-buttery, syrupy goodness.
Spray a small cooking sheet with PAM or whatever non-stick cooking spray you fancy. Dump your mixture onto the sheet, cover it with wax paper, and use a rolling pin to mash it down hard into the pan. Stick the whole thing into the fridge to chillax for a bit.
Take it out of the fridge (unless you have a special talent for wielding a pizza cutter among milk and eggs) and slice your concoction into 8 bars.
Wrap each one in wax paper (you can do plastic wrap, but wax paper is much easier to unwrap when riding), tape it up, and throw a few in your jersey pocket for your next ride.
So, here’s how it goes, for the recipe above you’ve got a total 1670 calories, 214g of carbs, and 48g of protein. If you cut it into 8 bars, you’ve got bars that have 209 calories, 27g of carbs, and 6g of protein a piece for about $0.19 a bar. Not too shabby.
If you like nuts. You can add those. I’m not a big fan of nuts in bars so, obviously, my version is nut-free.
Maple syrup isn’t the healthiest option. If you’re picky about that stuff, some of the recipes I looked at recommended brown rice syrup. I had no idea what that was, so Kroger brand flavored corn syrup was my fuel of choice.
I’ve tried other dried fruit like craisins, dried pineapple, etc., but you can’t really taste a difference so stick with trusty, cheap raisins.
If you like protein powders or whatever GNC had on sale this week, can’t hurt to give ‘em a try.