As many a runner would tell you, we sometimes have races where our legs just cramp on us and we don’t know why. There are many things that can cause your legs to cramp; such as bad training, poor pacing, or running out of fuel, just to name a few. Although the cause is different for everyone, I have learned a way to avoid one kind of cramping.
If you’re like me, you have often heard the advice regarding pre-hydration before a race. It is often said that you need to drink a lot in the day(s) before to have a successful race or just simply to avoid the dehydration. Although it seems like a good way to avoid dehydration, it’s actually a mistake almost everyone makes and is not known by many.
In Chris McCormick’s book, “I’m Here To Win”, he talks about what he learned from other athletes that helped him dominate the Ironman World Championships. The most essential part was getting over the cramping issues he’d been having from the heat in Hawaii.
“Well, after years of cramping and dying in Hawaii I was fed up… and I knew cramping was the only thing holding me back… I needed to find a way to store fluids without adding mass and my hydration strategy wasn’t getting it done.”
His friend introduced him to a bodybuilder and he got the answers he needed.
“He told me that in bodybuilding there are two types of hydration. Cramping tends to come at the muscular-cellular level and not the blood plasma level. He suggested that when in the weeks or three days when I was panicking saying “hydrate, hydrate”… I was hydrating at the plasma level but wasn’t hydrating my muscles which hold water for much longer. He told me bodybuilders hydrated by drinking a big load of magnesium calcium and added sodium and potassium in a solution and consumed it slowly over about two weeks so they saturate their muscles.”
I have found this advice very helpful as someone who has battled cramps many times. I have found that just simply drinking plain water flushes out all the minerals and electrolytes that prevents cramping. It takes time and electrolytes to build up a good hydration level. It’s not something that happens overnight.
So, I learned a new strategy to make sure my hydration and electrolytes are topped off at the same time. I drink an electrolyte drink mix in the week and a half leading up to the race. There are many electrolyte drink mixes out there like GU hydration, Nuun Hydration, Trace Minerals and Emergen-C drink packets. I don’t drink too much more than normal but enough to assure I am topped off without flushing out anything. This has worked well for me to avoid cramping of this sort in a race.
However, sometimes you cramp no matter what. So if it happens to me during a race, I take Electrolyte capsules and Magnesium tablets. The amounts of which depends upon the level of cramping and the length of the race. I will have 2 to 10 an hour and drink as much as 28 ounces of fluid. But I will not exceed that to avoid turning my stomach sour or flushing the minerals out of my muscles and making my cramps worse.
I hope that what I learned here, helps you. And let me know if you have anything that has worked for you. Run strong and cramp-free!