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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi,
I got two problems that evolved with getting a better rider:
1. Cramping
2. Reaching full potential in races

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In every single race in 2019 I got cramps in my inner thighs. In one longish (4h of racing) XCM race in the Neherlands I just fell off my bike with stiff legs. Of course it has something to do with fatigue, but the problems are not only occuring in the legs but also my arms, fingers, etc.
Nutritionwise I am using a combination of Vitargo and Fructose with some added salt.
I consider myself a reasonable XC Racer with the ability to put out sth around 4,5w/kg/h. Weekly training time is usually limited to 12h, but rarely less than 10h. Every single session is done either on the MTB or on the rollers with Trainerroad. I got a tendency to overcook it on the climbs, because I love it.

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I am a serious underachiever in race environments. In XCO events I usually stay 20 percent below my training values. Either because I am afraid of cramping or due to the fact that I tend to overthink race situations (I am not in the moment; always already analyzing the race while still racing or saying to myself that it doesn't matter what I do because I am already not where I should be with my physical abilities...)

Has anyone experiences with cramping and trainng of mental strength?
 

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Elitest thrill junkie
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Well, you need to be taking in electrolytes for one, a little salt won't replenish magnesium, potassium, etc. It's also about how frequently you are taking in your glucose replenishment. If it's not every ~30 min or so, you are at greater risk for cramping. If you are a super efficient racer in top Cat 1 or pro, you can get away with a lot less as far as nutrition and hydration, but the further you are from that 140lbs super-efficient body-style, the more nutrition and hydration you need to keep going.

Besides riding, what are you doing for training?
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Actually I think my nutrition is pretty dialed in. It usually consists of a combination of 70g of Vitargo and 30g of Fructose per hour mixed with 700ml of water, salt caps and 200-400 mg of caffeine. My weight is 141-143lbs, height is 5.8".
I don't do any complementary training. I am of a quite muscular build (background as a national level ski racer). I think there is a lot of room for improvement on the functional fitness side...
 

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Elitest thrill junkie
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Actually I think my nutrition is pretty dialed in. It usually consists of a combination of 70g of Vitargo and 30g of Fructose per hour mixed with 700ml of water, salt caps and 200-400 mg of caffeine. My weight is 141-143lbs, height is 5.8".
I don't do any complementary training. I am of a quite muscular build (background as a national level ski racer). I think there is a lot of room for improvement on the functional fitness side...
I see both of those as problems. You think your nutrition is dialed in, but I checked that "fuel" supplement and it doesn't appear to be an electrolyte replenishment, salt-tabs is not enough and doesn't absorb nearly as well as a liquid electrolyte mix. It's very common for racers and riders to disregard the other salts besides NaCl that are critical to your body processes. There are dedicated fuel+electrolyte mixes, like carborocket fuel, but at your performance level it may not be possible to go without more solid food/fuel. Not sure what caffeine is doing for you, has nothing to do with cramping or your energy output.

You can train to get better with intervals and max-effort rides, but these are difficult to do on your own with no one pushing you. Without any significant hills in the Netherlands, this may be compounding the issue. IME, hills aren't critical, but no gym work and no hills make bike-only training very difficult.

To work back to your first question, I do races from 5 to 100+ miles. Cramps are obviously an issue at some point. For shorter evening races that are usually 1-2hrs and ~25km, I can go as hard as I can possibly go and not worry about cramps at all. When the race gets longer though, I have to pull back and start managing my output more. This can mean going what seems to be fairly slow in a 100 mile race, but at mile 80 when you are not cramping, it's infinitely faster than lying on the side of the trail suffering from cramps. Sometimes when I've had cramps, I've been able to "push through" the cramps, keep pedaling, switch legs, etc. Sometimes, the pain and muscle lock-up is so great I can't get off the ground for a while. With this variance, it would take a lot more mental toughness than I have to "push through" every instance of cramping. It's far better IME to avoid cramping or have it at a level that is more easily managed.

Interestingly, I've noticed in some of the ultra-endurance stuff, after going through a "wall" of cramps, my body "resets" itself and I can ride up steep stuff again just fine, like at the end of the race, without cramping.
 

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I kept upping my electrolyte content in my race mix till I stopped cramping. About 660mg of sodium per hour is what I landed at, and corresponding magnesium/potassium. I also load ~1500mg of pink himilayan salt every morning for days before a race or heavy training ride(basically every day in race season). I race primarily XCM 50 mile or 6hr races in the southeast US, so 6 hours at 85 deg F and 90% humidity is a pretty normal day, with minimal DH to recover and cool down just straight pedaling. I ain't the fastest at under 4w/kg, but I don't cramp hardly ever if I stick to that nutrition plan.
 

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EAT MORE GRIME
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magnesium supplements every night
calcium supplements 1 hour before rides


try that for 2 months
 

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Since I don't cramp much, I don't have much advise on electrolytes.

But I think you'll be better served upping your hours of riding, for several reasons:
-Fitness/load increase may help your cramping problems. I usually cramp (it's rare) when it's an event with load higher than what I'm used to.
-A person of your p/w should be able to handle more hours. Plus you being in the Netherlands (a cycling hotbed), this would put you more in line with the hours of your competition. i'm sure their doing lots hours.
-More training helps your race confidence. You go to the race thinking "I'll kick ass today because I did the work!". Doing same preparation load will likely lead to same results and likely lead to same self doubts.

Also, race A LOT if you can. A few seasons I raced 30+ times (midweek MTB and crits, and CX races) and after a while, you get into a routine. With so many races you put less value on a single race thus decreasing the mental pressure.

But nothing helps self confidence like racing with the leaders of a race. I'll never forget when that happened to me (March 2006; for 3 seasons prior to that I was pack fodder). And once that happens then you see it's possible, then it's a matter of doing all the big things (training, body weight, sleep, diet) and all the little things (mental, confidence, periodization, weights, etc.) every season.
 

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Data shows that poor nutrition doesn't seem cause our cramps, exertion does. Only way to solve that is through training. I have to push myself REALLY hard to cramp, but I am also pedaling over 20 hours a week. Some of my ability might just be luck of the genetic draw. Unfortunately, just like VO2 Max, some of that is just luck of the draw. You can test if nutrition is the problem by taking in more electrolytes a couple of weeks before your next event. If your next race is the same, it wasn't the electrolytes.

https://www.bicycling.com/training/g20034625/how-to-prevent-cramping-on-a-ride/

As for race strategy, I used to be very conservative. Still am sometimes, but working on it. I used a coach last season, and the main benefits I got from him was the motivation to push harder. Since then I have had a few failed events from going to hard. BUT, I have had a few events where pushing hard turned out well. And the times I went TOO hard and fell apart, I felt great about it. Yeah, I struggled to finish sometimes (I actually had to pull over and nap for 10 minutes at the Belgian Waffle Ride), but the feeling of hitting those limits and seeing where the were was kinda cool, and will hopefully let me get to those limits safely in the future. Don't be afraid to fail. Or in my case, it is a failure to me when I finish feeling like I didn't give 100%.
 

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EAT MORE GRIME
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Data shows that poor nutrition doesn't seem cause our cramps, exertion does. Only way to solve that is through training. I have to push myself REALLY hard to cramp, but I am also pedaling over 20 hours a week. Some of my ability might just be luck of the genetic draw. Unfortunately, just like VO2 Max, some of that is just luck of the draw. You can test if nutrition is the problem by taking in more electrolytes a couple of weeks before your next event. If your next race is the same, it wasn't the electrolytes.

https://www.bicycling.com/training/g20034625/how-to-prevent-cramping-on-a-ride/

As for race strategy, I used to be very conservative. Still am sometimes, but working on it. I used a coach last season, and the main benefits I got from him was the motivation to push harder. Since then I have had a few failed events from going to hard. BUT, I have had a few events where pushing hard turned out well. And the times I went TOO hard and fell apart, I felt great about it. Yeah, I struggled to finish sometimes (I actually had to pull over and nap for 10 minutes at the Belgian Waffle Ride), but the feeling of hitting those limits and seeing where the were was kinda cool, and will hopefully let me get to those limits safely in the future. Don't be afraid to fail. Or in my case, it is a failure to me when I finish feeling like I didn't give 100%.
my data was low mag

with mag supplements, cramps are history
 

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Are you taking any medications? Some of them can cause problems with exercise intolerance including cramping.

For me it was Prilosec. If your not familiar with that one it's for gastric reflux and is in the Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) class.

I was doing a lot of trail running and could pretty much turn out 15-18 miles with few problems and certainly no cramping. Went on the Pilosec and after about 6 months I started cramping as soon as 5-6 miles into a run. Mostly in the inner thighs for some reason. Did a bunch of research and found that the PPI's affect absorption of nutrients and other people had the same problem with them. I switched to Zantac and said bye bye to the cramps.

Just different thought from the ones already posted.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
1) I am not from the Netherlands; I just race there sometimes because its usually very well organized and there is some nice competition. Got enough hills in my area. Climbing is my strength an I had some good results this season in regional XCM events (a 2nd and a 7th place which is ok for me. The winner of the latter race was 30 minutes faster than me but it didn't bother me because he is a former World Tour Roadie with some TdF participations to his name).
Taking in more electrolytes: I will try that.
Gym routine will follow.
Strategy:The next race for me is quite far away (beginning of September; I am becoming a father in a few weeks :) ), but I will try to go all out from the gun and see how it will work out.
Putting in more hours: it's not going to happen; maybe I could but I don't want to. With a baby girl, a new house and a new Job (got a sedentary Job, MBA, sitting on my arse most of the time) I don't want to stress myself with 20+hours/week on the bike.
Medication: no, I am drug free.
 

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Hi,
I got two problems that evolved with getting a better rider:
2. Reaching full potential in races

ad 2)
I am a serious underachiever in race environments. In XCO events I usually stay 20 percent below my training values. Either because I am afraid of cramping or due to the fact that I tend to overthink race situations (I am not in the moment; always already analyzing the race while still racing or saying to myself that it doesn't matter what I do because I am already not where I should be with my physical abilities...)

Has anyone experiences with cramping and trainng of mental strength?
Regarding your second issue, this was me last year. I race XCO Cat 2/Sport now, but moving up to Cat 1/Expert after my next race as I will win my series as long as I finish the race. In fact I've won all my races this year (four 1st places) as opposed to last year where I was fighting to stay with the front pack.

So what has changed from 2018? Well my fitness has increased due to a strong off seasonal training plan, but I've also put an equal amount of effort into my mental game. This was a big weakness and limiter of mine last year. I'd put at least a 25% gain in 2019 solely on being in a better headspace. I've read a bunch of books, listened to numerous podcasts on mental training and have introduced mindfulness meditation for the past 4 months.

I strongly recommend taking this journey yourself if you take racing seriously!

As far as books go I'd read (or listen to audiobooks) the following in this order:

EDURE (Alex Hutchinson)
HOW BAD DO YOU WANT IT (Matt Fitzgerald)
THE BRAVE ATHLETE (Simon Marshall, Lesley Paterson)
*Bonus books if you want more; Let Your Mind Run, The Mindful Athlete, Good To Go, Finding Ultra).

Podcast:
The Sonya Looney Show (search for shows regarding mental and mindfulness topics)

Meditation Apps:
Headspace
10% Happier
 

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Actually I think my nutrition is pretty dialed in.
I would seriously question that assumption given that you're having cramps in your arms and fingers. Your race nutrition starts long before the race. If you start with a hydration or electrolyte problem, you're not going to fix it during the race.

Also, as an experiment I would consider skipping the caffeine just to see what happens.
 

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have you tried training and racing standing pedaling more. I used to cramp and then started having dedicated training on a Kickr where i just did low cadence standing pedaling intervals and sometime whole sessions (short). It did not cure them all together but helped to the point where when they come on i stand up and can get them to go away.
Also started running a bit (around the same time so not sure what was what)
 

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Data shows that poor nutrition doesn't seem cause our cramps, exertion does. Only way to solve that is through training. I have to push myself REALLY hard to cramp, but I am also pedaling over 20 hours a week. Some of my ability might just be luck of the genetic draw. Unfortunately, just like VO2 Max, some of that is just luck of the draw. You can test if nutrition is the problem by taking in more electrolytes a couple of weeks before your next event. If your next race is the same, it wasn't the electrolytes.

https://www.bicycling.com/training/g20034625/how-to-prevent-cramping-on-a-ride/

As for race strategy, I used to be very conservative. Still am sometimes, but working on it. I used a coach last season, and the main benefits I got from him was the motivation to push harder. Since then I have had a few failed events from going to hard. BUT, I have had a few events where pushing hard turned out well. And the times I went TOO hard and fell apart, I felt great about it. Yeah, I struggled to finish sometimes (I actually had to pull over and nap for 10 minutes at the Belgian Waffle Ride), but the feeling of hitting those limits and seeing where the were was kinda cool, and will hopefully let me get to those limits safely in the future. Don't be afraid to fail. Or in my case, it is a failure to me when I finish feeling like I didn't give 100%.
I'd agree with Sidewalk here, I don't think it's nutrition based and it gets old whenever people instantly say Electrolyts. Based on my research, experimentation and convo's with other racers / docs, I think for most people it's fitness based. I'm a cramper around the 2 hr mark, I also am really good at going really hard for 1-1.5 hrs. If I go out on a longer race at that pace, I'm done for. I need to pull it back, I need to be better at going fast with a lower HR....which comes down to training.

I also generally cramp on downhills and/or really rooty/rocky sections.

My worst cramping session was in a 50 mile race after doing very little training post collar bone break with LOTS of electrolytes and pickle juice.

I just got done racing the BC Bike Race, just started to cramp the first day (2ish hours), racing all out. Pulled back a bit and had 0 cramps the remaining 6 days with lots of tough riding. I had a fair amount of miles in my legs, but nutrition was the same each and every day.

So IMO options come down to:

1) Race smarter / easier, easier said than done.
2) Train to better replicate your race. Most of us do a lot of intervals, hill repeats, but it's so tough to replicate a true race scenario. It can be done but it means rallying with your buddies, pushing each other and no breaks to BS....ride consistent and hard.
3) Race more, ease into the early season racing and if you race often you'll learn to know how hard you can go and your body will respond to longer and harder efforts.
 

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sportlegs
is calcium and magnesium plus other stuff
Yup. For me, there is something unique about sportlegs compared to other electrolyte products advertised to help cramping.

I never did isolate just magnesium or calcium and experiment with specific supplements of them.

Like others have discussed, training is probably a bigger issue as I raced harder than I realistically prepared for.

In my experience and with my sample size of 1, compared to other common solutions offered for cramping (pickle juice, mustard, electrolyte drinks, bananas, Tums), this was the only thing that actually prevented cramps in my racing.

Sent from my Pixel 2 using Tapatalk
 

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Over-exertion is generally the main cause of cramping. When you push your legs well beyond its limits (in terms of faster pace, more vertical feet, steeper climbs, or longer miles) is when cramping generally occurs. If you slowly build up to bigger and bigger rides you can help avoid cramping. A few times a year, when I am pushing through fitness ceilings too quickly, I get cramping on those big days. It is like clockwork.
 
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