Next to running, cycling is one of the activities most likely to induce cramps. Experts are not certain what causes cramps, but dehydration, muscle fatigue, electrolyte imbalances and lack of a proper stretching routine have been singled out as likely culprits. In rare cases, an underlying medical disorder is to blame. Many cramps can be prevented by taking simple self-care measures; however, if you get cramps consistently while biking, consult a doctor to rule out an underlying medical problem.
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A cramp is defined as a strong, involuntary muscular contraction that does not relax. Mild cramps don't usually last long and are simply a minor annoyance, but severe cramps are painful and can last for several minutes or hours. Severe cramps can also cause the muscle to knot and form a lump. You can get a cramp anywhere in any muscle, but the thigh and calf are the most commonly affected areas. Cramps are also common in the abdomen, hands, feet and ribcage area. Anyone can get a cramp, but they are common among athletes who participate in endurance events. According to the Cycling Performance Tips website, a sampling of cyclists who participated in a 100-mile race found that 70 percent of male participants and 30 percent of female participants experienced cramps during the race.
While the exact cause of muscle cramps is not known, dehydration is often cited as a possible cause, particularly if you are cycling in hot temperatures. Electrolytes, particularly sodium, magnesium, potassium and calcium, are minerals that conduct electricity and help with muscle contraction. If you are lacking electrolytes in your blood, either because you are sweating a lot or not getting enough in your diet, you may get cramps. If you are biking in an endurance event and are not in shape, it can lead to muscle fatigue, making the muscles weak and susceptible to cramping. Not stretching before biking can have the same effect. In rare cases, a medical disorder that affects your metabolism or nerves can be the cause of your cramps.
If you experience cramps in your calf while riding, they can be remedied by standing on the bike and dropping your heel, which will stretch the muscle. Cramps on the front thigh can be treated by moving your thigh backwards towards your buttocks. Stretching may be painful, but it will help the muscles relax and should stop the cramp. Drinking small sips of water may also help. Applying heat after you are done riding can help ease the cramp by relaxing the muscle further. If your muscle is sore or tender, applying cold is more appropriate. If the cramps persist or are accompanied by dizziness or chills, stop riding and seek medical attention; you may have heat stroke.
To prevent cramps, perform a warm-up and stretch before you ride. If you are participating in endurance events, ensure you are training properly and not reaching beyond your limits. To ensure proper hydration, get a rack to place a water bottle in your bike. Drink water before, during and after you ride; however, your should avoid drinking too much. Consuming too much water can lead to an imbalance of sodium in your body, which can cause nausea and headaches. Drinking a beverage enhanced with electrolytes can help you hydrate more effectively. Avoid cycling in hot temperatures if you can. Eat a balanced diet with plenty of nutrient-dense foods to ensure you are getting enough electrolytes. If taking preventive measures does not prevent cramps from occurring while biking, consult a doctor.