Sunday, January 16, 2011

Triathlons and Muscle Cramps

Interesting... for as much time as I spend training and thinking about Triathlons I don't spend much time writing about them.  Of course that could be because it is January, Btown just got 23 inches of snow and I am in Hong Kong. 

So if I were to write a chronicle of my tri experiences you would see a general theme.  During practically EVERY race I have had muscle cramps.  This has been the bane of my racing experience.  As a result, I have become an expert on the subject of muscle cramps and their potential causes.

So far, I have not been able to find the magic combination that eliminates my cramping.  If you don't think I have tried it all... so far I have explored the following causes and many more:

1.) Hydration - basically this is the most common suspected cause of cramping.  I'll admit that I have a hard time staying hydrated because I sweat at about 65 ounces per hour but can only hydrate at around 35 ounces per hour.  So I am bound to get dehydrated in hot conditions or when working hard during a race.  Probably the best thing I could do is lose some weight since that would help keep me a little cooler and make me work a little less.

2.) Electrolytes - this is the second most common suspected cause.  I have tried all levels of electrolyte replenishment using multiple sources.  My favorite is Endurolytes made by Hammer Nutrition, specifically in powder form so I can mix it with my drink.

3.) Nutrition - I have looked at my diet and found that I don't get enough essential minerals so I take a suppliment to make up the difference.  Basically I take Calcium, Magnesium, and Zinc to keep my muscles firing properly.  In the very beginning this made a great improvement in my cramping but that didn't last long.

4.) Fitness - The theory is that the cramps protect you from doing something beyond your capabilities so you need to train to force your body to adapt and be prepared.  I don't train as much as some triathletes, but I routinely get in 6 - 10 hours a week which is still quite a bit.  This winter we incorporated some strength training into the mix which made me strong as hell but didn't help the cramping.  In brick workouts I sometimes cramp and sometimes don't, it's a bit of a crap shoot.  Lately all my bricks have resulted in cramping.

5.) Caffeine - First it can cause dehydration, second it can cause muscle spasms which in my mind are related to cramping.  Either way I eliminated caffeine and it didn't make a bit of difference.

6.) pH balance - This is one that is hard for me to figure out because it is pretty dynamic.  There are many things that can throw your pH balance out of whack.  When it happens they think it can cause cramping. 

7.) I could go on and on forever because there are over 250 suspected causes for muscle cramps.  I'm hoping some day they will want to turn me into a science experiment at some medical school and they can do all the tests necessary to figure out my cause.  Until they call, I'll keep training hard and trying to stay hydrated, eat healthy, and lose some more weight.  Maybe some day they will call...