There is nothing more enjoyable than tearing through the countryside on that new mountain bike.
Until something cramps.
You've likely heard about leg cramps. But there is nothing like going hard in a mountain bike race, cresting the final hill to the finish, and having one of your legs spasm, seize, and stop working.
The end result? You fall face first off your bike into the nearest pile of mud.
It isn't pretty. And more than a little terrifying.
All mountain bikers get them: Charlie horses, restless legs, and leg cramps. There are small variances between each of these, but none of them are comfortable, and most cyclists will admit to dealing with them to some degree or another.
Leg care is critical to performance. Poor leg care can delay recovery and slow your progress as an athlete. Not to mention the whole face-first-in-mud scenario that I personally tried.
You need a routine that prevents leg cramps while on the bike and delivers hyper-fast recovery off the bike.
Here is the method I use for fool-proof performance.
1. Stay Hydrated
We all know the importance of staying hydrated. However, it is easy to underestimate the amount of water your body needs on sweltering days.
Additionally, proper hydration has about a 24 hour lag time. So you need to hydrate for the temperature and activities that you have planned for the next day by drinking of plenty of water the day before.
During your workout, you need to drink at least 30 ounces of water per hour.
It's easy to overlook this step until you or a friend are being treated for dehydration.
Leg cramps are one of the lighter symptoms when it comes to dehydration.
While enjoying a bike ride, make sure to equip your bikes with bottle cages. You should select the good cycling water bottles which fit perfectly on a standard road or mountain bikes.
2. Keep Your Electrolytes Balanced
Sodium, Calcium, and potassium are three of the chief suspects, here. In most cases that I've dealt with, cramping is either related to dehydration or a lack of electrolytes.
The critical thing to realize, here, is that your muscle is also a heart and needs the proper balance of electrolytes for you to stay alive. Leg cramps can be an important signal that you need to get electrolytes.
Most sports drinks have plenty of electrolytes to get you going again.
Recurring leg cramps could be a sign that there is an underlying problem. You may need to supplement your calcium and potassium. Calcium supplements are very affordable, and bananas are an easy way to get plenty of potassium (although potassium supplements are available as well.)
Magnesium is an excellent muscle relaxer. After a hard ride, a tablespoon of magnesium powder mixed into some water can help your muscles recover and promote deep, healing, sleep.
Magnesium also helps with potassium uptake.
The main takeaway on this point is to mix some electrolytes into your drink to replace the electrolytes that you will be sweating off.
3. Boost Your Vitamin Intake
Vitamin D helps with calcium uptake and processing. Especially in the wintertime or on weeks when I will spend less than 5 hours outside, I like to supplement Vitamin D.
The B vitamins can also help if there is a nerve problem that is causing the Spasm. A B-complex is a handy one to try before you ride if muscle spasms are a common problem for you.
Both Vitamin D and the B Vitamin family can stimulate you and make it hard to sleep. Take them in the morning to avoid causing insomnia.
Most muscle spasms can be stopped by stretching. Learn the basic quadriceps, hamstring and calf stretch so you can use them interrupt a spasm.
Daily stretching is also advised to help loosen tight muscles and improve their performance. Elite athletes have nightly massages. You may not have that luxury, but a consistent stretching routine every night can make all of the difference.
5. Weight Lifting
Sometimes a cramp comes from over-use. Muscle failure is a very real thing.
In addition to riding your mountain bike more, you can hit the gym and start increasing your strength. Lifting heavy weights also helps your nerves learn how to recruit more muscles so that you work the muscle more evenly at all times.
This can help keep you from overtaxing a small piece of your muscle and creating cramps.
I find that many recurring injuries or fitness setbacks are often rotted in a muscular imbalance.
A classic example of this is our hip flexors. Many of us mountain bikers are weekend warriors who hold down a desk for hours every day. These sitting jobs create shortened hip flexors, which then influence the psoas and abdominal muscles.
Suddenly, you've lost all of your core strength and your poor quads and hammies are trying to provide downward force while simultaneously stabilizing your hips and knees. This creates added muscle fatigue on your power-driving muscles and raises the risk of injury.
The only solution is to identify and resolve the underlying weakness by targeting those muscles with exercises that correct that specific imbalance. This is why you will often see athletes take up sports such as yoga, pilates or swimming to create musculoskeletal balance.
Some cyclists who love traveling long distances often exchange their mountain bike for a reliable electric bike for more intense terrains. Whether they’re on single-track or cross-country trails, e-bikes won’t let them down as these bikes are built with powerful motors that help take riders further faster. These not only cut the travel time but also keep cyclists comfortable and safe along the way. (Need a road bike? Check road bike size chart before getting one. )