Fixing And Avoiding Quad Cramps – Triathlete

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As anyone who has ever competed in triathlons can attest, quad cramps are bad. Cramping is very common, and it even happens 67% In athletes, with any muscle it can cramp, but thigh muscles are the most common. The severity of these quad descents can range from small, short-lived cramps to agonizing “confinement” episodes that can completely derail racing.

Some athletes seem to be more prone to cramps than others. a Great study for runners Underlying chronic illness, medication use, allergies, previous muscle or tendon injuries, and greater running experience with increased risk of spasticity. several Iron Man Athletes Studies showed that the risk of muscle cramping increases with racing at a higher intensity than usual and Faster race times. Regardless of risk factors, cramps can negatively affect any athlete – what causes them, and how can we prevent them?

Conventional thinking typically associates nutritional factors with exercise-related muscle cramps, especially dehydration and depletion of electrolytes, especially sodium. lately, abnormal spinal reflex activity In tired muscles – Basically, fatigue makes nerves and muscles get stuck. Indeed, identifying a specific cause or mechanism that applies to all athletes in all situations is difficult, if not impossible, so let’s take a deeper look at these two main theories.

Related: Injury guide for triathletes

Quadriceps spasticity: nutritional factors

It has been hypothesized that dehydration and electrolyte depletion contribute to muscle cramps. historically, industrial workers Found that sodium depletion provoke convulsions, While re-moistened with saline solution. Increased spasticity has been associated with significant loss of fluid and electrolytes in the Tennis And football Players, especially in Hot and humid conditions. Dehydration and electrolyte imbalance are seen sensitization and increased mechanical pressure on the nerves, Which leads to contractions. But the evidence for this theory is mixed. incitement light And prominent (with moderate electrolyte loss) Dehydration did not increase susceptibility to muscle spasms in some tests. Iron Man Athletes Studies They failed to demonstrate any clinically significant differences in Loss of body mass or serum electrolytes Among athletes with and without contractures, with similar results in Marathon runners. However, electrolyte levels in the blood may not reflect what is happening within muscle and cells, with Often normal Circulate post-exercise sodium concentrations despite the overall deficit in the body. So, water and electrolytes may be part of the story, but maybe not all of it.

Related: How much salt do you need while training and racing?

Quadriceps spasticity: factors of fatigue

This leads us to altered neuromuscular control Muscular spasm theory. The basis of this theory suggests that an overburdened neuromuscular system leads to an imbalance between excitatory impulses and inhibitory impulses, It causes involuntary and continuous muscle contractions. muscles Shrinks to really short lengths Particularly vulnerable, this type of spasticity tends to be limited to a specific muscle group. This theory is supported by studies that show Increased primary EMG activity in runners and athletes Muscles between or after seizures, as well as by studies that have shown altered reflex activity with muscle fatigue in animal models. The results tend to have cramps Late in the competitions As mentioned earlier, when athletes race at a higher intensity than they train, they also support neuromuscular fatigue as a cause of cramps. However, this theory is not without its own questions and limitations. stimulation frequencies used in some research To induce fatigue is not always consistent with what occurs naturally in humans, and differences in susceptibility to contractions between individuals have not been explained either.

Related: How running affects walking speed and fatigue

How to fix and prevent quadriceps cramps

Well, then, if the science behind the exact causes of cramps isn’t conclusive, how can we stop them—or better yet, prevent them? While the etiology behind cramps may be complex and multifactorial, the good news is that simple, evidence-based prevention and treatment methods for quadriplegic cramps exist.


Stretching it out is usually the first response to a spasm, and for good reason: it’s working. Stretching reduces muscle activity and encourages reverse dilation, Calm those hyperactive nerves. Just stretch slowly, as a quick jolt in the opposite direction may cause the affected muscle to tighten further.

Related: The Complete Guide to Yoga for Athletes


Although the evidence for the cramp theory of dehydration/electrolyte depletion is somewhat mixed, cramping does He seems to be responding To replace fluids and electrolytes (ie sodium), in particular in the early stages from cramping; In one study, rehydration was done with a liquid A solution containing an electrolyte Decreased susceptibility to cramps after dehydration. Additionally, we know that identifying and meeting water and electrolyte needs in all conditions is critical to performance.

Don’t rule out carbohydrates either, because anything that increases fatigue, like a lack of fuel, could theoretically increase your risk of cramping. Nutrition is essential for a triathlon regardless, so focus on it, and ditch it even if it’s a potential cause of cramping!

Related: The Complete Triathlete Guide to Nutrition and Fuel

An athlete takes a drink to prevent quadriceps muscle cramps.
(Photo: Neil Kerr/Getty Images)

harmful liquids

In recent years, small amounts of harmful fluids such as pickled juice or spicy combinations like hot shot I used to Reduce contractions. While one might assume that pickle juice works due to its sodium content, eating small amounts of it does have an effect without effect on the electrolyte content in plasma. Instead, pickle juice and other harmful substances such as pepper, mustard, cinnamon and ginger are believed to be nerve stimulation In the mouth, esophagus and stomach, which tell the spinal cord so Sending inhibitory signals for muscle spasms. So, while the taste may not be great, taking in a harmful liquid may help!

Related: Can a HotShot mouth rinse really kill your cramps?

pace training

Just as with nutrition, you should train for what you will be doing on race day in terms of duration, intensity, and conditions. When it comes to spasticity, the modified neuromuscular control theory is based on fatigued muscles. Be realistic with your speed plan, as faster early steps In long-distance events it may increase the risk of convulsions.

Make sure to consider heat and humidity as well. Know what your body can handle in these conditions, as the carnage at triathlon running tracks in the heat is real.

Adding in plyometric training which targets the neuromuscular system, It can also be a useful preventative.

take note

Even the best theory out there cannot explain the differences in spasticity between athletes, so trying to figure out a single prevention and treatment strategy is next to impossible. If you find yourself prone to cramping, jot down the triggers! Do cramps occur at certain periods or intensity? In hot weather? Do electrolyte markers help? What was your diet like in the days before the cramp? Any recent injuries? Identifying any contributing or underlying factors can be invaluable in crafting an individualized game plan for preventing contractures.

Talk to your doctor

Medical issues such as Thyroid problems, diabetes, blood vessel issues and nerve pressure All of these can increase the susceptibility to contractions, as do some medications. So, if your cramps happen frequently no matter what you do, see your doctor to investigate any potential underlying problems.

Jenny Hansen is a physical therapist, Ironman champion, and USAT Level 1 Triathlon coach with QT2 Systems. Hansen has a background as a college and professional runner, as well as a number of professional triathlon platforms. She has been in the sport for over a decade.

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