Causes of Leg Cramps When Cycling – What to do?


Joe in Buffalo is wondering about the causes of leg cramps he’s been getting when cycling. He wants to hear our thoughts on preventing a “cramp” and what to do if it happens during a race.

cramp in leg calf during sports activity

Hi Samuel,

I have a question for the newsletter. I did a tough cross-country race yesterday, 60K over gravel trails, farm fields and single track, with some short but very steep climbs (up to 20 percent grade). I got some bad cramps in the legs (calf’s, hamstrings and quads). What causes these to happen? How to prevent? And what should you do if you cramp up during a race?

Joe Brennan Buffalo, NY.

Hi Joe,

There are a few causes of cramp and so there is more than one preventative method; let’s start with causes and prevention.

Being un-fit can cause cramp as the muscles are not used to the effort, regular training is the cure. This also covers riding further or faster than your body is used to, you will find that you will cramp up near the end of the ride.

Massage before an event will warm the muscles and bring blood to them to readying them for the coming efforts. A relaxing massage after the event or hard training day will help take the bad blood away and speed recovery.


Dehydration on the bike

Dehydration and/or low salt levels will bring on cramp; avoid this by drinking an electrolyte sports drink before and during any ride or race. Replacing lost salts and minerals (and to a lesser degree vitamins) during a ride is of utmost importance to stave off cramps. Always start to drink before the race as prevention is better than cure and then continue throughout the race.

Stretching exercises help greatly in preventing cramp. Stretch every day, paying attention to the legs; the achilles tendon and calf’s, hamstring, quadriceps and groin area all need to be stretched to prevent strains and ward off cramp. As well as the legs and buttocks, the back, abdomen, shoulders and arms are very important too. Before any event get into the habit of stretching, the race maybe long, but it may start fast, in which case you need to be warm and flexible from the off.

When riding and racing stretch the legs and the back as often as possible also an “on the road” massage is possible by relaxing the legs and “waggling” the muscles by shaking the legs. This will help the blood supply to flush out lactic acids from limbs which will help you keep fresh and stave off the cramp.

When you get full blown cramp there is not a quick fix cure while riding, but there are a few things to remember and to do; relax, try to rest, drink, stretch and try massage at the point of the cramp. If you are racing then your opponents will notice this and probably take advantage of your situation and ride away, this has happened to most cyclists at some point.

Remember to rehydrate, train well and do your stretching exercises and warm up before events.

Let us know how you get on and good luck, Joe.

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