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Sunday, August 20, 2006

The gammy hammy - A real pain in the butt!

At the last Rotorua Marathon, I painfully watched a running mate of mine grind to halt as he passed the 30km mark. One of his hamstrings had seized. He was a good runner during his prime and was on his way, as a consequence of his hamstring seixure, to doing an all-time personal worst for the marathon. I offered to assist; but he refused and he hobbled his way to the finish. This progressive seizing up by hardened and talented campaigners as the years tick by is all too common and, in my opinion, is mostly preventable.
Here is what I have just written as part of the update for my training guidelines for doing endurance mountain bike races:

Probably the single most common problem with finishing these kinds of events in form is cramp: Cramp that affecting the thighs and hamstrings and even the arms, back neck and shoulders. Despite all the training in the world, why does cramp rear its head during a race; but not so much in training? The answer is simple: Cramp tends to happen during racing because you tend to push just that fraction harder than you would in training; even if that training is simulated race conditions. By going that little bit harder up and down the hills, the drain on muscular reserves, particularly the muscle glycogen reserves, is accelerated.


Train for the conditions, including doing regular races of shorter distances so that you condition the muscles for high intensity work and also to learn how to pace yourself regardless of conditions or distance. If the race is anticipated to happen in hot and humid conditions, then prepare for this.
Boost your body mineral levels. Most of us are low in essential minerals like magnesium, selenium and calcium. Muscles require plenty of magnesium and calcium in order to be able to repeatedly and powerfully contract and relax. Depleted magnesium stores will definitely cause muscular cramps as well as affect the ability of the heart to beat strongly and regularly (low magnesium causes heart palpitations).

Deficiency of minerals can take many years to happen and the process of replenishment can take several months and even years to complete. While the benefits of supplementation may be noticed within days, this is because blood levels only have been boosted. Continuance of the supplementation is necessary to build body stores in the bones, organs like the liver and the muscles.

If you are in hard training and especially if you do a lot of sweating and have a previous history of cramping, then it would be wise to undertake a course of mineral supplementation.

Here’s how:

  • Take one Nutra-Life Magnesium Complete capsule per day for three months
  • Take two Nutra-Life Calcium Complete tablets per day for three months
    After three months:
  • Take 1-2 Nutra-Life Sports Multi per day
  • Have a Red Seal Effergize Multi with minerals before or after hard exercise or significant sweating
  • Take 2 rounded teaspoons per day of Nutra-Life or Balance Creatine Monohydrate for three weeks leading up to a major race. During training, have one teaspoon before and after a particularly long or exhausting session. Creatine assists muscle metabolism and post-exercise recovery. Read my commentary and advice about creatine use in the E-Publications section of
  • If you have a particularly intense, exhausting or sweaty workout coming up, you might be advised to take one Magnesium Complete capsule with water or your Super Smoothie an hour or so before to boost blood magnesium levels. But take care because magnesium has a mild laxative effect if too much is consumed!

What you should notice:

If your mineral levels were low, you should notice a gain in power, particularly when doing sustained hill climbing. The burn in your legs should be less for a given workload. Most important, you should be able to go longer and harder before you hit the wall and begin to feel cramping of the muscles and general fatigue. While cramps may not be eliminated altogether, they should be less intense and easier to stretch out.

If you do suffer cramp during a ride or race, do this:

  • Stop and gently stretch the affected area
  • Drink up to a litre of water (The amount of water lost from sweating can easily be underestimated because of the wind-flow evaporating the sweat before it drips).
  • Consume some high energy food
  • Consume one Magnesium Complete capsule if you have one available. You could also add an Effergize Multi to your drink bottle, but drink it in dollops rather than sip to prevent damage to teeth and gums. Be careful not to get air in your gut if you guzzle an effervescent drink while on the go – let the mixture go flat before consuming.
    Continue on your way at a much reduced pace for at least 10 minutes to give the energy and minerals time to infuse.
  • If you have religious leanings - Pray!

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