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Friday, February 02, 2007

How to prevent muscle cramp during an event like the Oxfam trailwalker 100km

"Dear Gary,
I have entered with a team into the Oxfam 100km trailwalker this April. I have suffered really bad muscle cramps in the past when doing long runs. Do you have any advice about diet and supplements during training to prevent this happening again?
Gary Moller comments:
I have had several enquiries like this one for advice from walkers and runners who have entered the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km April 14-15, 2007). The challenge of the Trailwalker is to complete 100kms in 36 hours as a team of four and raise funds to help some of the world's poorest people.

Whether you intend to walk or run the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km, it’s a gruelling challenge and the odds are that you and your team mates are going to suffer cramping of some kind. So, let’s concentrate this article on what you can do with diet and training to avoid being hampered by cramp during the event. Train your ability to use fat stores When doing an event like the Oxfam Trailwalker, you have near limitless supplies of body fat for energy; but very limited internal supplies of your other source of energy: glycogen. When your glycogen runs low, as it will no matter how you get from A to B with 100km between, you must rely increasingly upon your fat stores for the energy to keep going. However; this is not easy if you are a typical Kiwi who is never further than several metres from a food source. Not being used to digging deep into your fat stores during intense physical exercise will result in only one thing: dead in the water exhaustion and muscle cramps. You need to train your body to operate efficiently using its fat stores.

This means having your last meal about two hours before exercise and doing your longest training runs/walks of the week on water only. You should be steadily building up to being able to trot comfortably for about three hours once a week, or to walk at a steady clip for about four hours.

It is important to cut the junk carbohydrates out of your daily diet - sugar, white flour, corn syrup and so on and replace these with whole food sources like wholemeal bread, oats, Kumara, taro, yams and spuds. Whole foods sourced carbohydrates are digested more slowly, they contain more nutrients and cause less stress on metabolic regulators like the pancreas.
Consuming sweets, gels and sugary drinks while you are exercising will not allow your body to learn how to burn fat efficiently. My free e-book "Training for a Marathon" has more information about training endurance capacity (download from

You may initially get intense carbohydrate cravings during your long training sessions. However, if you stick at it you will be delighted with the results: The cravings will diminish and you can maintain a steady clip for much longer. I have found that this takes at least three months to really kick in, so start now. Build your body's mineral stores while you still have time Barely a single modern person's diet is adequate in minerals. Our depleted agricultural soils and limited range of cultivated crops sees to that, as does our general aversion to eating organs like the liver and making mineral rich broths from beef bones. Magnesium and calcium are critical for health, including muscle function. It can take several months, if not a year or so of supplementation to build a depleted body's stores in muscles, bones and organs like the liver. Rich body stores of minerals are your defence against muscle cramps during events like the Oxfam Trailwalker. During the remaining weeks of your preparation I recommend that you take two tablets of Calcium Complete and two capsules of Magnesium Complete per day, spread over the day and with food.

Eat organ meats like liver and kidney and make beef bone soups that have the bones well and truly simmered to release the bone minerals. Eat your leafy vegetables. Take extra B vitamins, extra antioxidants and glutamine and boost vitamin D

Minerals and the B group of vitamins work together to keep muscles, nerves (and brain) working, so you need extra B vitamins on a daily basis when doing all of the training you must do in preparation for walking or trotting 100km. Take two Super B tablets per day with food.

Vitamin D is like a mineral magnet and without high levels in your body, your ability to uptake and use minerals like magnesium and calcium is seriously compromised (This is why sunlight deprivation causes disease like rickets, osteoporosis and muscles weakness). Its importance for health is frequently overlooked possibly because vitamin D is free and does not require a prescription.

You can also take additional antioxidants into your body to keep muscles resistant to damage by taking a daily antioxidant supplement. However, your main source of antioxidants is bright coloured fruit and veggies including berries. Dark berries like blueberries and black currant also provide some protection from sunburn which is important at this time of year. The amino acid Glutamine aids muscle repair and recovery. It is best taken before and after exercise.

Note: You can order the supplements referred to in this article from or you can find similar products from your local natural health store.


Captain Puff said...

Hi there, I suffered a similar problem with my calf during the Christchurch Half Marathon. Was aiming for a sub 3, went thru half in 1.28.30, feeling good, then at 22km (yup 1km later) my calf kinda spasmed, and whilst it didnt tear, I had to nurse it home.

I was very happy with training, I ran a lot of long runs leading up to the race, but did all long runs with a Camelpak with Replace in it, which I felt I needed to get thru the longer runs. On race day, got nowhere the same amount of fluid, and had never taken any supplements, felt I was a little dehydrated. I've had similar problems b4 with my calfs, esp. if dehydrated. Any suggestions?

Gary Moller said...

Dear Captain Huff
I suggest that you go through a process of elimination beginning with the obvious.
While dehydration may be a contributing factor, the more likely is low levels of body minerals, the most important being magnesium.
Go to and purchase a couple of bottles of magnesium complete. Take up to 800mg per day until the first bottle is finished then reduce to about 400mg/day.
Also look up my recipe for beef/lamb broth and get some into the body daily.
While you are at get a kg or 2 of Epsom Salts and add 1/2 cup to a daily soak in the bath. The magnesium and sulphur will soak into the body.
Get some deep tissue massage of the legs to break up any knots and to soften the muscles and sinews. Twice weekly and ongoing. If you live in Wellington I can do this for you.
Get used to running on fresh water only. You must get used to conserving your body's carbohydrate stores while becoming better at using fat stores. Drinking sugary stuff while training is not conducive to this. You will find plenty of articles on this site about this topic when you search.
Prepare for your 1/2 by doing speed work weekly and enter races of no more than 10km and do plenty during the buildup. Do not get into the bad habit of doing only long, slow runs in your training. While they are critically important, you must have balance in your training. 5km races will harden your legs for the longer races on pavement.
Try all of this and let us know how it goes.