I’ve covered Exercise-Associated Muscle Cramps (EAMC) on one of my first Tipcasts and blog. Its one of those topics that crops up every summer, often with the same out of date blame game on dehydration and electrolytes. The problem is, its a big topic with few good solutions still. That’s why when Dr. Brian Smart asked me for help on his latest article on EAMC, I was eager to see just how much he was willing to put into it. The answer is, just about everything, which should help answer any lingering questions.
Aside from limited talent, one of the barriers I have encountered to quality training and to racing in triathlons has been exercise-associated muscle cramps (EAMC). I am not alone. It has been reported that 67% of triathletes complain of EAMC.
Years ago, at the start of my amateur career (in my 30s) as an endurance athlete, I completed the Marine Corps Marathon and got pretty dehydrated. In the medical tent for IV fluids, I heard a guy shouting and screaming nearby. He was having muscle cramps. I remember thinking to myself, “what a whiner!” Well, karma found me and has never let me out of sight. EAMC are amazingly painful. A muscle, which, inconveniently, is needed for an athletic activity, suddenly and without warning violently clenches and twitches. It feels like the muscle is being ripped apart. For me, EAMC episodes can last for 5-10 seconds, or up to 30 seconds, depending on how much I really need that muscle group for what I am doing. In my scan of the internet it appears that the duration of my muscle cramps is pretty typical, but some people can experience cramps for up to 15 minutes.
It is possible to keep going in spite of EAMC. I rode over 70 miles of an iron-distance triathlon’s bike course last year with repeated EAMC in my hip adductors, quads, hamstrings, and calves. I did it, but I paid. I ended up being unable to complete the rest of the race and I visited the local ER with a host of medical complications. I still doubt that I have fully recovered from this experience.
Why do EAMC happen? Specifically, are there strategies that can be employed that will be helpful for me and you, the reader, to avoid and treat EAMC?
Why do exercise-associated muscle cramps happen?
Special thanks to Brian Smart for allowing me to post this article.