Monday, June 27, 2011

My Endurolytes Experiment... 100 km Later

Since I received a number of suggestions via Twitter and this blog concerning my issue with cramping up on the bike, I thought I’d follow up with a little report on my ride yesterday. After posting a number of theories last week as to why I might be cramping up so much, the general consensus seemed to be that the underlying causes were an imbalance in my electrolytes levels and hydration. One of the answers to my request for help that I received specifically suggested I try a product called Endurolytes.

Endurolytes, if you’re not familiar, are an electrolyte replacement supplement that comes in a capsule form, although I think you can also get it in a drink mix powder form. Anyway, I could only find the capsules at my LBS so I picked up a supply of those. The supposed benefits of Endurolytes is outlined nicely on the product website, and I quote:

Cramping is your body's final warning signal that you're on empty electrolyte wise. However, your performance is deteriorating and you are slowing down long before you feel the slightest twinge of a cramp. To keep your body's muscular, digestive, nervous, and cardiac systems firing on all cylinders you need a consistent supply of all electrolytic minerals, not just sodium and potassium. Plus, in many instances, you require greater volumes of electrolytes than any sports drink or gel can provide. That is why Endurolytes fulfills such a crucial component of your fueling by supplying your body with a perfectly balanced, full-spectrum, rapidly assimilated electrolyte source, allowing you to meet your widely variable electrolyte needs with tremendous precision, hour after hour, no matter what the weather throws at you.

Extra Benefits:
Taking two or more Endurolytes before bed may help prevent night cramps and nighttime muscle twitching.

Usage directions suggest 1-3 capsules before exercise, 1-6 during and 1-3 after. I decided to experiment the low end of the suggested dosage to start and took 1 about a half hour before I started my ride and 2 while I was on the road… 1 at the 50km mark (2 hours) in and 1 at the 75km mark (3 hours in).

I’m happy to report that early test results are positive. I made it well past my normal cramping wall of 50-60km, and actually finished out my ride at 100km even with only minimal cramping. While I didn’t completely lock up like usual though, I did feel like I was riding on the ragged edge of cramping and that if I pushed just a tiny bit harder, I would have indeed felt the full effect of the leg cramps again.

I also made a special effort to hydrate just a bit more with lots of water the day/night before and in the morning before I started. On the ride though, I think my consumption was still a bit low. I had in total about 750ml of water, 750 of Gatorade and a 500ml bottle of Coke (for the liquid carbs). I also stopped at a coffee place and asked for a bottle refill, but couldn’t drink that. I took one mouthful of what tasted more like sewage than water and spit that out immediately.

All in all, I’d have to say that the Endurolytes did their job. Just need to find the optimal dosage and balance with hydration now. The only real problem was that the cramps in my thighs were replaced with straight-up pain. By the time I finished my legs were screaming for mercy and I had to take some Tylenol to settle that down. My left knee has been bothering me a bit this year and that really radiated up into my thigh. I’m chalking the knee problem/pain up to my new bike and new gearing ratio (relative to my old bike) and lack of distance endurance. Could be the set-up too I suppose, but I was measured up at the shop when I bought this one.

Outside of the cramping, other 2 other items of note. I thought my whole experiment might be in jeopardy at only the 10k mark when I rode past a work crew cutting down an old utility pole. As luck and wind direction would have it, I passed just as they had finished chain-sawing off a section of the pole about 30 feet up. As I glanced up, I was hit square in the face with an invisible cloud of sawdust, a piece of which got stuck in my eye, despite my glasses. I spent the next 20 minutes blinking, poking and prodding my eye to try to get it out without much success. I thought I’d have to turn and head for home, but carried on anyway and soon enough it seemed to clear out on its own.

Then with only 5km to go, I geared up on my front derailleur and [SNAP] my derailleur cable let go. Fortunately an easy post ride fix and a short enough distance to go that it didn’t really matter. Just glad it didn’t happen 50km sooner.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Cycling and Cramping: My Perrenial Problem

Even though I haven't really been keeping my cycling blog up-to-date, I thought I jump back in with a post about my perrenial problem on the bike: Cramping. This follows my latest ride just yesterday of a little over 88km, the last 30 or so of which I battled excruciating and debilitating legs cramps. I had to dismount no less than 5 times to stretch out and actually considered abandoning my ride (in favour of a call for a pick-up).

Now legs cramps while riding is nothing new for me. In fact, it's been a problem for as long as I can remember. For some reason though, this year so far seems to be a little worse than other years and I just can't seem to get past 50-60km without my legs locking up. Oh and by legs, I mean primarily my thigh muscles.

I thought I'd float a few theories as to why this continues to happen. Feel free to agree or disagree, and offer any thoughts and suggestions you might have. Chances are my cramping is a combination of many, if not all of these (and more).

Theory #1: Lack of Training

Admittedly, endurance, or should I say lack thereof, is probably a factor. It's June 20 and I have yet to pass the 500km mark on the bike for 2011 (497km to be exact). In my most active riding season 2 years ago, I was already over 1000 at this point. On top of that, because of work schedules and other committments, I really only get out once a week on the weekend, so I have no doubt that lack of training and the subsequent lack of endurance are contributing factors.

Theory #2: Electrolyte Imbalance

This is probably THE main reason for my cramping problem but I can't be 100% certain. I've done a fair bit of reading on the subject and even the medical profession, including sports nutritionists, don't seem to be sold on this being the cause of cramping. Study results seem varied and inconclusive. It makes some sense to me though because there does seem to be some tie between electrolyte levels and sweating...and I sweat like there's no tomorrow when exercising. Even in the gym, while others around me look to be largely cool and dry, I am literally dripping wet and soaked from head to toe. Same goes for riding a bike. I have to wear a headband under my helmet at all times to keep blinding sweat out of my eyes. The theory goes that through sweating, I'm losing key electrolytes that are a must for maintaining proper muscle function and for preventing my leg cramps.

Following my ride yesterday, in desparation I threw a request for help and suggestions out to my twitter followers. I got 2 replies, both suggesting electrolytes imbalance. One suggested I consult a sports nutritionist, the other to try Endurolytes, which many people swear by. I'm going to try Endurolytes first and hopefully will be swearing by it myself soon as well...rather than just swearing.

Theory #3: Poor Nutrition/Eating Habits

This is somewhat related to #2 and I'm a bit ashamed of this one, but I have terrible eating habits, particularly when cycling. I try to eat as much as I can before a ride but the simple fact of the matter is that I am not a morning eater. I rarely eat any kind of breakfast and usually have to force myself to eat in the morning before a ride. Yesterday for example, I forced down a bowl of oatmeal and a large pancake that I slathered in Nutello. I would have had a banana too I suppose, but did have any on hand for before or during my ride. On my ride, I had an oatmeal bar and a Powerbar. Not very much, but again I struggle to eat and ride. Before you call me out on that one, I know. Big mistake.

Outside of my exercise diet, I wouldn't say my regular diet is that special either. Too much junk food no doubt. Lots of pasta, tons of red meat, little in the way of greens. Most certainly not a diet deliberately built around cycling nutrition.

Theory #4: New Bike, New Gearing

This theory is dubious, but I thought I'd throw it in there. With the new bike this year (see last post), I am riding a different gearing ratio with the bulk of my riding on the large ring up front. On my old bike, I think I was primarily on the small front ring but I can't seem to find a matching ratio on the small ring this year. I'm thinking that the slightly bigger gear is taxing my legs a bit more than usual and might explain in part why this years' cramping seem a little worse than in years previous.

Theory #5: Hockey

More than any year before, I've been playing a lot of ice hockey which is very strenuous on the thigh muscles. I'm thinking that my thigh muscles may have strengthened a bit due to hockey, but because it perhaps uses a slightly different muscle group, the added hockey muscle is turning out to be a drawback for cycling. That could be a bit out there, but yesterday's cramping also involved the hamstrings on the back of my legs, which has never really happened before.

Theory #6: Age

I'm turning 46 this year and, according to some of my reading, cramping is more prevalent as you age. A possible contributor, but that doesn't really explain all the guys in there 50s and 60s who seems to ride longer, faster, and harder than I do and seem to have no issues with cramps.

Theory #7: Hydration

This one undoubtedly should be higher on the list, but I just thought of it. Once again, studies seem inconclusive that there is a definitive correlation between cramping and hydration, but I'm guessing it has something to do with it, especially for someone who sweats as profusely as I do. I don't think I'm underhydrating, but you can be the judge of that. Over 88km yesterday, I consumed 5 bottles of liquids (2 water, 3 Gatorade). That seems like a sufficient amount to me, although my timing could be off. The first 2 (water) were over the first 65km, the final 3 (Gatorade) over than last 23km. Come to think of it, that's a horrible consumption schedule.

That's about all I can come up with for now. If you have any other viable theories, or would like to comment on mine, feel free.

By the way, if you want to follow me on Twitter for a combination of cycling updates and other nonsense, please do. My handle is @delliott13.