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Brian McDowell

Why am I cramping then, Joe? I stretch, do yoga, warm up, warm down, eat well, read "Going Long"... but I keep getting calf cramps when running. Ironman Lake Placid is only a few months away and I'm getting desperate...

Joe Friel

Brian M--Wish I could help, but nobody knows. I'll dscuss more theory soon.

Brian M

That would be great! Thanks for the reply.


Brian M.

Try moving your cleat back on your shoe as far as possible. This minimizes calf recruitment on the bike. I haven't cramped a calf since I've done this.


So are electrolyte drinks, tablets or gels necessary at all?

Joe Friel

Rich--I tell my athletes they don't need electrolytes during execise, but if they want to use them there is no known downside. Gels are primarily used for sugar/energy.


Brian M, maybe you have inadvertantly found the cause for cramps. Could it be purely and overload/fatigue in the muscles that cramp. Find the right balance for yourself and you have found the cure?

Toby T.

So during a race, you only recommend water and gels? No gatorade? What about increased sodium intake days prior to a race?

Joe Friel

Toby--You can use G-ade or any other sports drink you like for shorter races. Why would you load up on sodium before race? To prevent cramping? Doesn't do it. To improve performance in some mysterious way? The myth surrunding sodium will last forever, I'm afraid. Those scientists in that early 1900s study are still affecting us.

Claus Poulsen

I get cramps during swimming. During cycling never, have occasionally experienced during a marathon race.
Is it typically during swimming that you get cramps?
During swimming I get cramps in the large muscles in the legs and in/under my feet.
Kind regards
Claus Poulsen, Denmark

pauline s

I get a horrible side stitch on the run in EVERY triathlon that I do, but I never get one in running races, why is this? (whether I drink on the bike or don't)

Joe Friel

Pauline - very strange. I have no idea why.

Amy S.

I find this post slightly confusing; while I understand that your research shows that electrolytes have not been linked to cramping, you do not expound upon the purpose of electrolytes during exercise. Further, all of your sports drinks contain some level of electrolytes. My question is this: if you believe athletes do not need electrolytes, why would you include them in your sports drinks?

Joe Friel

Amy S--Good question. Thanks for asking. I find no compelling reason in the reseach to take in electrolytes during exercise (with the possible excption of a small amount of sodium which appears to improve water transport across the intestinal wall). I've come to this conclusion in the last 2 years after reading considerable info on the topic. I designed my sports drinks 4 years ago and no longer promote them.

Toby T.

Well, I don't really prepare for cramps through my diet. I've always associated cramps more with conditioning because i would never get cramps, in any sport, until i've been at the activity for quite some time or i didn't train much for it (just an inference of mine). But sodium prevents things like dehydration and heat exhaustion i thought. Your body sweats it out, and it needs to be replaced particularly for longer events. That's why i thought sports drinks are so useful.

I think i'm confused because i get the feeling you're down playing sodium and other minerals and stuff all together.

Joe Friel

Toby--I am indeed downplaying their importance. That's my whole point. Sorry if I wasn't clear. Research out of the Univ of Cape Town shows they do not prevent cramps, deydration, heat-related stress or anything else related to performance in normally healthy individuals.

Vibram Five Fingers

Hi,What a great post! Thanks for article. Everytime like to read you.Have a nice day!

Craig B

what about just good ol' water, that seems to do the trick for me.

creative recreation

The opinions you provid are of grat help, I like your blog, thank you.


Im with Joe on this one, since I stopped eating added sodium in october 07, I havent cramped since. Ive won 24 races, racing div 1 and ran a few marathons and in HOT conditions.. :)

Give it a few weeks for your kidneys to adjust to a low sodium diet, its just like getting used to new climate etc.

Its interesting to note that all my mates that have had hypotranemia have all followed a high sodium diet..

jordan retro 4

Four short words sum up what has lifted most successful individuals above the crowd: a little bit more.

Kyle Kranz

"Rich--I tell my athletes they don't need electrolytes during execise, but if they want to use them there is no known downside. Gels are primarily used for sugar/energy."

Would the downside be that you are increasing the [electrolyte] in your plasma and upsetting homeostasis. If your electrolyte levels become too high your thirst kicks in and you are forced to drink to bring your concentration back to homeostasis.

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