The cause of exercise-associated muscle cramps remains a hot topic of debate and discussions about why athletes suffer from cramp are likely to continue for a while yet.
There's strong circumstantial evidence behind the theory that sodium-depletion is a major cause of cramping in athletes, but it's difficult to replicate the electrolyte and fluid losses suffered during endurance races in controlled laboratory conditions, so conclusive evidence still isn't quite there. (Although a recent study has suggested electrolyte intake can help reduce cramps).
On a daily basis we receive anecdotal evidence from Precision Fuel & Hydration athletes about how more aggressive sodium intake has helped them to avoid or alleviate cramp.
If you suffer with cramps and you're wondering whether Precision Fuel & Hydration products are right for you, let me share the stories of several athletes who've emailed us in recent months to reveal how PH has helped them start to win the war on cramp...
Russell, a cyclist from North Carolina
I live in North Carolina where the summers are hot and extremely humid. With my high sweat rate and likely high salt content, I tended to have cramps come on during hard training rides or races at a predictable time of about 2 hours (and a distance of around 40-50 miles).
My local area of Sand Hills is basically rolling hills, so there's lots of ups and downs... (At 190lbs and 6'3", I don't go uphill quickly!).
As the cramps would start to creep in during these climbs in I'd notice the little twinges.
At first it would be more of a mental distraction, but would eventually develop into a full on mental and physical dance as I was on the edge of 'locking up'. It would dominate my mind and effect my ability to stay focused on the race.
My worst experience with cramps came at an annual race on Mount Mitchell. It's a bit over 100 miles from Spartanburg to the mountain, which is the highest peak east of the Mississippi. The last 25 miles involves an average 10% gradient. Ultimately, it's a 'sufferfest' after 75 miles!
After the first climb, I had to stop at a bathroom and my legs locked completely once I stepped off of my bike. I almost fell over.
I later discovered Precision Fuel & Hydration through Andy's appearance on the TrainerRoad podcast.
I learned about sweat rate and salt loss, and immediately identified with some of the problems discussed. I went onto the Precision Fuel & Hydration website and took the Online Sweat Test.
I was able to implement my new hydration strategy on a few of my local 70-mile group rides before the weather turned cooler this year. I started preloading by drinking one PH 1500 on Friday night and by carrying two bottles of PH 1000 to start the ride. We usually stop at a gas station at the turnaround point to refill bottles, so I would carry some of the SweatSalt Capsules.
I also began to split my hydration from my fuelling, so I now get my calories more from solid food and gels, rather than from my bottles, and I noticed immediate results.
I ride with some higher category racers (cat 2's and 1's) and they always work me over. I can't really compete with them but the difference now is that I'm able to do more than just hang on at the end of the ride or get spit off of the back on the last three 'rollers' coming into town.
In addition, after the rides I now continue the hydration plan with one post-ride PH 1500. PH has been a game-changer for me.
Alden, an IRONMAN triathlete from Virginia
In the past, cramp always limited my ability to run to my potential during long races.
I tried HotShot and that didn't help, while stretching and chiropractic care were useful but didn't help in preventing cramps - they were both reactive approaches to help recover from cramping and encourage my muscles to relax.
What I really like about Precision Fuel & Hydration is having the ability to use different concentration levels of the product.
During long course racing, I use PH 1500 to make sure that I am getting enough electrolyte replacement throughout the course of the race. The PH 1500 is also perfect for preloading. This aspect has been a great component of race prep for me and has helped keep me hydrated and away from cramping.
Pleasingly, my most recent race at IM Louisville was solid. I managed the bike well and used PH 1500 throughout the ride. No cramping in my calves or in the quads.
I came off the bike and settled into a rhythm for the run. The run also included SweatSalts every 20-25 minutes. This was huge for me as I didn't stop to fight off cramp at all throughout the duration of the run and it led to my first Kona qualification...
Bring on Kona 2020!
Dawn, a swimmer from the UK
As an Age Group Aquabike athlete, I need to swim a few times a week. During each and every session when I swam in a 25-metre pool, there would be intense intervals where I could feel the cramp building up until my feet went into spasm, which was agonising, rendered me immobile, and ended the session early.
At the River Dee 2km swim event in August this year, 500 metres from the finish I wanted to kick hard and finish strong, but as soon as I put my foot down my calves went into spasm. There was nothing I could do but ignore the intense pain and let my legs dangle and pull for the last 500 metres. My friend had to help me out of the water, I couldn’t stand!
I first heard about Precision Fuel & Hydration through the Team Oxygen Addict Facebook forum. Someone suggested I try Precision Fuel & Hydration, so I completed the Sweat Test and realised I was a heavy sweater. I suspected this outcome because of all the salt deposits around my face after intense workouts.
I immediately bought the PH 1500 sachets and tablets - I couldn’t wait to try it out. I followed the hydration strategy to the letter and the effect was immediate. Even swimming 3,800 metres during an intense Masters swimming session each week, I don't suffer a twinge, absolutely nothing!
I'm now able to concentrate on the session without dreading what had previously been inevitable.
Arne, a cyclist from Maryland
Typically, I tend to ride longer events (4+ hour events) and for me, cramping would manifest itself in one of two ways.
First, it would be during the event or ride. This wasn't as common but certainly did happen on a couple of my longer mountain bike rides.
The second way is that I would get cramping after the event and it would continue through the night. This always happened. I could practically set a watch to it.
The worst cramps would happen while I was deep asleep, multiple times a night. When I would get up in the morning, the muscle that had been cramping would be so tender that there was virtually no chance of getting back on the bike the next day.
On one 50-mile mountain bike ride, I had legs cramps at the 40-mile mark and it was really tough to get back on the bike. I was probably more scared of stopping because I feared the cramp would start all over again. But again, the cramps after the rides and through the night were the worst. I really was pretty down after that ride.
I had tried everything from hydration products to salt tabs, as well as stretching before, during and after rides. It didn't ever change the results. I would cramp with 100% certainty that night.
I heard Andy Blow on the Ask a Cycling Coach podcast from TrainerRoad. I have to admit that while listening I was pretty sceptical. A couple days had gone by and I was still thinking about the conversation they'd had on the podcast, and figured I didn't have anything to lose by trying it.
So, I did the Online Sweat Test and ordered the sample pack. I then followed the recommendations in my Personalised Hydration Plan provided by Precision. Fuel & Hydration.
I had a 50-mile mountain bike ride coming up that weekend, and I used a PH 1500 the evening and morning before the ride, and then PH 1000 during. No cramps during the ride and no cramps after or that night. In fact, I haven't had a leg cramp since I started using Precision Fuel & Hydration.
Marks, a mountain biker from Canada
My first experience with muscle cramping was this year during a race in August. It was quite hot which no doubt added to the problem as I sweat a lot. I was three hours into a four-hour marathon MTB race and during a climb, I was hit with cramps on the inside of my right hamstring - it literally came out of nowhere!
It was sudden, unbearable and to the point where I couldn't pedal. My only option was to dismount and walk up the hill.
I yelled, screamed and tried to roll the cramp out …none of that worked. By getting off the bike and taking longer strides, and almost with a gentle stretch, I found the cramping eventually subsided.
I then discovered Precision Fuel & Hydration through a great friend. We were discussing how I hadn't ever experienced muscle cramping before, whereas my friend had suffered with bad cramps on a big race the previous year.
I was intrigued and thought I would give Precision Fuel & Hydration a try as I had been using other products and wanted a change. My biggest complaint was always getting bad fits of belching when using other electrolyte products - though good for scaring the bears away, it feels gross!
My hydration strategy originally involved using the PH 1500 and PH 1000, but as I began to do longer races, I incorporated the SweatSalt Capsules as a little extra ‘insurance’ against cramping.
Initially, I used the PH 1500 and PH 1000 in my water bottles and kept my reservoir for water only. But, after trial and error, I have found that keeping Precision Fuel & Hydration in all hydration gear throughout a race is much more effective for me. And the SweatSalts worked great.
After more than a year of training and preparation, this past October I achieved my goal of a top-25 finish in the Elgin 120 Race in New Brunswick, which earned me a coveted Elgin 120 Belt Buckle.
Through the entire race, I experienced no cramping at all - it made the 8+ hours almost enjoyable!
Colin, a runner from the UK
I'd rarely struggled with cramp but during the odd long run (over 20 miles) cramp had made me stop running, including during a 20-miler when I got cramp in both calves at the same time and hit the deck in lots of pain after 18 miles!
I'd felt some sort of cramp coming on as I started to slow down about half a mile before I hit the floor and I thought I could run it off. I was wrong!
A massage seemed to relax my legs and I then spoke to a friend of mine, who is also a runner, and they said PH had helped them.
I took the Online Sweat Test and followed the recommended hydration plan, which included a preload with PH 1500 with 500ml of water the evening before the race, and again a couple of hours before the event.
I then ran the Chicago Marathon in 4 hours, 2 minutes (including a toilet stop) and it was great to cross the finish line, before getting my medal from Paula Radcliffe! And even better were the lack of cramps during the race or even the following night and morning!