Q and A about Cramping and Fueling during Triathlon

Question for you... I did a 70.3 yesterday in prep for IMLP. My swim and bike went according to plan.  I got off the bike running according to plan feeling very energetic!  About 2 miles in, my right quad started twinging, then my left hammstring. I was forced to walk/run the rest of the run leg, mostly walking.  Eventually, someone gave me a couple salt tabs.  After about an hour and with only about a mile left, they seemed to help and I jogged in without cramping.  It was the very first 90 degree day out here.  I drank tons, popped Endurolytes on the bike, drank the Ironman Perfom, ate pretzels, drank coke...Any thoughts???  I really don't want this to happen during Ironman next month! Thanks in advance for any tips or suggestions.

from S.Vega


Could be any number of things.  Magnesium status would be high on the list--it's not readily found in the diet of most people, gets depleted via sweat, and is readily lost in cases of hypothyroidism (which a lot of endurance athletes are prone to).  Fueling/hydration (the latter of which depends more on electrolyte status than amount of water--so drinking tons may be an issue), heat acclimation, effort related to training status, and several other things should all be considered.  But I would suggest to you that race performance is predicated more on nutrition/lifestyle/training outside of race day.  So consistency with sound principles of everything mentioned above along with proper breathing (diphragmatic and nasal when possible), movement (stretching--triathletes often have facilitated quads/hip flexors and tonic musculature is more prone to cramping as the origin and insertion are brought closer together--along with other forms of myofascial work), and sleep (10-6) will increase your threshold for the stress of racing.  And since the intensity at which you race IM will be less than that which you raced the 70.3, fueling should be easier and your effort will be less--both of these will decrease the likelihood of cramping.  If you do cramp, slow down, re-focus on hydration/nutrition, breathe as mentioned above, and press on your upper lip right below the nose--it's a pressure point which can be used to relieve cramping--has saved me a couple of times.  Good luck at IMLP--great race and one which means a lot to me.  Let me know how it goes.

Follow Up Question:

Thanks for the info...As for the 70.3, I was practicing my pacing AND nutrition for IMLP.  Since I went to the USAT clinic in January, I've been a convert to what Seebohar preaches.  My daily nutrition refects my training load.

I had a banana/avocado/honey/almond-coconut milk smoothie at 4 am.  About 45 minutes prior to my swim start, I took 1/4 tsp salt and about 12oz water.  I continued sipping water until the start (no carb drinks).  My swim felt perfect!  As soon as i got on the bike, I ate a banana and drank some of my NUUN.  On the bike, I finished my bottle of NUUN, popped 2 Endurolytes, 1/2 bottle of HEED (with an Endurolyte), and 1.5 bonkbuster bars, and grabbed 2 waters and a bottle of Perform at the stops.  Some of that water went down my jersey for cooling.  I was easily at my IMLP pace, finished in just shy of 3 hours.

I felt great for about 2 miles on the the run and those friggin' cramps started.  Ugh!  I think those salt tabs finally kicked in.

Is it possible to take too many electrolytes???  If so, how do you know the fine line between enough and not enough?


Yes, it's possible to take too many electrolytes, but I don't think that's necessarily the issue.  Personally, I don't recommend consumption of PUFA's which was the majority of your smoothie (and the almond milk if not the coconut milk likely had carrageenan unless homemade) and in your bonk breaker bar, as well.  And if you look at the macronutrient content of your breakfast, there really wasn't enough fat or protein to balance the carbs, and I don't doubt that your blood sugar handling was already compromised despite feeling great on the swim.  Additionally, any artificial colors/flavors/sucrolose in the Perform can/will cause issues--I'd use it judiciously and only if in trouble. The NUUN tabs also contain Acesulfame K which stimulates insulin secretion in a dose dependent fashion thereby possibly aggravating reactive hypoglycemia.  They also have some sesame oil (PUFA) which inhibits the use of glucose for fuel (another problem with your a.m. smoothie)--not good for endurance athletes or anyone interested in health.  Lastly, it sounds as if you may have been under fueled.  But, as I said before, what you do during the race has much less impact that how you prepare before--so you could have had no issue with your fueling strategy if pre-race/consistent nutrition (and lifestyle) was better.

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