cycling · fitness · health

Heat cramps and aging? Really?

In this morning’s blog post on training for the bike rally during a heat advisory I mentioned that I “might have learned a lesson about electrolytes, cramping, and barfing.”

What happened after our very long, very hot ride?

Well, I was sitting in a chair in the backyard, having a drink and cooling off in the shade, as one does after a long ride, when all of a sudden I got incredibly intense painful cramps in my legs, starting with gracilis cramps. They were so painful I thought I might pass out and instead I ended up laying in the grass trying to stretch.

I ended up throwing up and having cramps in pretty much every muscle group of my legs. I don’t know how long it lasted. It felt like a very long time. I sipped on a gatorade and eventually the cramps eased up enough so that I could walk around. Thanks Sarah for helping to stretch the cramps away.

Later, after dinner and lots of stretching, I turned to Google to read up up on muscle cramps after exercising in the heat and I learned they were called heat cramps. See Healthline on the causes of heat cramps.

They weren’t like regular muscle cramps. They were very painful muscle spasms that were really difficult to get to go away. These are new to me. I’ve never had them before.

What’s changed?

Age, obviously. The Healthline articles says, “As people age, their bodies become less efficient at temperature regulation. This may be caused, at least in part, by the shrinkage of sweat glands. Sweat glands become diminished in size as part of the natural aging process. Less sweat equals less perspiration and a diminished ability to cool the body down.” Great.

Also, the heat where I live. With global warming our summers are getting hotter. That’s true all over. It’s scary reading about the Tour de France conditions with riders racing over melting pavement.

Finally, electrolytes. I used to be pretty religious about riding with one bottle of water and one bottle of electrolyte replacement, usually lemon-lime skratch, but that habit kind of dropped off. I’m not sure why.

Looking at the things I can change and the things I can’t, it seems pretty obvious that I’m returning to drinking skratch while riding. I drink a lot of water on my bike so it’s not just dehydration. In fact, drinking too much water can also throw off your electrolyte imbalance, I read. So yeah, back to skratch. Aging is out of my hands and global warming is a collective problem. The one thing I will do is try to avoid leaving for long rides in the middle of the day. I’m going back to early mornings.

Anyway, that was a terrifying experience, super intense and painful and associated with one of my fave activities–cycling. I’m scared now it will happen again. I drank a ton on Sunday’s ride, including lots of skratch and gatorade, and it didn’t happen on Sunday. Here’s hoping that’s enough to keep them away.

Have you ever had heat cramps? What do you do to prevent them?


6 thoughts on “Heat cramps and aging? Really?

  1. I use Clif Shot Bloks in the Margarita flavor (3x the sodium of the other flavors). I suck on one when a hard effort (e.g. steep climb) is approaching, or when I feel a cramp beginning, or when I feel myself fading. Sartorius cramps are really interesting – they make you cross one foot over the opposite. I also drink Cytomax. I think Gatorade is best used for pouring over the winning coach’s head (see American football), as it is mostly sugar and artificial colors and flavors.

  2. Those gracilis cramps are the worst. (much worse than unmedicated childbirth.) An advice nurse told me I had to go to the ER when I first had them, thinking they might be DVT. The ER doc said, no, DVT hurts, but nowhere near as much as those cramps. In terms of preventing or minimizing them, I find a few things help: stopping to stretch occasionally when out on a long or unusually hard ride (lots of climbing, hot weather, more than usual miles/kilometers); yes, electrolyte replacement; heading straight to the foam roller when I get off the bike – even if I don’t feel anything yet; general gentle movement – maybe I don’t let my self get in the bath with a book until I have done a moving cool-down. All of those help, but unfortunately, I have to say that the thing that helps most is my body’s learning to feel them before they get severe – even if I am asleep – so I can leap to my feet and massage them away &/or walk them off before they get too strong. Just for the sake of relating to what you say, I am 70, I ride a lot of long days & climb quite a bit, but where I live – San Francisco area – is still not often all that hot. A couple of weeks ago I rode from Pittsburgh to Washington DC on a rail trail & a canal path. It was hot & humid & I did have nighttime cramps the first 2 days. Yuck.

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