How to Avoid Calf Cramps While Cycling

Yesterday I was taking part in the Stage 3 of this year’s Zwift Tour of Watopia 2023 event. It was a long old route, with three climbs covering 46km and 1700m of ascent.

This was amongst the hardest bike rides I have done to date.

About three quarters of the way up the final climb (the Alpe du Zwift), I experienced the worst calf cramp I’ve ever had.

cycling calf stretch

After the ride I went in search of causes and solutions. Here’s what I found.

Calf cramps while cycling can be a frustrating and painful experience, but there are several things you can do to prevent them. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Warm up properly: Start your cycling session with a gentle warm-up, such as a short walk or some dynamic stretching exercises to get your blood flowing and your muscles warmed up.
  • Hydrate well: Staying hydrated is key to preventing muscle cramps. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids before, during, and after your ride. Water, sports drinks, and coconut water are all good options to keep you hydrated.
  • Fuel up before your ride: Eating a balanced meal that includes complex carbohydrates and protein before your ride can provide your muscles with the energy they need to perform at their best. Avoid eating a heavy meal right before cycling, as this can cause stomach discomfort.
  • Check your bike fit: Make sure your bike is adjusted properly to fit your body. A poorly fitting bike can cause muscle fatigue and increase the risk of cramps. Ensure that your saddle height and handlebar position are correct for your body type.
  • Stretch before and after your ride: Stretching before and after your ride can help to improve flexibility and reduce the risk of cramps. Focus on stretching your calves, hamstrings, and quads.
  • Gradually increase intensity: If you’re new to cycling or haven’t ridden in a while, start with a low-intensity ride and gradually increase the intensity and duration over time.
  • Consider electrolyte supplementation: Electrolytes are essential minerals that help regulate muscle function. If you’re prone to muscle cramps, consider supplementing with an electrolyte-rich drink or adding electrolyte tablets to your water.

I think, for me, the main thing would have been to better hydrate before the ride.

My mistake was to focus on food, and neglect the hydration. A cup of coffee clearly didn’t help.

The other issue I found is that all of this came on as a result of getting out of the saddle. That’s something I don’t do particularly often, and clearly need to work on. I need to find structured workouts that incorporate lower cadence work, which should force me to stand up.

Anyway, I hope this helps in some kind of preventative way. Always learning!

Edit: After cramp striking again on a recent Zwift Academy ride, I’ve since created a more in-depth post about this topic.

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