Cramps: training, pacing, genetic factors and pickle juice


As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)


I’m back from a really incredible hiking trip in Papua New Guinea, during which I sweated out buckets of fluid but didn’t develop any muscles cramps… which brings me to the Jockology column in today’s Globe and Mail.

Back in April, I blogged about an interesting study reporting that pickle juice made muscle cramps disappear more quickly than water — an inexplicable finding if you subscribe to the theory that dehydration and/or electrolyte losses cause muscle cramps. Since then, another interesting study from the same group has appeared, and I also had the opportunity to visit the lab of Martin Schwellnus at the University of Cape Town, who proposed a different explanation for cramps a little over a decade ago. Today’s column takes a look at the evidence for Schwellnus’s “altered neuromuscular control” theory of muscle cramps.

If you’re already familiar with the theory, the most interesting new bit of data in the article comes from a new study that Schwellnus hasn’t published yet:

Interestingly, Dr. Schwellnus’s study of triathletes found that those who developed cramps had set higher pre-race goals and started at faster paces relative to their previous best times compared with non-crampers. And in a further study that has not yet been published, he found that crampers tend to have trained more in the final week before the race and have elevated blood levels of enzymes related to muscle damage before they start. [read the whole article…]

In other words, you may have set the stage for your muscle cramp by not resting enough before a race, and by starting too fast relative to your training. It’s likely a result of several different factors coming together, including genetic predisposition — but for those who are cramp-prone, the overtraining link offers something concrete that you can try changing before your next competition.

2 Replies to “Cramps: training, pacing, genetic factors and pickle juice”

  1. Hopefully soon, in published format! If nothing else, I’ll be back in Toronto at the beginning of August, ready to inflict my slide show on anyone I can corral. 🙂

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