Aug 7, 2012 at 12:58 pm #1292719
I have been having some really, really fierce leg cramps when I backpack–to the point of having to shoot out of the tent and stand up to get them to subside. I haven't had any issues that I can recall just on day hikes, mostly just when backpacking. Last time, it was on a 7.5 mile hike up to Royal Basin in the Olympics, with 2650' elevation gain–most of it at the end. That one, I had cramps in my calves, my shins, my arches and the tops of my feet–I couldn't get away from it! Finally just got up and walked around, and that took care of it.
Not stretching? Not hydrating enough? Not enough potassium? Other?
I'm going on a 6-night outing in 3 weeks, and I'd really like to get some sleep while I'm out!Aug 7, 2012 at 3:42 pm #1900953
@acrosomeLocale: Back in the Front Range
…or any of the above? It could be any of those- clearly you already have some idea of things you can try to void the problem. Especially if you're deconditioned and the only exercise you get is the occasional hike, you might just need to get in better shape. Sure, stretch and take some salty snacks or sports drink with you and see if that helps. (Not just potassium.)Aug 7, 2012 at 4:00 pm #1900966Aug 7, 2012 at 5:50 pm #1901005
The above advise is great. I get cramps too when hiking over 10 miles in a day, However, this is because I AM out of shape :)
Anyone know if taking magnesium pills help at all? Anyone take them when hiking?Aug 7, 2012 at 10:05 pm #1901069
Well, definitely my conditioning this year is less than it has been–work has been intense and I'm so exhausted that I don't want to get up early to work out on the treadmill.
I do drink a lot, and I find that when I'm getting fatigued, often eating Gu Chomps really helps. I don't like all the sugar in Gatorade, so I've been carrying Nuun tablets and adding 2 tabs to 20 ounces of water–but looking at the label, they have very poor amounts of potassium!
I like dehydrated bananas, and was wondering if the potassium amounts survive the dehydration process. Also, how much banana do you have to eat to get enough? Any other suggestions for potassium supplement?Aug 8, 2012 at 12:25 am #1901082
@davidinkenaiLocale: North Woods. Far North.
Dehydrated bananas have all their original potassium in them. Dehydrated food can lose some volatile chemicals, but not any minerals.
Trader Joe's is a good source of dried bananas with no additives. "Banana chips" in the "health" food section of the supermarket have a lot of oil on them. Usually a bad thing, I suppose it may add desirable calories for a BPer.Aug 8, 2012 at 1:23 am #1901086
I thought they would keep some of their mineral value as well…until I finally bought some and read the label.
TJ Banana chips (all relevant nutritional facts):
Serving Size: 13 pieces (30g)
Total Fat: 11g (16%)
– Saturated Fat: 10g (48%!!)
Total Carbs: 13g (4%)
– Fiber 1g (4%)
– Sugars 9g
No potassium. Commercially processed banana chips are much different than if you do them at home. These guys are dipped in coconut oil and cane juice.
I wonder if the potassium is retained if you dry them yourself??Aug 8, 2012 at 2:46 am #1901092
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
Hi Diane. You can make drinks over the course of the day with a small, I mean small, amount of lite salt. I would guess about 1/8tsp or about 2 shakes per half liter bottle will be *plenty*. I mix 3:1 (salt:litesalt) or 25% in my regular salt shaker.Aug 8, 2012 at 5:20 am #1901111
I make my own electrolyte mix out from 41g of Morton Salt Balance (lite salt) and 108g of Calcium/Magnesium Complex. This makes 100 servings and can be added to any food or drink or put into empty capsules. I used to have major problems with cramping when I laid down for bed. It would start at my feet and work its way up. I only had this happen once or twice on my thru hike and those were on resupply legs when i didn't have any of the electrolyte capsules or my Malto mix with the electrolytes mixed in.Aug 8, 2012 at 6:11 am #1901124
I know where to find Mortons Lite at the supermarket, but where do I look for the Calcium/Magnesium Complex Powder?
ThanksAug 8, 2012 at 7:35 am #1901134
I home dry my own bananas–can't stand banana chips, they're nasty. Eating the chunks I dry at home is like eating candy. When I'm getting really tired, though, eating isn't always something I feel like I can do, so I think I need something liquid that isn't too sugary. I have calcium/magnesium capsules at home, and wondered about using them too. Maybe if I combine the Nuun tablets for flavor, and spike it with the lite salt and some calcium/magnesium, that would help.
A friend of ours who is a failed Appalachian Trail hiker said that tonic water would help, because of the quinine. He claimed he got that tip off of Whiteblaze. Any notion whether that works?Aug 8, 2012 at 8:42 am #1901150
You can find it at any nutrition store that has a large selection. The powder is a bit harder to find than caplets or pills but it is all over the net. This is the product here. http://www.drugstore.com/now-foods-calcium-and-magnesium-powder/qxp320068
One other note.. The ratios that I used in the recipe above mimick Hammer Endurolytes. If I remember correctly one of my servings is equal to three of their capsules.Aug 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm #1901219Aug 9, 2012 at 1:48 pm #1901452
A few years ago I cycled the hills around Austin, Texas every Saturday all summer. I suffered ferocious cramping until I started using Nuun tablets (http://www.nuun.com/). No sugar – so no sticky mess. Dissolve very easily in water. They worked extremely well for me.
JimAug 9, 2012 at 4:11 pm #1901498
S-Caps are awesome for cramps; you can find them online. But my guess would be, in the situation you describe, that your cramps have nothing to do with hydration or electrolyte levels. You can also get cramps from over-use, which I think is the more common cause. Especially when you go up 2600' in 7 miles. Unless you do that every day.Aug 10, 2012 at 4:44 pm #1901741
@hhopeLocale: East Bay
A relative who is a nurse also reminded me recently that red wine, some types, can cause cramps. Something I confirmed while socially imbibing red wine, just to be polite, after a day or two of that (usually don't drink it, don't like it), woke up with the worst leg cramp of my life, one that made me actually yell in pain, ripped muscles, was sore for days.
But I think OP has the causes pretty much right, not enough water, not enough potassium, and no stretching.
give the above a try.
I'm not sure I'd trust the trader joe's nutrients listing for dried bananas, I'd do my own research into that and see how potassium does under drying. Home dried are probably going to be better, that's usually the case, but that's becuase usually you start with better stuff and dry it better.
no idea of the info quality of the source, but potassium is a mineral I believe, and won't go away if you pull the water out of something by drying, at least it doesn't seem like it would.
So I'd ignore the labels, though buying bulk from health food stores is probably a better idea for pretty much all dried or whole foods.Aug 10, 2012 at 8:59 pm #1901789Aug 10, 2012 at 11:05 pm #1901801
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
It isn't just potassium that's needed, but a balanced mixture of sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium that is needed. I suggest checking the ingredients of the oral rehydration salts used in medicine and try to find something with the same proportions. However, without some kind of flavoring, just rehydration salts–or a home-made substitute–isn't very appetizing.
A few years ago, I started using a powdered sports drink mix, Vitalyte (formerly known as Gookinaid) and mix it half the recommended strength. I can't stand Gatorade (which contains high fructose corn syrup the last time I looked) and Vitalyte is a lot less sugary. It has a mild citrus flavor which I like (there are other flavorings, too). It not only seems to prevent cramps (although not sore muscles!), but it also makes me feel stronger and better hydrated at the end of the day. Until I started using it, it always seemed that the water I drank just went in one and and out the other and I was still thirsty. Now I feel that my thirst is more satisfied and I don't have to "go" quite as often.
BTW, the symbol for potassium is K. (I looked it up to be sure since it's almost 60 years since my college chemistry class.)Aug 11, 2012 at 2:10 am #1901809
@bleanLocale: San Jose -- too far from Sierras
I recently tabulated the carbs and electrolytes provided by a dozen endurance drink products, including Vitalyte. Both amounts and proportions are all over the map, although each contends it has the "ideal" mixture.
For example, Vitalyte has the least Ca and Mg of any of them — much less than most.I'm not criticizing Vitalyte — just noting that its proportions are quite a bit different than, say, Hammer Endurolytes.
As another example, several of those I checked have chloride included, while the rest do not. Some say chloride is important, others disagree.
If you are trying to do a home made version, how should you decide which brand of endurance drink to copy amounts and proportions from? How exact do you have to be? From what I read the human body is pretty adaptable if you train with what you will use when you are serious about pushing.Aug 11, 2012 at 3:48 am #1901811
@jamesdmarcoLocale: Finger Lakes
For leg cramps it all depends on how fast you are loosing electolytes/trace elements.
I don't ever use gatoraid full strength. Two weeks ago, paddling/hiking in 95F heat, I could have used some, though.
Trace elements, zinc, manganese, etc. are just that. Even if you loose half of them they continue to work. Though I suspect they do reduce your performance slightly, I seriously doubt that you will get sick from this loss for a day of sweating. Even two is probably not important. A week, yes, you may notice a little performance drop off. Mostly, these are found in wild water, though. So, just keep drinking water and they will be replaced to sustainable levels. Not all are gotten through water, though. But a single vitamin per day will cover you there. Cramps are usually caused by 1) dehydration 2)overuse of muscles 3) lack of NaCl. These are the big three. Even potasium is down on the list after the top three.
Water: Drink more and more often. Blood is composed of a lot of fluids besides red blood cells. This carries a good proportion of your oxygen. Removing this will decrease oxygen to cells, leading to cramping. Slightly over hydrating will actually allow you to carry more oxygen to the muscles…Drink when climbing or hiking.
Lactic acid, is built up in cells as part of working them. This is caused by working a muscle without enough oxygen and is a way for your body to burn more glucose to make cellular energy without oxygen. Not bad, you body knows how to deal with it, but, runners and other athletes may need to deal with it quicker. This eventually causes cramping. It hangs around in the cell waiting for more oxygen to be burned…recovery mode. Without large amounts of oxygen, it stays in your body to be processed later. It makes you feel tired after 4 hours of running on a trail. Or 1 hour of hiking if you are not in "shape." Muscle aches, cramps are symptoms… overuse, generally. Often stiffness in the morning, or lack of "zip" in the morning is ascociated with this, too. Up to 36 hours in the body.
NaCl (table salt) is perhaps the most important electrolyte by about 20:1. All are important, but salt is necessary for proper nerve function. Sodium is basically the nerve component. This is maintained at specific levels in nerve endings, and if in short supply, can cause misfiring. You get cramps, or, worse. It effects all nerves.
Much of this is simple high school biology from 50 years ago, so, don't pick it apart…I was also told 50% of what I was being taught was wrong. It's just an overview of the top three reasons.
I highly recommend a simple shake of salt into your drink when hiiking. If you are really working hard, maybe…maybe two. It will add water and salts to your systems in 4-5 minutes. Sugar (glucose/dextrose) is needed, soo, some sugar is OK, also. Table sugar is complex polysacharide(sp?), usually sucrose, and takes about 5-15 minutes to break down in your digestive system. Take a 5 minute break, eat a little. The body knows what to do.
I also use Litesalt in about a 25% ratio. Basically, this is because it helps with nerves and circulation a bit. Not much, but it is easy to insure enough. It supplies potasium. Too much and you can get sick. Potasium is highly toxic in large amounts, but it is needed for nerve function.
This is the formula I have used for many years. 3 parts table salt, 1 part lite salt in the salt shaker. 1 dash per 500ml of water. Coupled with a vitamin (with trace minerals) in the morning and this will work to stop most cramping. Not fatigue, but cramping. IFF you are working hard, add two tablespoons of glucose. It helps when your liver cannot produce enough to supply your body. A tablespoon of cider vinegar works, or other acidic stuff (Vitamin C, etc.) All in a 500ml bottle. This is the old farmers drink I got from my grandfather 50 years ago out haying. It works.Aug 12, 2012 at 3:59 am #1901970
My own experience with night cramps in specific muscles on backpacking trips was that it was due to the use of muscles that I hadn't conditioned adequately before the trip. They'd tighten up at night and I'd awake with spasms. Dietary solutions didn't help. Shifting my exercise routines at home to better simulate hiking and doing a little post-hike stretching and massage each day ended the problem.
Bill S.Aug 12, 2012 at 8:00 am #1901990
@hikinggrannyLocale: Gateway to Columbia River Gorge
I basically picked the Vitalyte because it appears to have less sugars than most and because I tend to bloat on anything with high sodium. It also has a pleasant taste, while I've found several other brands I've tried quite obnoxious. YMMV, of course. Note that I dilute it to half of what is recommended, too. It does work for me, especially in hot weather. One time last summer when I wasn't using it, I was so tired when I got to the car that I didn't think I'd be able to drive home. I mixed up a pint, drank it and within an hour I felt fine.
I certainly don't want to minimize the importance of stretching, and daily exercise, though! If you're going to go for a vigorous hike when out of condition, you're going to be sore! For the last three months I've been doing extensive stretching 3-4 times a day for my plantar fasciitis (which is now a LOT better). I suspect that (because I had a severe case) I'll have to keep doing those stretches for the rest of my life, just as I have to keep doing knee and lower back exercises. However, back in the days of my pregnancies, I'd experience leg cramps the last 2-3 months which the doctor specifically said was due to low calcium. There's both a dietary and exercise component here.
Re the dried banana labels–potassium is not one of the items that the government requires on the label. Just because it isn't listed doesn't mean it isn't there.Aug 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm #1902083
@anthonywestonLocale: Southern CA
I've always had leg cramps. I have had many nights where I had to throw myself out of the tent into the snow trying to straighten my leg because of the pain.
I tried most everything.
The one thing that did help was product called Sportslegs, you can get it on amazon.com. You take it before you start hiking and it works. It's vitamin D, Calcium and magnesium and lactate. I think taking it before you hike is what does the trick.Aug 12, 2012 at 4:58 pm #1902097
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
I've taken Magnesium Citrate capsules, about 400mg total, and that has helped me with leg cramps in my regular, non-backpacking life. It can also help you sleep and keep you regular.Aug 18, 2012 at 1:41 pm #1903774
@phatpackerLocale: Central coast California
Your problems would be solved by prehydrating with gator aide. Using water on the trail and gatoraide with lunch. Make sure to put massive bannana chips in your oatmeal. I have suffered too but mine were hamstrig cramps. It has kept me up all night. I drink emergen-c at times in the morning to bolster and a multivitamin. Salts are important and should be added to the backpackers meal plans. Many of the premade entre's have huge levels of sodium for a reason
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