If you experience from time to time a cycling leg pain, or muscle contraction during your bike rides you’re not alone – many other riders feel the same, including me.
Did you know...?
Did you know that lactic acid buildup is the primary cause of cycling leg pain?
An easy way to minimize lactic acid buildup is to perform cool-down stretches after cycling.
Another great way to counter lactic acid buildup is to go for regular deep tissue sports massages which help to push the lactic acid out of your sore muscles.
One moment you feel on top of the world, full of joy and happiness after another successful bicycle ride, and immediately afterwards you start to feel a sudden annoying cycling leg pain, or even worse - your muscles just stop functioning properly, at least for a while.
Let's make some order here and try to explain exactly what happens when we suffer from muscle pain in legs or from muscle contraction: what are its causes, and more important, what can we do to avoid cycling leg pain.
Do You Suffer From Cycling Leg Pain?
You may start feel cycling leg pain during the ride. It will probably disappear a few minutes after you stop cycling, or at the end of a long, challenging climb. This is called an "immediate muscle pain".
The cause for such muscle pain is the accumulation of "waste products" such as lactic acid in the muscle. Lactic acid is formed in the muscle in almost every physical activity, but during a very intense and continuous bicycle ride the production rate of the acid exceeds the rate of its evacuation. At this point we start to feel muscle fatigue, and pain.
If you experience a cycling leg pain during an intense climb, try to change your cycling speed. Shift to a "lower" gear to reduce the load on your muscles. Avoid a sudden stop: reduce your pedaling rate gradually, and let the muscle get used to a lower load. Only then - stop riding completely. Try to give your leg muscles a rest during the day or two after the ride. If you are in the middle of a bicycling tour, and you have to continue riding, try to make the following day an easy one.
A good treatment to cycling leg pain is to rub your legs with cream containing glucosamine, Arnica and MSM. These creams are quickly penetrates into your muscles, relieves the pain immediately. (It worth a try, but my own experience shows that you should not expect an immediate relief).
Sample Glucosamine, Arnica and MSM
Pain After the Ride
Delayed cycling leg pain appears several hours after the ride, and can last for another 48 or 72 hours. The cause of such pain is microscopic tears in the tissues of the leg muscles.
This phenomenon is normal, especially after a long and intense ride. It is actually the recovery phase of the muscles, after they were damaged during the ride. The direct reason for pain is inflammation and temperature rise in that muscles.
What can we do about delayed cycling leg pain? Perform leg warm up before each ride, do stretching before and after the riding and give your muscles the required recovery time. In most cases, the pain will disappear by itself after a few days.
What to do if You Still Have Muscle Pain in Legs?
What happens if you did everything as explained above and you still feel fatigue and a sense of "muscle contraction" in the legs after the ride?
The best way to know the source of the pain is by checking each potential cause, one by one. The main action you should take is to change and improve different aspects of your diet: it might help you to get rid of your cycling leg pain problem.
Water is essential for all forms of life, and human are not exception. Water assists in digestion and adjusts the body's temperature. It also removes toxins from the body. Failing to drink enough water while riding might hinder your performance and capacities. Lack of water can lead to dehydration, general fatigue, dizziness, fatigue and cycling leg pain. Make sure you carry and drink enough water while riding.
You can read here more about bicycle hydration.
Balance the Lost Salts
Water is not the only element being lost through sweat while riding. Have you ever noticed how salty your body gets after a long ride? We exude a fair amount of salt when sweating. Maintaining a balance between water and salts in our body is essential. Salt is necessary for the proper functioning of the body: beyond the direct effect on cardiac function and normal muscle contraction, Shortages in salty elements may well cause pain and fatigue in the legs muscles.
Here are some solutions to complete the salts:
- Isotonic water drinks: Sports drinks such as Gatorade, PowerAde and others, or homemade drinks (made by diluting fruit juice with water, and by adding a pinch of salt) contains salt. They also contain some glucose for taste and energy. These elements are essential for the proper body functioning during bicycle riding. Oh, and they are tasty too!
- Salt capsules: These capsules are my favorite! Every capsule contains different amounts of salts and should be consumed during the ride according to the manufacturer's recommendations.
- Magnesium: You can consume magnesium on a daily basis to get the recommended amount per day (from 300 mg to 400 mg, depending on your sex and age), and check if there is a positive effect on your muscles during the ride.
- Nutritional supplements: The market is flooded with many other nutritional supplements such as Glutamine (helps the immune system function), BCAA (specific amino acids which are supposed to slow down the process of muscle fatigue) and more. It is possible to add such capsules to our bicycle riding diet menu, but it is very important to follow the manufacturer's recommendations.
Eat and Drink Properly
Make sure to follow the guidelines listed in the article why is nutrition important. The most important days in which you should be strict with your diet are a day or two before the ride, the days during the ride, and a day after the ride.
Read more on the subject of cycling nutrition in these articles:
Books About Leg Pain
More information about leg pain can be found on several informative books. Take a look:
If you experience a fatigue or a cycling leg pain during a bicycle ride you should listen to your body. Try to understand the root problem by checking every possible cause. This research may be a bit long and even expensive, but ultimately it is well worth it.