Jason Karp PhD. September 27, 2012, TrailRunner
In high school, I was leading a cross-country race, with a pack of runners from another school right off my shoulder. I felt confident, and then with 800 meters to go, a cramp seized my calf. I stuttered for a few steps, and the entire pack flew by me as if I were standing still.
Have you ever been running along enjoying a trail’s scenery, the smell of tall pines or eucalyptus and BAM—you get a nasty cramp? Whether it is a sharp stitch in the side of your abdomen or a sudden, piercing tightness in your calf or hamstring, cramps can downright destroy an otherwise great run. But they don’t have to if you understand how to deal with (and avoid) them.
Why Do You Get Cramps?
Side stitches affect nearly 70 percent of runners, typically occur on the right side of the upper abdomen and are less prevalent in both older and fitter runners. Why cramps occur, though, is still somewhat of a mystery to physiologists and doctors. Scientists believe that side stitches, which are given the fancy name of exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP), result from either eating or drinking too close to running, especially food and drink that has a high sugar content, or from the movement of internal organs inside the abdominal walls, causing their connective tissue to pull on the diaphragm, which moves with breathing.
While many runners believe that muscle cramps are caused by dehydration and/or an electrolyte imbalance, which could theoretically affect a muscle’s ability to contract, research has shown that neither is the cause. Drinking a sports drink on your long trail runs, while helpful to maintain hydration, won’t prevent cramping.
Experts now believe muscle cramps are caused by an increase in running pace and premature muscle fatigue, which affects the nervous system’s ability to relax a muscle after it has contracted. Trail running in particular can cause local muscle cramping since there is more stress on the muscles of the lower leg as they navigate uneven terrain. Cramps tend to occur when runners run farther or faster than they are used to and occur more often in muscles that cross more than one joint, such as the gastrocnemius muscle in the calf (which crosses the ankle and knee) and the biceps femoris (one of the hamstring muscles, which crosses the hip and knee).
Research has also shown that cramping is more common in athletes who have a family history of muscle cramps and a personal history of cramping and tendon and/or ligament injuries.
How Can You Get Rid of Cramps?
If you get a side stitch while running on trails, slow your pace a little and take some deep, even breaths. Try bending forward while tightening your abdominal muscles and massage the area with your fingers. For muscle cramps, stop and passively stretch the muscle. Since muscle groups work in opposing pairs, with one muscle group relaxing while its opposing muscle group contracts, you can also try to relax the cramp by voluntarily contracting the muscle group opposing the cramped muscle. For example, if you get a cramp in your hamstrings, try contracting your quadriceps, which should help the hamstrings relax.
Next time you get a cramp on the trails, don’t panic. Just follow this simple advice—and make sure no other runners pass you.
Dr. Jason Karp is a nationally-recognized coach, 2011 IDEA Personal Trainer of the Year and owner of RunCoachJason.com. He holds a Ph.D. in exercise physiology and is founder of REVO2LT Running Team. He writes for international running, coaching and fitness magazines, and has authored five books (www.runcoachjason.com/merchandise).
• Warm-up sufficiently.
• Avoid abrupt changes in your running pace.
• Strengthen the muscle that is vulnerable to cramping.
• Stretch the muscle that is vulnerable to cramping.
• Strengthen your core muscles to support the abdominal contents.
• Do not eat within two of hours of hitting the trail. A full, distended stomach can place greater stress on the abdominal area.
• Train more and on race-simulating terrain to improve your fitness, which can prevent premature muscle fatigue.
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By JENNIFER CORBETT DOOREN , Wall Street Journal, November 5, 2012
Taking a daily multivitamin didn’t cut the risk of heart attack and stroke in a study that followed more than 14,500 men for over a decade.
There was a small reduction in cancer risk, according to results from the study released in October.
The trial, called the Physicians Health Study II and partly funded by the National Institutes of Health, is the largest to look at health outcomes and multivitamins. The new findings were presented Monday at the American Heart Association annual meeting and published online in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
More than half of Americans take a vitamin or supplement on a regular basis, and about a third take a daily multivitamin.
The study looked at whether taking a common multivitamin—in this case Pfizer Inc.’s Centrum Silver—can prevent disease compared with taking a placebo or sham vitamin. In addition to cancer and heart disease, researchers also looked at whether multivitamin use affected cognitive decline and eye disease. Information on cognitive decline and eye health has yet to be released. Pfizer provided the vitamins used in the study.
“Many people take vitamins as a crutch,” said Howard Sesso, one of the authors of the study and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, in Boston. “There’s no substitute for a heart-healthy diet and exercise,” he said.
“One thing worth noting is these physicians were quite healthy,” Dr. Sesso added. “A lot of them exercised and most had pretty good diets”—which make it harder to measure the added benefit of a multivitamin.
Many doctors recommend multivitamins, and the supplements are strongly advised for certain groups like pregnant women.
Duffy MacKay, vice president for scientific affairs at the Council for Responsible Nutrition, a Washington, D.C., trade group for supplement makers, says vitamins combined with other “healthy habits” can be a “basic and affordable insurance policy for overall wellness.” He added, “No one should expect the multivitamin to wipe out all diseases known to man.”
The study enrolled 14,641 male U.S. physicians, ages 50 and older when the study began. More than 700 had heart disease at the start. Half received a multivitamin. The other half took placebos that looked like the real vitamins. Vitamins and placebo pills were dispensed in prefilled monthly packages so compliance could be measured.
Researchers followed the participants for more than 11 years, measuring cardiovascular events including heart attack and stroke, and death from a cardiovascular-related cause. There were 1,732 major cardiovascular events and 2,757 deaths during the study.
Researchers said event rates were mostly similar between treatment groups, suggesting multivitamins didn’t influence cardiovascular disease. There were slightly fewer heart attack-related deaths in the vitamin group, which might be attributed to chance, Dr. Sesso said.
Dariush Mozaffarian, associate professor at Harvard School of Public Health and a cardiologist who wasn’t involved in the study, says he worries that many people take vitamins as a “quick fix.” “The danger of taking a multivitamin leads you to think [you] don’t need to do the other lifestyle things that are important,” he said.
Write to Jennifer Corbett Dooren at email@example.com
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By Amy Bortnick • For Active.com
As an athlete and nutrition major I am well informed about the importance of proper hydration in both athletics and everyday life. However, it was not until I was training for my second marathon that the concept of proper hydration and programmed drinking to replace fluid loss really hit home. Nutritionally, I strive to eat mindfully and intuitively. The problem with hydrating in athletics is that an athletes’ thirst mechanism often fails as a proper signal for fluid loss because of the intensity of exercise. Also, the mind can mask the effect of thirst, allowing an athlete to lose a dangerous amount of water.
What is a dangerous amount of sweat loss?
Dehydration is defined as losing 2 percent of your body weight from sweating, but even losing 1 percent can significantly impair your physical performance by raising your body temperature and causing your heart to beat three to five times more per minute.
Dehydration takes away from an athlete’s mental edge, physical ability, and can be deadly if your body loses its ability to cool itself down, or if heat illness occurs.
How can sweat loss be monitored?
A great way to monitor hydration is through the color and quantity of your urine. In marathon training and endurance sports, it is important to pay special attention to your sweat loss.
Your rate of sweat loss is individual and influenced by factors such as age, temperature, genetics, gender, and fitness level. In order to know how much sweat you lose during exercise, weigh yourself nude before one hour of exercise and then again right after.
This can determine the amount of water you need replace (80 to 100 percent) of what is lost. Approximately 16 oz. or 0.5 kg of water should be consumed for every pound lost.
Maintaining proper fluid balance is essential during exercise, when your muscles generate 20 times more heat than at rest. There is no one-size-fits-all recommendation for fluids, so pay attention to your own sweat loss and hydrate accordingly.
Source: Sports Nutrition Guide Book by Nancy Clark
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