Avoiding cramps during exercise

Hi all,

First a little background: I’m a 32 year old woman, about 20 Kg overweight, who has decided it’s time to go back to my “thin days”. Because I don’t want to make a fool of myself at a gym populated by Gym Bunnies (a species recognised by their ability to watch themselves posturing in the mirror while simultaneously trying to look down every nearby woman’s shirt), I have decided to start riding my wind trainer and do a little basic weight training at home.

What this means in practice is that I get up in the mornings, and head downstairs to where my wind trainer is set up, and hop on for a quick ride, followed by some light weights to gain a bit of strength in my arms.

Here’s the problem: It seems that I just can’t get enough water into my system. During the night, I wake up with “cotton mouth”, and have to take sips of water to feel normal. In the morning, I wake up drymouthed. When I ride my wind trainer, I find I get cramps pretty quickly. They go away if I stop pedalling, of couse, but that defeats the purpose of riding the damn thing! I drink water while I exercise, and this helps somewhat. If I increase the amount of water I drink during the day, I have to go to the bathroom every 30 minutes or so. It also means I wake up every hour or so during the night, giving me broken sleep, which in turn discourages me from exercising at all.

Long story short - how do I avoid these cramps?


The cramps are caused by a lack of electrolytes in your system. Basically, you’ve been sweating out salts, especially potassium salts, and not replacing them in your diet.

Bananas are high in potassium and lots of endurance athletes eat them in high quantities. Sports drinks also usually contain potassium, so you may want to drink those instead of water when you work out. Personally, I like Cytomax, which you can get at bicycling shops. It comes in a powder that you mix with your water.

A couple of notes:
Probably the most common cause of waking up drymouthed (or with a sore throat) is sleeping in an excessively dry room. If you’ve been sleeping in the same conditions all along and this just started, it may be exercise-related; but if you’ve changed sleeping quarters, or recently turned the heat on, a humidifier is probably what you need.

The cramps could well be electrolyte-related; in addition to electrolyte-replacing drinks and bananas, you could try cooling your exercise area (open a window?) to reduce the amount of sweating. If the drinks don’t help, I’d see a doctor. Excessive thirst can be due to diabetes, and other medical conditions (and some medications) can mess up electrolyte levels.

Thanks all! I think I’ll go the banana route first, followed by sports drinks if I’m still crampy.



I just wanted to note that the cotton mouth and inability to retain water are both symptoms of low electrolytes. I meant to make that point in my first post. I’m not a doctor, but your description sounds like a standard case. Been there myself.

One thing, if you just go with bananas, be sure you get plenty of regular salt in your diet. I know they say most people get too much, but if you’re sweating so much you’re getting cramps, you need to replace that too. Sports drinks have regular salt in them too, so you don’t have to worry about it if you drink that.