Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - June 22, 2011

Topics: Cramping at high cadence, HMB usage, MTB training, Hyrdration, Leg openers, Hand numbness, Flat footedness, +65 Training regime, Foot discomfort.

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Cramping at higher cadences

Supplementation for endurance events; using HMB

Training for a MTB event

Hyrdration issues

Leg opener workouts

Position on the bike causing hand numbness

Flat Footedness

Over 65 training regime

Foot discomfort in warmer weather

Cramping at higher cadences


I'm a 30 year-old road and mountain bike racer in my 11th season of amateur racing. I'm 1.85m tall, currently weigh 93Kg and have been putting in 8 to 10 hours a week on average for the past few years all year around. I have a big build (similar to Magnus Backstedt), can average 41-42Km/h for a 20Km time-trial and can sprint quite well, but my time-trialling is better than my sprinting. My CP30 is around 320 watts when I'm in good race form and I tend to ride larger gears than most of the peloton. I usually train on my own and find I tend to do quite well in flat races in criteriums at a body weight similar to what I am right now. Although I have never raced a road race in the U.S., I would probably guess I am a Cat. 3 racer.

My average training cadence does not usually go above 75rpm (zero cadence included) and in most road races my cadence can average anywhere from 85-95rpm. I find I time-trial well when my average cadence is around 85rpm. I have been racing in China for the past four years. Recently, I have been making the top 20% in large road races in races that feature 100-150 racers, but I found that I lack the high cadences in the final bunch sprint just as the podium finishers. In this regard, I have been regularly motor-pacing and deliberately riding at cadences over 110rpm while motor-pacing in hope of improving my sprinting.

However, after a minute or so of sprinning a large gear at over 110rpm while motor-pacing, but at comfortable tempo effort, my left leg starts to cramp in the groin area. This has happened twice in the past week and the only solution is to lower my cadence and shift onto a harder gear in order to avoid such cramps.

Thank you and I hope your suggestions would help me solve such cramping at high cadences.


Ishmael Muscat

Supplementation for endurance events; using HMB

I have been reading about HMB and am wondering if there is any benefit to supplementing with it for endurance activities. I am a 57 year old cyclist and former RAAM finisher.



Pamela Hinton says:

Hi Dave,

HMB is the abbreviation for ß-hydroxymethylbutyrate. HMB is a breakdown product the branched chain amino acid leucine. In a multi-step process that involves both skeletal muscle and liver, approximately 5% of leucine ends up as HMB. Leucine promotes skeletal muscle protein synthesis and inhibits catabolism. Because HMB is produced as a result of leucine metabolism, some researchers hypothesize that HMB is partially responsible for the positive effects of leucine on skeletal muscle. And, recent data from cell culture experiments suggest that HMB stimulates the biochemical pathways involved in protein synthesis and inhibits those required for protein degradation.

Not surprisingly then, use of supplemental HMB is popular among bodybuilders and athletes in strength/power sports to increase lean body mass and strength. However, as is often the case, controlled studies of the anabolic and anti-catabolic effects of HMB have given conflicting results with some suggesting that HMB increases muscle mass and/or strength and others showing no differences compared with a control treatment. These inconsistencies can be attributed to differences in how the experiments were designed, including HMB dose and duration, training status, sex, age, exercise stimulus and diet.

Despite this ambiguity, it is clear that any positive effects of HMB on lean body mass occur only in the context of metabolic stress and muscle protein breakdown, e.g., high-intensity resistance training or protein catabolism associated with injury or illness. In other words, HMB in the absence of training does not increase muscle mass.

A 70-kg adult produces ~ 200-400 mg of HMB per day from leucine metabolism. Under conditions when skeletal muscle degradation is elevated, endogenous production of HMB may not be optimal. Human studies that have demonstrated positive effects of HMB have used doses ranging from 0.5-6.0 g HMB per day for 2-8 weeks with no adverse side effects. The suggested dose relative to body weight is 0.038 g per kg of body weight, e.g., 5.8 g for a 70-kg adult. In addition, to dietary supplements, HMB can also be obtained from foods such as avocado, citrus fruits, asparagus and catfish.

In summary, for athletes who regularly train at high intensity and have large training volumes (i.e., significant and regular breakdown of skeletal muscle) exogenous HMB in food or dietary supplements might be of some benefit when consumed in the doses described above, with no apparent negative side effects.

Training for a MTB event

Hello Fitness Panel,

I am training for a high altitude (above 10000 ft), 50 mile MTB race coming up in mid-July. There are a lot of climbs on the course and the terrain is bad dirt roads and single track. I have been mixing up my training, with a lot of steep hills, some speed work, some longer rides at altitude (> 50 miles), and building up my weekly totals to about 200 miles. I am trying to take an hour off of my time from last year, when I struggled to do it in just over 7 hours. The winner last year took about 4.75 hours! I'm wondering how I can increase my pace significantly to at least break 6 hours and even compete in the top 200 riders. How are those guys maintaining such a high pace for so long on the steep terrain? I have been practicing on 20+ % slopes, but go really slow up them. Also, I can only go so fast down hills on that loose rock and still maintain safety. It would seem that the answer is to increase speed on flats, rolling terrain, and hills, but how can I get there?

Thanks for your help.


Scott Saifer says:

Hi James,

It sounds like you are on the right track several ways already. Here are some questions to ponder and possible angles for improvement.

You've told us you don't feel safe descending faster than you are descending already. Are you already about as fast as the faster descenders? If you are, you are probably making a realistic assessment of the conditions and the limits of what MTB riders can do. If other guys are descending faster than you and not crashing though, you have room to improve by working on your descending. If that's you, find some place to practice that is similar the challenging parts of your goal event.

You haven't told us about your height and weight. If you are much heavier compared to the most competitive riders your height, you can shave time on both the climbs and descents by getting lighter. On the road, heavier guys descend faster, but on technical descents, the faster folks can dance, and that means being light. Of course uphill speed depends on power-to-weight ratio, so if your power equals the other guy but you are heavier, you ascend slower.

Pacing is key in a long-distance race, especially at altitude. A few minutes going too fast early in the event can cost you many minutes later in the event. If you haven't yet figured out how to do technical MTB rides without exceeding LT, learn how to dial back your speed on climbs so you can save energy for later in the race.

Nutrition and hydration also have to be dialed for a multi-hour race. If you are drinking enough that your urine is lemonade colored rather than apply juice colored after a long ride, you are doing okay on water. If not, figure out how to carry and drink more fluid. You should also be consuming as much carbohydrate as you can absorb, and if that's less than about 250 calories per hour, you need to work on that, perhaps by changing foods or just getting used to eating. A big bite every 15 minutes works well for most riders.

Finally, training is important of course. 200 miles a week is a lot if it's dirt miles, but the guys who are winning are doing more than that if it's road miles. The top 200 guys are probably doing 15 hours or more per week. While we're on this topic, you'll build aerobic fitness much more effectively with steady miles done on the road than with the irregular sorts of effort you get on dirt, so do enough dirt to get the needed technical practice and the rest of your hours on the road. A 50 mile MTB event is strictly an aerobic endurance challenge, so the vast majority of your riding should be well below LT, with occasional forays up near LT or a bit over on one or two rides per week.

Let us know which of these suggestions corresponds to a change in what you've been doing and how. We may have follow up suggestions.

Hyrdration issues


I just started riding a couple of years ago and can keep up with the local group ride. I am a larger rider at 6'0-185(10 percent fat). I have improved a great deal over the last 2 years but no matter what the temperature is I drink twice as much as most riders in the group and 3 times as much as some others. I am not someone who drinks a lot because you are supposed to stay "hydrated". I have deliberately tried to drink the same amount as the others on the ride but end up having cramps if I do. Is this common that some riders just require more fluid? Is there something I should be drinking to help drink less fluid during longer rides/races?



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Erik,

What sort of weather do you ride in? How much are the others drinking? How hard are these rides for you?

Erik responds:

The ride is the acacia park sat and sun ride in Colorado Springs. I believe it is the fastest group ride in town as there are some pros that come to it when they aren't racing. The rides are fast but not beyond my ability. I am always in the first third of the ride and will win a number of the sprints during the course of the year(not bragging just answering your question). There is a stop for drinks around mile 30 and I'm always done with 2 bottles by then. Most riders have only drank one bottle and some riders have only drank half a bottle. Diabetes runs in my family but I don't have it. I have been tested for it a number of times throughout my life because I do drink so much more than others but every test has showed that I do not have diabetes. I know that I am not over drinking because I have never once had to use the bathroom during a ride, even on centuries. I try to keep my hydration level at 60% but that's on one of the cheapie scales from Wally world so I don't know how accurate it really is. The last thing is I ride an old steel bike from the 90's. It weighs about 25 lbs including the two bottles. Could it be that I am drinking more than the others because I am riding a heavier bike?

Scott Saifer says:

First off, congratulations on making yourself strong enough to keep up with a very tough ride, and on figuring out that you need to drink more. Many riders under-hydrate in races and long rides, and perhaps they can get away with it because they are so fit that when they lose a few percent, they can still keep up. Others do simply need more fluid because they sweat away more water.

There are a few possibilities to consider. First off, do you hydrate before the ride? If other riders are starting with a full bottle in their bellies and you are starting to drink only as you start to ride, that would explain needing one more bottle than your partners over the length of a ride. I'm guessing you do have a bottle before the ride and you have another problem. Being larger and better insulated than some other riders on the ride (higher body fat percentage) you both generate more heat and have more trouble dissipating it. You are probably simply sweating away more water than lighter and leaner riders on the same ride.

Leg opener workouts


Please tell me how to perform the "leg opening" workout, which you say should be done a day before a race. Intensity, duration, etc.


Scott Saifer says:

There are a variety of exercises that could be called leg openers. The general concept is a long, gentle warm up followed by a short bout of hard work and then a long gentle cool down. For my clients, I usually make the total exercise about one hour and the hard work a 3-9 minute interval near LT, with the length depending on their strength and experience. Sometimes I'll have them do a few short but all-out jumps instead of the LT interval, depending on what sort of race is coming up and what has worked for them in the past.

Position on the bike causing hand numbness

I have been cycling about 6 months now, and when I ride I position my hands on the lower rung of the handle bars, after about 20-30 miles I'm starting to get tingling and numbness in my fingers. Sometimes it lasts a couple of days. Is there any chance I'm doing permanent damage to the nerves in my hands? Any suggestions on how to improve this?


Peter Calvi

Steve Hogg says:

If you experience this discomfort often enough or long enough it is possible to end up with a permanent or semi permanent problem. Re: the cause(s), there are a number and they all relate to you having too much weight on your bars (because of seat too far forward, bars too low or too far away) OR some factor of position (seat too high, too far back or too far forward) that destabilises you and causes a lot of tension in the arms, shoulders,upper back or neck in an effort to use you upper body for stability. Does any of this strike a chord with you?

What I would suggest as a starting point is to read this and attempt to pass the balance test mentioned there. If you can't get back to me and I'll advise step by step.

Flat Footedness


I'm flat footed and have always had some degree of foot pain (in my arches) when riding a bike. I took to riding to & from work about 7 years ago on a cheap mountain bike with your standard platform pedals and when my feet started to hurt I would slide my foot forward so that the pedal would be behind the balls of my feet and the pain would go away. Fast forward 5 years and I've upgraded to a new bike(s) with Shimano clipless pedals so no more sliding the foot forward for me. The cleat position is as far back as it will go which helps but I still get pain. I've developed a nasty habit of pointing my toes down when I pedal which seems to minimise my discomfort but I can't imagine that it would do my pedalling action any favours.

I've tried using shoe inserts to correct my fallen arches but you may as well stick daggers into my feet as the pain & discomfort gets unbearable
after about half an hour. Do you know of any tips, treatments or gear that could help ?

Here are a few of my personal stats -

-I'm 38 year old male, I ride to work every day, I don't compete but I will complete a local Sportif about 3 times a year my weight is 100kg (I used to body build as a youngster)

-I have size 11 shoes (that's a 46 in the US)

-I ride about 150 - 200km a week

-1.8m tall (that's 5' 11" in old money)

-I ride a 2011 Giant TCR Advanced with a Shimano 105 groupset (170mm cranks)I have Shimano RO86 road shoes.


Steve Hogg says:

G'day Luca,

I see similar problems to yours reasonably often. The solution is the individually correct degree of arch support and wedging. Too much arch support, particularly hard arch support will cause pain as you have found. In addition, the cant of the foot needs to be ideal. Lastly, many people with flat feet who experience pain of the type you mention have very tight calves. Stretching them effectively and regularly can make a significant difference.

These links may help with general info.

Arch support


Once you've read that get back to me with more queries if you have them.

Over 65 Training regime


I am 65 and recently retired. I have been weight training regularly. I do cycle; however, I want to increase my speed and endurance. I will now have more time to devote to a training regimen.


Scott Saifer says:

Hi Joseph,

Congratulations on getting to 65 in good enough shape to be lifting and riding. Unless you have health problems, the advice for a 65 year old getting into more cycling is the same as for a younger person. Here are some basic principles to get you started:

1) Aim to ride every other day or more often.

2) Do most of your rides at a mellow pace, going hard only once or twice per week, and only after you've been riding near the limit of your available time for a few months.

3) Build up volume gradually, adding about 1/2 hour at most to your longest ride each week and 1/2 hour to your total time for the week.

4) If you are tired at all as you start a ride, make it a recovery ride (about an hour and barely pushing on the pedals.

Scott Saifer adds:

The single most important change you can make since you want to be faster and have better endurance is to increase ride frequency. Your 25-50 mile rides are long enough to help you improve fitness, but riding two days per week is not going to get you much faster than you are now. Add two more rides each week so that you are riding every other day or more often. The additional rides can be 45 minutes for the first week, then an hour the second week to get accustomed to more frequent riding. Assuming you respond well, after two weeks keep the additional rides at least an hour each, and longer is better up to the length of your other rides that you've already been doing. Keep all the rides at a mellow pace (no heavy breathing, no big hills, no leg burning) until you've been riding four days per week for at least two months. After that, you can add one harder day if you feel the need.

You'll notice a positive change in a month or so, and a big difference by two months.

Foot discomfort in warmer weather

Hi all.

I regularly have discomfort in the front of my feet while riding in warmer weather. By warmer weather I mean about 75 F or above. I gradually develop a somewhat painful sort of numbness feeling in the region of my toes and the forward and inside bottom of the balls of my feet. Depending on the temperature---in particular, more quickly at higher temperatures---this feeling can set in after only forty-five minutes of riding. Eventually, especially on the left side, the fronts of my feet feel not only sort of numb, but also squashed against the soles of my shoes. Unclipping and dangling my feet for a few seconds will alleviate the feeling briefly. Riding over more varied terrain and with more varied accelerations also helps to alleviate or at least delay the onset of these sensations. Dismounting and standing for a bit alleviates the feeling fairly quickly; though, after a ride during which I had these sensation for a while, my feet continue to feel a bit out of sorts for an extended period of time.

Let me convey some further information that might be of use. I ride a 2003 De Rosa Merak, have used Speedplay X-Series pedals for quite a few years now, currently have Lake CX401 Speedplay specific shoes, and wear fairly thin cycling socks. I also experienced this pain with my previous shoes, DMT Flashes. When I last switched shoes, I had my bicycle refit concurrently, and this did not much affect these sensations despite better arch support from the new shoes and Varus wedging from the new fit. I keep my toes quite relaxed while riding and I have ample room to wiggle my toes in the Lakes. I have chronically cold feet (and hands). I do not experience this pain while riding in cooler weather.

Could this be an issue of ventilation? Could this be an issue of my feet expanding in the heat? I would greatly appreciate your thoughts. Thanks.



Steve Hogg says:

While I quite accept that this only happens in hot weather, based on others that I've come across that have had the same issue, it is likely that the hot weather only exacerbates a low level existing problem. Before moving onto likely causes, when you say "balls of feet", do you mean the base knuckle of the big toe only on each side OR the base knuckles of all toes or multiple toes?

While waiting for your reply on that, possibilities include:

1. Not enough foot over the pedal. If your last fit positioned your cleats so that the ball of the foot is over the pedal axle, the stress that this can place on the plantar fascia can load the metatarsal heads (base knuckles of toes) and compress the joints enough to pressure the nerves in that area and cause numbness and pain. Let me know what your relative cleat position is. Have a look at this
for info on how to determine what your cleat position is and to rectify if need be.

2. You mention that your shoes aren't tight. Does that also mean that there is little feeling of lateral compression of the forefoot? Is the toe a little tight at either the 1st MTP joint (base of big toe) or 5th MTP joint (base of small toe)?

3. If your seat is too high, problems like this can occur with susceptible people. See here as well for more info. When subject to any challenge to their position, like too high a seat height, the rider will almost always compensate for that challenge asymmetrically. In this case the most common response is to drop or roll the right hip forward. That increases the distance that the left leg has to reach. I mention this possibility because you not that the discomfort is more severe on the left side.

4. Could you possibly be doing your shoes up too tightly across the top of the instep and not allowing for foot expansion that sometimes take place in hotter weather. Before saying "No", have you experimented with backing the tension off the middle of the foot with your old shoes. I know this isn't possible with the BOA system of your current shoes.

5. I've left this to near last because there is a small possibility that the wedging is in the wrong direction. I mention this last because it is very uncommon for wedges to need to be thick side of wedge facing away from the centre line of the bike. Also, I need to know what brand of wedges you are using and where they are placed, inside or outside the shoe.

6. Is your second toe longer than your big toe?

7. Read this and tell me whether the arch support you have is equivalent to Level 2 or not?

Let me know the answers to the questions I've asked and I'll attempt to advise further. Hope this helps.

The Cyclingnews Form & Fitness panel

Scott Saifer ( is head coach, CEO of Wenzel and has been coaching cyclists professionally for 18 years. He combines a master's degree in Exercise Physiology with experience in 20 years of touring and racing and over 300 road, track and MTB races to deliver training plans and advice that are both rigorously scientific and compatible with the real world of bike racing.

Scott has helped clients to turn pro as well as to win medals at US Masters National and World Championship events. He has worked with hundreds of beginning riders and racers and particularly enjoys working with the special or challenging rider. Scott is co-author of Bike Racing 101 with Kendra Wenzel and his monthly column appears in ROAD Magazine.

Steve Hogg has owned and operated Pedal Pushers since 1986, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem. Clients range from recreational riders and riders with disabilities to World and National champions. He can be reached at:

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+.

He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Pam Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an associate professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of energy balance on bone health. She has published on the effects of cycling and multi-day stage racing on bone density and turnover.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is a three-time Missouri State Road Champion.

James Hibbard progressed from the junior to the professional ranks as a rider and has over 15 years of competitive cycling experience. He is a former Collegiate All-American track cyclist, trained as a resident athlete at the United States Olympic Training Center, earned international medals as part of the U.S. National Team, and was a member of the powerhouse Shaklee and HealthNet Professional road cycling teams.

He has earned 13 National Track Championship medals, as well as numerous junior, U-23 and elite California State championships on both the road and track. Since retiring from full-time racing in 2005, James has focused on his development as a coach.

David Fleckenstein, MPT, OCS ( is a physical therapist practicing in Eagle, ID and the president of Physiotherapy, PA, an outpatient orthopedic clinic focusing in orthopedics, spine, and sportsmedicine care.

His clients have included World and US champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his Masters degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University and is currently completing his doctorate at Regis University.

He is a board certified orthopedic specialist focusing in manual medicine and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilisation musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Carrie Cheadle, MA ( is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese ( is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Dario Fredrick ( is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

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