Several lucky participants in this year’s Ironman World Championship got the opportunity to test an exciting new solution to muscle cramps.
The story of this year’s Ironman World Championship was not a record-breaking performance or a thrilling duel, but the weather. At 2 p.m., when most participants were in the latter part of the bike leg or in the early stage of the marathon, the air temperature was 89 degrees and the heat index was a scorching 98 degrees due to high humidity. To make matters even worse, the winds were unusually calm that day on the Kona coast.
Participants were not exactly caught off guard by these conditions. It’s hot every year the Ironman World Championship and though it was slightly hotter than normal for this year’s event, the above-average temperature had been forecast days ahead. This gave athletes a chance to prepare. Some, fearing that heavier sweating would elevate their risk of suffering muscle cramps, planned to increase their intake of fluid and salt during the race.
Others who were equally concerned about cramps looked to less conventional ways of preventing them. Kevin Petty, 53, a retired Army Major from Radcliffe, Ky., had cramped in all of his previous iron-distance races and had found no relief in the usual remedies of consuming extra fluid and salt. “I’ve tried increased hydration and electrolyte ‘overdosing,’” he says, “but none of that has ever completely eliminated cramps from setting in.”
In fact, few athletes who are prone to muscle cramping are able to overcome it through these measures. Although the idea that dehydration and electrolyte depletion cause exercise-related muscle cramps has been popular for decades, scientific research has shown that they do not—even in Ironman triathlons.
In a 2011 study, for example, researchers at the University of Cape Town measured hydration and electrolyte levels in 210 triathletes before and after completing an Ironman race. Forty-three of these athletes suffered acute muscle cramps during the race. However, the researchers found that these athletes were no more dehydrated or electrolyte-depleted at the end of the race than were the 166 competitors who did not cramp.
If dehydration and electrolyte depletion aren’t causing an athlete’s muscle cramps, then what is? A second finding in the Cape Town study provides a clue. The two best predictors of cramping among the 210 triathletes who were monitored were faster speeds (especially on the bike) and a history of cramping in races. The fact that competitors who pushed themselves more on the bike were more likely to cramp suggests that perhaps fatigue plays a role in cramping. And the fact that some athletes cramp frequently indicates that individual susceptibility increases the likelihood that highly fatigued muscles will cramp.
Subsequent studies have confirmed that when a muscle becomes fatigued or otherwise stressed during prolonged exercise, the motor nerve feeding into it may become hyperexcited, triggering a constant, painful contraction. The discovery that muscle cramps are caused by a kind of electrical overload originating in motor nerves has opened the door for better solutions. The most exciting new solution is a product codenamed #ITSTHENERVE, a nutritional beverage developed by Rod MacKinnon, a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist and an endurance athlete, and Bruce Bean, a neurobiologist at Harvard University, for the biotech company Flex Pharma.
As the first scientifically proven beverage to prevent and treat muscle cramps in the new category of neuromuscular performance, #ITSTHENERVE contains a natural blend of active ingredients found in certain foods that activate specific ion channels—proteins that regulate the flow of electricity through cell membranes. Through this action, the spicy two-ounce shot, which is intended to be taken before exercise, prevents motor nerves from becoming hyperexcited in response to muscle fatigue and drastically reduces the risk of cramping.
The product is expected to hit the market in 2016. But a lucky few triathletes got the opportunity to try it during this year’s very hot Ironman World Championship. Among them was Kevin Petty, who was both hopeful and skeptical that it would work better than extra fluid and salt intake.
Petty drank one shot of #ITSTHENERVE before the swim, a second one at T1, and a third midway through the bike ride. In prior races of the same distance, Petty’s cramping problems had begun along the inner thighs between mile 70 and mile 80 of the bike leg. In Kona, Petty got a scare when he felt a familiar tingling in the usual spot at the usual point in the race. But then something most unusual happened: the tingling went away and never came back.
Petty finished the race with a sub-nine-minute mile, his fastest split of the entire marathon. “And I felt fine afterwards,” he said. “No ‘gotcha’ cramps… Thanks, #ITSTHENERVE!”
Until very recently, exercise-related muscle cramps were like the weather: something you couldn’t do anything about. Not anymore. There’s no telling how hot next year’s Ironman World Championship will be. But one thing seems certain: Many more participants will be relying on Kevin Petty’s new “secret weapon” to prevent muscle cramps from ruining their day.
#ITSTHENERVE is the codename for the first scientifically-proven formula to treat and prevent muscle cramps. Developed by a Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, this spicy proprietary blend of ingredients takes athletes beyond the traditional mindset that exercise-related cramps are caused by a problem with the muscle. Instead, the scientific breakthrough reveals the real culprit: the nerve. To learn more about, visit www.itsthenerve.com or join in on the conversation by following #itsthenerve on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.