How to Prevent Cramping When Running

It’s not uncommon to start cramping up in your side or in your legs during a run. In fact it happens to a lot of runners. 

There are several reasons why we get cramps, and sometimes they are unavoidable. But knowing how to minimize the risk of cramping can make all the difference when it comes to your running routine. 

What Causes Cramps? 

The cause of the cramp will depend on where the cramp has originated. Usually, there are three ways our bodies cramp whilst running: 

  • Side Cramp: Also referred to as a stitch, this cramp will strike somewhere on the side of your lower abdominal. Cramping in our sides is usually a sign that we are shallowly breathing as a stitch is a little warning that we need to breathe deeply. Another cause of side cramps could also be an imbalance of blood electrolytes (sodium, calcium and potassium) in our systems. 
  • Stomach Cramp: Developing a stomach cramp when running can also be because we are not regulating our breathing properly. However, the leading cause of getting a stomach cramp whilst working out is because of something we ate or drank beforehand. If there is too much food or fluid in your stomach, it can be hard to take deep breaths. 
  • Muscle Cramps: If you find the muscles in your leg begin to cramp up on you, this is a sign of dehydration. 

How to Avoid Cramps 

Although there is no definitive way to completely prevent cramping up, healthcare experts have plenty of recommendations to decrease the chance of you developing a cramp whilst running. 

Stay Hydrated 

From relieving headaches, to aiding weight loss – drinking water throughout the day can do wonders for the body. 

A survey-based study published in the Journal of Sports Rehabilitation found that dehydration was one of the leading causes of exercise related muscle cramps. The study found that fluid replacement was successful for treating and preventing cramping. 

On days where we are not doing anything particularly active (or resting), it’s recommended we drink between 8-9 cups of water. So on days when you are running, you need to make sure you’re drinking more to help replenish the water that will be lost whilst exercising. 

Replenish Electrolytes 

If you’re going to participate in any athletic activity – especially running – it’s important that you’re consuming enough electrolytes. 

Electrolytes are ions that help conduct electricity in the body, and they’re vital for a wide range of body functions, like exercising. If your body isn’t getting enough electrolytes, this can cause muscle weakness. When our muscles are weakened they excessively contract during exercise, which is what causes them to cramp. 

Electrolytes include potassium, sodium, calcium and magnesium. To make sure you’re getting enough and your electrolytes are balanced, include bananas, yogurt, kale and pickles into your diet. 

Stretch Beforehand 

Stretching before you begin running will help warm your body up. If your body is warm, it’ll decrease the chance of  you developing cramps and muscle strains. It’ll also reduce the risk of you injuring yourself whilst running. 

Experts recommend stretching for around 15 minutes before running. Don’t forget to do a cool down too, to prevent any muscle strains from developing. 

Don’t Eat Just Before Running 

Deciding to sit down for a big meal minutes before you go for a run isn’t a great idea. In fact, experts actually advise against drinking large amounts of water or eating within two hours of starting a run. 

A 2005 study published in the Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport found that participants that ate a large amount of food within one to two hours of running were more likely to develop exercise-related abdominal pain – or a side stitch. 

Despite not being able to consume much before your run, it is important you stay hydrated and consume a healthy, balanced diet. 

Keep Track of What You’re Eating

Try keeping a food log for about a week. During that time, keep track of everything you’re eating, including what makes you feel bloated, on what days you feel more tired and if you’re cramping up while running.

Also keep track how long before a run you eat and drink, and how you feel after your runs. Keeping a food log for a week will help you learn a lot about your body, and help you develop better habits. 

Pace Yourself Whilst Running 

If you’ve ever taken part in a competitive run, you know how important it is to not start off too fast. If you take off too fast, you raise the risk of crashing and burning, and that will most likely result in cramping too. 

To reduce the risk of burning out and getting cramps, start your run off slowly, and settle into your pace as you go. 

Control Your Breathing

This biggest cause of cramping whilst running is not breathing correctly. If you’re breathing short and shallow breaths you’re most likely going to get a cramp. 

It’s important to breathe deeply and use your diaphragm so that you can fill your lungs with oxygen. Whilst running, focusing on maintaining deep breaths. 

Strength Training 

Building up your strength will help you to become a better runner, and a lot of experts recommend doing plyometric drills.

Plyometric drills are training exercises, such as skipping and jumping, which are proven to help improve athletic performance. This includes delaying muscle fatigue which reduces the risk of developing cramps. 

Try and add some box jumping or jumping lunges into your exercise routine and this will help relieve tight muscles. It will also help improve the coordination between your nerves and your muscles. 

How to Get Rid of Cramps Whilst Running 

If you develop a stomach or side cramp whilst running, try slowing down to a walk. Once you’ve slowed down, take deeper breaths for around 2 to 4 minutes – also known as lower lung breathing exercises. This will help to subdue the pain, but may not get rid of it completely. Also, burping or passing gas will often get rid of a cramp. 

If you find the muscles in your legs have cramped up, stop your exercise, rest and hydrate. The best drink to consume would be a sports drink so that you can restore your electrolyte balance. 

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