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Runner's Guide on How to Prevent Cramps when Running

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Cramps in your exercise regime can be the worst nightmare. And how to prevent cramps when running has been a question which has been pounding on the mind of every runner! However, every runner has gone through this at least once in their life and for most the reason of what causes cramping while running has been unknown. Mostly these cramps take over your body when you run a distance or a long duration or in stressful weather conditions. Some witness serious calf cramping after a run and always wonder how to prevent calf cramping?

Thanks to some exercises and workout sessions a few cramps can be worked upon but there are instances when one just can’t do anything about it and must wait for time to heal it.

Like mentioned before how to prevent cramps when running has been a question that all runners have in mind before they take the stride – could be a marathon that they want to run or just a fitness regime that they want to follow!

Well, we will try and resolve the basic questions of cramping while running: causes, symptoms and prevention tips.

What is Muscle Cramps

Let’s start with the basics and understand what are the muscle cramp symptoms:

  • It begins in small muscle groups that are right below the skin also called as ‘twitches’ and then the cramping grows in high muscle groups like hamstrings and quadriceps
  • Tightening of muscles in lower leg region, calf region
  • Cramping spreads quickly to other muscles too and in most of the cases is bilateral
  • Cramping is not constant. It is occasional

Causes of Muscle Cramps

A few studies have tried to answer the question what causes muscle cramps while running and have derived two reasons of muscle cramps, however, it is also seen that these cramps can occur at any given point of time or in any other muscle groups as well and there are no theoretical remedies to treat muscle cramps.

1. Low Sodium Intake

When your body has low sodium intake and you tend to sweat it out rigorously while running you develop Electrolyte Imbalance Muscle Cramps. This is the best-known theory but is also the one with the least amount of scientific support.

Causes of Cramp - Low Sodium Intake
Low Sodium Intake

However, a renowned exercise scientist from the University of Cape Town, Timothy Noakes, M.D., Ph.D., D.Sc. calls the studies that link cramps to sodium loss and dehydration “bogus science.” He came down to this conclusion after researching the electrolyte levels of 43 ultra-marathoners in the early 2000s. He did this by having a blood test done over these 43 ultra-marathoners after a race which indicated no major changes in magnesium or blood sodium absorptions between those who had a spasm and those who did not.

Also what was noticed that there was no change in the body weight, plasma size, or blood volume between the two groups which were in consideration of this test, showing that dehydration had no real effect. This also means that dehydration is not the only cause of a cramp. Because dehydration also occurs when you’re in a sauna, or even just walking around on a hot day.

Don’t forget to read about Salt Tablets!

2. Fatigue Muscles

If your calf muscle has been overworked it will cause muscle overloading and fatigue cramps. This type of cramp will cause immense pain in the calf muscle and will require instant remedies to treat the muscle cramp.

Muscle Fatigueness
Muscle Fatigue

Dehydration, however, does advance muscle fatigue and is one of the main reasons that cause cramps. In the ultra-marathoner study mentioned above, 100 percent of the runners who witnessed a spasm did so in either the last half of or right after the race was over.

There are some other reasons that also may be a cause of muscle cramping as well:

  1. Inadequate stretching
  2. Old Age
  3. Inappropriate conditioning
  4. Excessive exercise intensity and duration
  5. Family history
  6. Dehydration

If you’ve been running regularly in marathons or races and you do know the areas in your body that are prone to cramping and want to figure out ways on how to prevent cramps when running and for this, it is necessary to know what workouts will help to prevent muscle cramps in races and make it a point you do them before and after you’ve completed your run. However, if you are running a marathon, you should know 5 Things to Keep in Mind Before Your First Marathon Run.

Runner’s Hurdle - Types of Cramp

Stomach Cramp

Picture this, you have been running for a while and all of sudden you are down with a severe pain in stomach. What could this be? The other most common cramp one witnesses are the stomach cramp. Stomach cramp happens suddenly, it’s a sharp pain that one comes across and practically makes you stop doing whatever you’re at! Well, the other most common cramp one witnesses are the stomach cramp. Stomach cramp happens suddenly, it’s a sharp pain that one comes across and practically makes you stop doing whatever you’re at!

Stomach cramps after running can be very disturbing and distracting. It is usually felt on the upper right side of the abdomen, especially under the ribs. One logical explanation for this is that jostling of our body causes the organs to collide with the stomach, which leads to a painful stretching of the connective tissues.

Prevent Stomach Cramps
Stomach Cramps

We have a good news for fitness freak- Stomach cramps are less common in fitter people but it can’t be said that they don’t occur in them too. Not a lot of reasons are known as to why a stomach cramp occurs, but what we all know is that it typically occurs just below the diaphragm; the muscle that separates your lungs from your intestinal organs.

You cannot stop the cramps but you can definitely prevent it, right? Keep in mind these stomach cramps prevention tips:

  1. Do take this seriously. Avoid eating 3 hours before your run. Also, avoid drinking water or any liquid an hour before you go out for a run. This is for your stomach to digest what you’ve eaten in the day and it is important to give it this time.
  2. You know this tip by heart! Yes, hydrating yourself is very important. Give yourself the gift of water on a regular basis throughout the day so that your body can use it when you are out there taking that run.
    What’s the fact behind drinking water? Drinking enough water throughout the day lets the large intestine lining absorb it and this, in turn, helps you live a fitter and healthier life.
  3. If you’re planning a significant stride, it is always recommended to avoid high fiber meal 4 hours before you take off.
  4. Last but not the least – Breath! It is necessary to have a proper and complete breathing action when you’re running. This contributes to relaxation of the diaphragm and respiratory muscles which help in avoiding the muscle cramps. Deep breathing is very much necessary, also known as abdomen breathing which helps in relaxing your muscles. You should learn how to increase the lung capacity for healthy breathing techniques.

Muscle Cramp

While running, muscle cramps usually occur for two reasons: muscle overloading and electrolyte imbalance. Muscle overloading usually arises from the overuse of muscles, leading to fatigue, causing severe pain in the overworked muscles. Cramps from electrolyte imbalance develop due to excessive sweating and low sodium content in the body. This may occur even when the muscles are not overworked and affect multiple muscle groups.

Check the Runner's Guide on How to Prevent Cramps when Running

Leg Cramp

They are usually caused by the overworking of the calf muscles, causing muscle overloading and severe and sharp pain. One other factor that can cause leg cramps is dehydration. Leg cramps are one of the main reasons due to which runners cannot complete their race.

Know more about IT Band Syndrome: Recover with Yoga for IT Band Stretches

Side Stitch

Also called side cramp, as the name suggests, this cramp attacks the victim on the side or in the lower abdominal area. It is mainly caused by shallow breathing or not breathing deeply from the lower lungs. Imbalance of blood electrolytes, such as calcium, potassium, and sodium may also stand as a reason for side stitch.

Also, know all about Side Stitch: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention (Infographic too!)

How to Prevent Cramps When Running

Although muscle cramps are spontaneous, they can be prevented by reducing exercise intensity, making biochemical adjustments, and practicing relaxation while exercising. You cannot do much nutritionally to prevent cramps as these are training related. It is important to incorporate some innovative workouts into the training schedule.

To avoid stomach cramps you should run at least two hours after consuming a meal and keep the body hydrated by taking a small and regular intake of fluids. If a cramp strikes, the pace of running should be decreased for a few minutes.

You can prevent leg cramps while running by keeping the body properly rehydrated and training to run fast when the legs are tired. It is important to be adapted to the distance you want to race. Practicing strength training also helps to reduce overworking of muscles.

Side stitch may be avoided if you breathe deeply and properly. It may be kept in control with proper hydration and breathing.

Recovery Tips

Indeed, cramps are very painful. However, with self-care measures, you can recover from them. You should take help of passive stretching and massage. By stretching the cramped muscle and gently rubbing it, you can feel the cramp ease out. Also, apply a heating pad or warm towel to the affected area to relax the muscles and contract the antagonist muscle group. Massaging the cramped area with ice may also relieve pain. Immediate electrolyte replacement at the first occurrence of a cramp

Prevention Measures to keep in Mind

  1. Reducing your exercise intensity and its duration
  2. Improving the work out condition and its range of motion
  3. Making biomechanical alterations
  4. Practice relaxation while working out
  5. Training appropriately
  6. Adapting yourself to the environment
  7. Preventing dehydration by consuming the right amount of fluids for your body
  8. Choosing salty foods or sodium-rich sports products before, during and after exercising
  9. Not running on a full stomach
  10. Prevent carbohydrate reduction by consuming carbohydrates rich food products before your workout and during your workout if it is longer than an hour to 90 minutes

So, in a nutshell, if you think that you are running fast and might fall prey to a nasty cramp, you need to keep long deep breaths and slow down your running until you reach the normal breathing pace. This will help you avoid the muscle cramps as well as the stomach cramps if you are prone to them and will help you keep them at bay.

Livingit Tip-
Abdominal stretches prevent the formation of lactic acid. Thus keeping stomach cramps at bay. Our next word of wisdom is that you need to chug water!

It is necessary to keep hydrating yourself while you are running. Always carry fluids with you, the best is water and keep sipping small quantities of it during your run. This is very important if you are running in stressful weather conditions and is one of the key answers on how to prevent cramps when running.

Hydrate Yourself
Hydrating Your Body

Sports drinks are very helpful if you are running for a long duration. As when you run the body disposes of electrolytes which in turn causes cramping and the sports drink help you regain the missing electrolytes in the body.

Want more tips on how to prevent cramps when running?

Well, by focusing on deeper breaths and avoiding too much to eat or drink. It is necessary for you to follow a routine so that you can plan your run and not eat high fiber meals too soon before your run. Once you start following the routine, in a months’ time it will just become a habit for you and will help you stick to it in a way easier way. This will also benefit you physically and mentally, whether you’re running to improve your fitness or lose weight.

So eat, drink, exercise and bid adieu to cramps!

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