“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” ― Haruki Murakami
Why Do I Get Cramps When I Run
Running can take your fitness to a whole new level, but there are some obstacles you have to overcome.
Cramping is one such obstacle. As a runner, you’ve probably asked yourself this: Why do I get cramps when running?
Cramps while running result from the accumulation of lactic acid inside the muscles faster than the body can metabolize it.
This lactic acid forms when the muscles try to utilize the glucose in the body to give you some extra energy.
If you’d like to know more about muscle cramps, how to avoid them, and how to handle them, you’ve come to the right place.
What Is a Muscle Cramp?
Muscle cramps and muscle spasms are repeated, uncontrolled muscle contractions in one or more muscles.
These cramps could involve a whole muscle like the groin muscle cramp or parts of the muscle like the inner thigh muscle cramp.
Muscle cramps could attack any muscle in the body. However, they’re more common in muscles that exert a lot of effort. These muscles are the calves, feet, thighs, and abdomen muscles.
These cramps could last anywhere between a few seconds and 15 minutes. They could be mild, moderate, or severe.
Depending on the severity of the cramp, the pain could be just a minor discomfort or strong enough to drop people off their feet.
Muscle cramps can happen at any time to anyone. Age, gender, or race don’t affect how often a person could get muscle cramping.
However, these spasms are much more likely to occur in tired muscles.
Why Do I Get Cramps When I Run?
Any runner applies a lot of stress on their muscles while running for long distances. These working muscles require energy to keep up with the straining exercise.
The Cramping Process
Without dwelling too much on science, aerobic respiration is when we normally breathe in oxygen and let out carbon dioxide.
Our cells use this oxygen to produce the energy they need.
However, when you keep running for long distances, the oxygen you breathe is sometimes not enough for your muscles.
As a result, your muscles will resort to anaerobic respiration.
The cells will break down the stored glucose in your body to release energy to push your limits a bit further.
However, there are two drawbacks to this reaction.
One, the energy produced from anaerobic respiration is much less than from aerobic respiration. Two, the reaction produces lactic acid as a byproduct.
Your body will try to metabolize that lactic acid and get rid of it. However, if the production of lactic acid is too fast, it will accumulate in the muscle and cause a cramp.
What Are Stomach Cramps?
Muscle cramps are most annoying when they affect any of your leg muscles. However, they could also appear as stomach cramps, which are common among runners.
Stomach cramps manifest as a sharp pain in the side of the lower abdominal area.
Shallow Breathing Can Cause Cramps
The most common cause of stomach cramps is shallow breathing.
When a runner doesn’t breathe deeply from his lung, he doesn’t provide his body with enough oxygen. That’s when the anaerobic reaction starts, and the pain in your sides comes along with it.
That side pain is often the first red flag that your body isn’t getting enough oxygen. If you don’t handle it, your leg muscles are most likely the next target of muscle cramps.
So Can Your Diet
Stomach cramps could also be related to your diet. If you’ve eaten or drunk too much before running, your stomach will press on your lungs and prevent them from taking enough air.
Yet, we see many runners in marathons drinking water and other fluids while running. And we just mentioned that extra fluids would cause stomach cramps. Then what’s going on?
There’s a big difference between providing your body with enough water and filling your stomach with water.
As a runner, you lose a lot of water while running in the form of sweat and water vapor. If you don’t replenish that lost water, you subject yourself to dehydration.
And Then Comes Dehydration
Dehydration is another cause of muscle cramping that you should avoid. So, how to balance things out?
You need water before the run, during it, and after it. Let’s just say that It doesn’t matter how much water you drink post-run. What matters is before and during the run.
You shouldn’t drink more than 20 ounces of water (2.5 cups) 45 minutes before you run.
As for the running itself, you may drink up to 4 ounces (half a cup) of water every 15 minutes. That’s enough for your body to keep going while minimizing the chances of cramping.
Why Do I Get Cramps When I Run? How to Prevent Them
Muscle cramping is one of the main enemies of a runner. The pain it causes could sometimes render the muscle unusable until the cramping ends.
This could jeopardize your pace and position in a race. So it’s only natural for a runner to take all the necessary precautions before he sets off.
What are these precautions, you might ask? We got you covered:
Stretch Before You Run
Stretching your muscles (especially your running muscles) before any type of exercise is of utmost importance.
Stretching speeds up the blood circulation in your body, which provides your muscles with some extra oxygen as a warm-up for the upcoming exercise.
The main muscles you should target are the calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps. You should spend at least 10 minutes warming up these babies so they can carry you till the end.
Exercise Deep Breathing
This may sound strange, but deep or rapid breathing (hyperventilation) can cause dizziness, disorientation, and rapid heartbeats in the untrained body.
Breathing too deep or too fast forces us to lose carbon dioxide faster than the body can produce it. R
educed carbon dioxide in the blood causes blood vessel constriction, which in turn reduces the oxygen that reaches the tissues.
Fortunately, our bodies can get used to this with constant exercise. Practice deep breathing regularly to improve your lung capacity.
Replenish the Lost Electrolytes
Water isn’t the only thing you lose during running. There are important electrolytes that running exhausts as well.
Sodium and potassium are examples of said electrolytes. They help in regulating muscle contraction and relaxation to produce motion.
Without enough electrolytes, it becomes harder for the muscle to move. A Sports drink that is rich in electrolytes should help your body stay in shape to finish that long run.
Drink Enough Water
We’ve explained the importance of drinking enough water, so we’ll summarize it for you in a few points:
- Drink 20 ounces of water (2.5 cups) 45 minutes before you run
- Drink 4 ounces of water (half a cup) right before you run
- Drink 4 ounces of water every 15 minutes as you run
Build Your Speed Regularly
Don’t get too carried away at the beginning of your running. The body needs some time to get into the running mood.
If you start too fast, you may exhaust your muscles too early and subject yourself to cramps.
Eat the Right Foods at the Right Time
If you exercise in a gym, your pre-workout meal should be full of carbohydrates to give you the energy you need.
However, running isn’t the same as lifting exercises. You need enough energy, but not a full stomach. That being said, fruits and vegetables are your best friends before you run.
As a runner, you should eat around 2 hours before you run. Just a couple of bananas and some water are more than enough to get you going.
If you still experience cramps, you could try eating 3 hours before the run instead of two. You may also change the type of food you eat.
Some people get cramps if they eat bananas but not apples, for example.
You can eat heavier meals before your run, should you prefer. But avoid fatty and oily foods as they’re much harder to digest.
Massage Your Muscles Occasionally
Massages and physical therapy help in relaxing your muscles and reducing tension. We recommend having a massage every 7–10 days to give your muscles some relaxation.
Massages also improve blood flow to the muscles and render them flexible. It’s much easier to run with lean relaxed muscles than with tensed ones.
How to Handle Muscle Cramps While Running?
Muscle cramps could still happen even if you try your best to prevent them. You should know how to handle them when they catch you off guard.
Handling Stomach Cramping
Cramps usually give you a heads up while running by causing pain in your sides first. It’s not common for runners to get leg cramps right away; the cramps usually attack the stomach first.
When you get a side or stomach pain while running, slow down to a walk. Then start taking deep, controlled breaths while you massage the area in pain.
The pain should gradually fade in less than 5 minutes.
Drinking half a cup of water may also hasten the disappearance of pain.
Handling Leg Muscle Cramping
You will be able to recognize the cramping muscle instantly because of its pain. When the cramp attacks your legs, your running should come to a complete halt.
Sit or lay down while trying to stretch the cramping muscle as much as you can. Cramps in athletes usually reside within a few seconds.
You could continue your exercise if you like, but we recommend doing so slowly. A cramping muscle means high fatigue.
Why Do I Get Cramps When I Run? Because your muscles have reached their limit.
Your job as a runner is to further that limit as much as you can by taking the necessary precautions. Eat well, drink enough, stretch, and keep going.
Running is about making your body stronger.
However, that doesn’t mean that it’s okay to have a running injury. When you cramp more frequently than you should, you’re mostly pushing too hard.
Take it easy, breathe, and run safely.