Running Cramps can cramp your style. We have the best treatment for them, but prevention is even better.
I have been fortunate to never get running cramps during a race. Now a side stitch is a different story. Running cramps can strike during a workout, a race, or even worse, in your sleep! Learn the best treatment and the best prevention methods.
You might know now how I like to break things down. First the short list of things to do, followed by the detailed explanation.
1. Drink water. You have to stay hydrated.
2. Get some potassium and electrolytes after a run.
3. Don't drink more than 4 ounces of fluids an hour before a run.
4. Drink fluids during a run that lasts longer than an hour.
5. Get a sports massage. I can't afford such a luxury very often, but maybe you can.
The details! Here they are. Keep reading to get that edge!
1. Water. You have to drink water. Water is the key to life, and it is the key to preventing muscles from cramping. Before any run, you should make sure your hydrated. I require my cross country runners to carry a water bottle around with them in school. This is a good habit for anyone, even if you don't run.
There are some limits to how much water you should drink though. If you are stopping in the bathroom more that once an hour, cut back some. Also, don't drink more than 16 ounces of water within an hour of a run. A regular sized cup holds around 8 ounces of water.
2. Potassium and electrolytes also help prevent muscles from cramping. The best natural source for potassium is bananas. Sports drinks like Gatorade have electrolytes.
After a run, rehydrate! Drink some more water or a sports drink. This is when you are most vulnerable for a muscle cramp attack. I remember on long bus rides after a race getting all cramped up. You have to put back in what you just took out.
3. Just before your run, you can drink around half a cup of water without making your stomach slosh around. For a race, I would only recommend four ounces or less right before the start. It takes your body about an hour to absorb eight ounces of water. Any water you drink right before a shorter race won't help prevent running cramps during the race.
4. If you are running longer than an hour, you should drink some fluids during the run. Water is a good option, but during a run fluids with sodium and electrolytes might be better. Most sports drinks like Gatorade will have what you need. Don't drink anything carbonated during a run. Carbonation actually steals oxygen away from you. You need all the oxygen you can get when exercising.
5. One other option to help those muscles is a sports massage. I would love this, but it is expensive. If you can afford such a thing, go for it. They feel great, and they help your muscles recover quicker which also prevents cramping.
As for the treatment, you pretty much have to stop running when you get a really bad cramp. You can stretch out the muscles to try and get rid of the knot. But, once you start cramping during a run, they are hard to get rid of.
The worst case scenario is waking up in the middle of the night with a muscle cramp. Remember to stretch it out to get rid of it. If you have a cramp in your calf, you need to point your toes towards you, NOT AWAY. If you have a cramp in your hamstring, try to straighten your leg and then lean towards your toes. If your quadriceps cramp, bend your leg at the knee all the way up, and pull on your foot with your arm.
So there you have it. Drink fluids before, sometimes during, and after to prevent muscle cramps. Get a massage if you can, and hope you never wake up with one. It's brutal!
- Written by David Tiefenthaler
Return from Running Cramps to the Running Tips homepage.
Leg Cramps While Running
100 Day Marathon Plan