When it comes to dealing with cramps while running, prevention is often better than cure. Long-distance runners or those running in the heat are perhaps more likely to suffer with cramps, and while some have developed techniques to manage them, others may not be as familiar with the causes and management of cramps. The susceptibility to cramps varies among individuals, with some being more affected than others. In this guide, we’ll explore the causes of cramps, strategies to avoid them, and effective remedies if a cramp sneaks up on you.

What Are Cramps?

Cramps are sudden, involuntary muscle contractions that can be caused by a variety of factors. Dehydration is a common culprit, as it leads to an imbalance of electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, which are essential for normal muscle function. Overexertion or prolonged physical activity, especially without proper warm-up or conditioning, can also trigger cramps by overloading the muscles. Additionally, inadequate stretching before exercise can leave muscles tight and prone to cramping. Poor circulation, which reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients to muscle tissues, can also contribute to the occurrence of cramps. Certain medications and underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes or nerve disorders, may increase the likelihood of experiencing cramps. Finally, a deficiency in essential nutrients, particularly those involved in muscle contraction and relaxation, can lead to frequent muscle cramps.

Preventing Cramps When Running

Preventing cramps while running involves a combination of proper hydration, nutrition, stretching, and conditioning. 

Hydration

Make sure you are hydrated – Drink plenty of water before, during and after your run. Aim for about 16-20 ounces of water 2-3 hours before running, and 7-10 ounces every 10-20 minutes during your run.

Hydration will not only help to prevent cramps but it will also enhance your sleep quality and overall running performance. 

Nutrition 

Eat a balanced diet: All you ultra runners who think this means nachos, potato chips and all the other junk we shovel in ourselves to fuel our endeavours, it does mean that you get sufficient amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. Carbohydrates are especially important for energy.

Pre-Run Meal: Eat a light meal or snack that is high in carbohydrates and low in fat and fibre 1-2 hours before running. Good options include a banana, a slice of toast with peanut butter, or a small bowl of oatmeal.

Magnesium and Potassium: Include foods rich in magnesium and potassium in your diet, such as bananas, avocados, nuts, seeds, and leafy greens.

Stretching and Warm-Up

  1. Dynamic Stretching: Perform dynamic stretches such as leg swings, walking lunges, and high knees before your run to warm up your muscles.
  2. Static Stretching: After your run, incorporate static stretches to improve flexibility and reduce muscle tightness.

Conditioning

  1. Gradual Increase in Intensity: Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your runs to allow your muscles to adapt and strengthen over time.
  2. Strength Training: Incorporate strength training exercises to build muscle endurance and prevent imbalances that can lead to cramps. Focus on your core, legs, and hips.

Running Form

  1. Proper Technique: Maintain good running form to reduce the risk of muscle strain and cramps. Keep your posture upright, with a slight forward lean, and ensure your foot strikes are even and efficient.

Monitoring and Adjustments

  1. Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to early signs of cramps or discomfort and adjust your pace or take breaks as needed.
  2. Temperature and Environment: Be mindful of running in extreme temperatures. In hot weather, take extra measures to stay hydrated and cool.

Additional Tips

  1. Massage and Foam Rolling: Regularly massage or use a foam roller on your muscles to improve blood flow and reduce muscle tightness.
  2. Compression Gear: Consider using compression garments, which may help improve circulation and reduce muscle fatigue.

If the prevention hasn’t done the job and you still find yourself experiencing cramps when running then you will need to look for a cure or in this case, immediate relief.

Immediate Relief for Cramp

  1. Stop and Rest: If you experience a cramp while exercising, stop the activity and rest.
  2. Stretching: Gently stretch and massage the affected muscle. For example:
    • Calf Cramp: Straighten your leg and pull your toes toward your head.
    • Thigh Cramp: Stand and pull your foot back towards your buttocks (for the back of the thigh) or bring your knee up to your chest (for the front of the thigh).
  3. Massage: Rub the muscle gently to help it relax.
  4. Heat and Cold: Apply a warm towel or heating pad to the tense muscle to help it relax. Alternatively, a cold pack can reduce pain and inflammation.
  5. Hydration: Drink water or an electrolyte solution to help replenish lost fluids and minerals.
  6. Pickle Juice: Some athletes find relief from cramps by drinking a small amount of pickle juice, which can stop cramping faster than water. Say what? Well, let’s expand on this as it’s a new one for us:

Pickle Juice and Cramp

The England squad had viewers taking to social media at their opening Euro 24 game against Serbia when Trippier went down clutching his right leg and was seen stretching and being given two sachets by the England Doctor. It appears that one of them was a high-carb drink which is known as a ‘fuel bomb’ but the other may make you wince – it was in fact, pickle juice. Apparently, it has been found to stop cramping 40% faster than drinking water. Not only is it used by the England squad but also by Wimbledon champ Alcaraz and other sporting stars.

 

While you may think it is the sodium, potassium and vinegar which replace the salts lost, it’s not the reason the pickle juice is advised. It triggers a reflex in the mouth which then sends a signal to the muscles to stop the cramping. It’s not just used for cramping either – there are many other benefits including fresh breath as it kills the bacteria in your mouth. We are sure your breath would stink of pickle juice though. It’s not a new phenomenon – it has been used by sportsmen and women for a good few years now.

Is it OK to Run Through Cramp?

if you do find yourself experiencing cramps during a run it will likely be too uncomfortable to carry on running until it has subsided. It is generally advised to stop and stretch. Breathe deeply if it’s a cramp in your side. Stretching can help to relieve the muscle contractions. You should only resume running when the pain has eased and then you should increase the speed gradually.