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How do I Avoid Running Cramps?

Dan Cavallari
Dan Cavallari

Running cramps happen for a variety of reasons, and finding the root causes of running cramps will help you avoid them in the future and get rid of them after they happen. The most common types of running cramps happen due to lack of oxygen, lack of hydration, and lack of proper conditioning. Starting a running session too hard can lead to running cramps because the body is not yet used to the strain; complicating such a cramp is insufficient preparation, such as not drinking enough water prior to exercise or eating foods that are not easily digestible.

To avoid running cramps, you should first develop a pre-exercise routine of stretching, hydrating, and eating well. Muscle cramps can occur because proper hydration is needed to deliver oxygen to the muscles, and without proper hydration, insufficient oxygen levels can lead to cramps. By the time you feel dehydrated or thirsty, it's too late. You need to hydrate well before exercise and consistently throughout, especially in hot or dry climates.

A man with a leg cramp.
A man with a leg cramp.

Stretching will help avoid running cramps as well. Proper stretching prepares the muscles for the strain of exercise. Without such stretching, the muscles can become strained, overly tight, or worse, torn. Starting a workout too quickly can also lead to cramps because, again, the muscles are not properly prepared for the strain. Spend ten minutes before your run stretching out the leg muscles, especially the calves, hamstrings, glutes, and feet.

Running cramps may be due to a lack of hydration.
Running cramps may be due to a lack of hydration.

Foods that linger in the stomach or other parts of the digestive system can also cause cramps. A meal of carbohydrate-rich foods — such as pasta and potatoes — can be easily digested and turned into usable fuel for the body. Other foods that are rich in protein and fiber are more difficult for the body to digest, meaning the food lingers in the stomach and digestive system longer. This means the food has not been turned efficiently into usable fuel for the body, and worse, your body is working harder to both engage the digestive system and work out other muscles during the run.

Foods that linger in the stomach may cause stomach cramps.
Foods that linger in the stomach may cause stomach cramps.

If a cramp happens during your running session, try slowing down slightly and taking deeper breaths. This action can help deliver much-needed oxygen to the muscles that are cramping. Try to drink small sips of water as well; gulping large amounts of water will only compound the problem, so go slow and take small sips. This will again help deliver oxygen to the cramping muscles and help alleviate the pain of the cramp.

Discussion Comments


@turquoise – Those side cramps just beneath the ribcage are due to your organs bouncing around. Also, you have to remember to breathe deeply while exercising so that your diaphragm doesn't remain contracted.

My doctor told me how to prevent side cramps when running. He said that since the organs on the right side of my body are bigger than the ones on the left side, the pain usually occurs on my right side. He said that I should try to remember to exhale whenever I hit the ground with my left foot to reduce the stress on my diaphragm.

Also, he said I should be conscious of my breathing. I should breathe in deeply and exhale fully.


I started stretching to prevent cramps when running, but this actually caused a few mild calf cramps. The problem was that my muscles were cold and tight before I stretched.

It helps me more to warm up by walking a little before I stretch. Sometimes I do a some light dancing to wake my legs up, too. This seems to lubricate and heat up my muscles, making stretching so much easier.

I also think it's important to stretch after a run. If you don't, you could get cramps later on that day.


I used to drink coffee to help me wake up before my morning run, but I discovered that this was probably the cause of my running cramps. I should have been relying on the run itself to wake me up, rather than pumping myself full of caffeine.

Caffeine dehydrates you, and a cup of coffee has more of it than soda. So, I was actually sapping the water from my body before an intense workout.

I now drink water or a sports drink before running. I have found that just being outdoors in the beautiful moments before and during sunrise is a great way to wake up, and it is far better for me than coffee. I no longer get running cramps.


@fify – You are right about bananas being good for runners. I used to get terrible cramps while running, but after my mother told me that bananas could prevent cramps because of the potassium they deliver to the body, I started eating one every morning.

Since I have been eating a banana before each run, I haven't suffered any more cramps. It's amazing that this was all it took to prevent something so painful.

So, before my morning run, I eat a banana and drink a glass of water. Then, I spend about five minutes stretching my muscles.


@fify-- A sodium deficiency can cause those cramps too. What I do is I take a salt tablet before I run, especially if I'm running in hot weather. Sodium plus water really helps prevent dehydration and cramps while running.

I also used to get cramps in my rib cage while running. I can't say this for sure, but it always coincided with days that I had greasy food or junk food. I think food that causes stomach acidity causes cramps in the chest while exercising. They certainly don't happen when I eat more healthy, whole foods.

I even thought I was having heart problems for a while and got checked out by a cardiologist. Thankfully, they found nothing wrong. The doctor said they're muscle cramps and told me to stretch and drink water before I exercise.


@turkay1- I agree with you. My buddies and I call that "too much fuel." Not eating enough before exercising can make you run out of energy, but eating too much can make you sick. I follow the same rules that you do about food and water intake before a run.

My leg and foot cramps while running aren't associated with food, but rather dehydration, lack of electrolytes and mineral deficiency. If I don't get enough potassium, magnesium and electrolytes in between runs, I start cramping up. I had to stop running because of it many times.

I always keep vitamin and electrolyte water around when I'm running. I sip on it before, after and during my run. It helps considerably. Foods rich and magnesium and potassium is a good idea too. Bananas and almonds, for example, are great power foods for runners and they prevent cramps from deficiencies.


Drinking and eating too much gives me leg cramps while running. And it makes running in general a lot harder.

So what I do is I avoid eating several hours before my run, but I do make sure that I had something to eat that day. So, for example, if I'm supposed to run at ten o'clock in the morning, I make sure I finished my breakfast by eight o'clock.

I also don't drink too much before my run. I mainly sip small amounts but I do drink a lot of water the day before. Somehow, making sure my stomach and bladder is not too full, helps a lot while running. I can use my energy to concentrate on the run rather than digestion and bathroom needs. I think this makes me relaxed and helps prevent cramps while running.

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    • A man with a leg cramp.
      By: Maridav
      A man with a leg cramp.
    • Running cramps may be due to a lack of hydration.
      By: denys_kuvaiev
      Running cramps may be due to a lack of hydration.
    • Foods that linger in the stomach may cause stomach cramps.
      By: sumnersgraphicsinc
      Foods that linger in the stomach may cause stomach cramps.
    • Stretching should help runners avoid cramps.
      By: Christian Stoll
      Stretching should help runners avoid cramps.
    • A person not properly conditioned may get cramps when running.
      By: Deklofenak
      A person not properly conditioned may get cramps when running.
    • Proper hydration helps deliver oxygen to the muscles.
      By: Alen-D
      Proper hydration helps deliver oxygen to the muscles.