How to Avoid Cramps While Running

Three Methods:Adjusting Eating Habits to Avoid Stomach CrampsStretching and ExercisingMinimizing Cramps While Running

Running is great for the heart, lungs, and muscles. But when you cramp up, your workout can turn painful. Cramps don’t just interrupt your exercise, they can also lead to muscle injury. To avoid cramping up, stay hydrated and don’t eat right before your run. Give yourself time to stretch and warm up and you’ll be good to go. When you feel a cramp coming on, slow your pace and regulate your breathing.

Method 1
Adjusting Eating Habits to Avoid Stomach Cramps

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    Do not run on a full stomach.[1] If you drink or eat too much before running, you will be more likely to experience cramps during your run. You can eat just a small, healthy snack (no more than 200 calories) about one hour before you run to provide a little extra energy.[2] A granola bar, half of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a few slices of apple, or a banana are good options. After eating a larger meal, wait two to four hours before going for a jog.
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    Stay hydrated.[3] Drink enough -- but not too much -- water throughout the day. Drink at least 64 ounces of water each day.[4] This will help the lining of your intestines absorb water and break down the food in your belly more quickly.
    • Drink some water at least two to three hours before your workout to stay hydrated. Drinking just before you start your run will not give it enough to time to work its way into your system properly.[5]
    • Gulp water as you run. Gulping, not sipping, helps liquid leave the stomach faster.[6] Gulp some cold water (one or two gulps) during your run as needed. Cold water is absorbed more quickly into your system than warm water.
    • You do not need fancy sports drinks or fruit juices to stay properly hydrated. In fact, fruit juices have been found to cause cramps in runners.[7] Stick to water to quench your thirst.
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    Avoid foods which take time to break down in the stomach. These include fibrous foods, fatty foods, and proteins.[8] High fiber foods are associated with cramps during running. Instead, try a simple carb-based snack like a banana and crackers.
    • While healthy fats, proteins, and fiber are crucial for a healthy diet, eat them after you run to prevent cramping.
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    Keep a food log for days you run.[9] A food log will provide a record of what foods are associated with cramps and which are not. For instance, if you ate cereal before running three of the four days you run each week, and during those three days you experienced cramping, you can safely conclude that there is a link between your cereal consumption and the cramping you experienced.

Method 2
Stretching and Exercising

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    Stretch before your run. If slowing your pace does not relieve your cramp, you can stop and stretch to help relieve it as well. Focus especially on your abs, legs, and lower back.[10]
    • Try a lunge.[11] Place your hands, shoulder width apart, against a wall. Bring the toes of one foot against the wall as well. Extend your other leg straight behind you and push into the wall with moderate force using your extended leg and arms. Switch after ten seconds and push using your other leg. Repeat three to four times.
    • A good stretch for your core involves reaching one arm straight up and bending it over your head toward the opposite side of your body. Extend the leg on the side of the body you’re reaching the arm toward and lean your weight on the leg with the hand of the corresponding side.
    • For instance, if you’re standing straight up, reach your left hand straight up into the air and position your right foot slightly away from your center of mass. Do not turn your body to the right. Your toes should form a ninety degree angle. Place your right hand on your right thigh, all the while keeping your left arm up and angled straight out from the shoulder. Hold the position for eight to ten seconds, then switch to the other side. Practice this stretch four or five times before running.
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    Work out more.[12][13] The better shape you are in, the less likely you are to experience cramps. While this is little solace to the novice runner, it does offer hope that running-related cramps are probably just a phase you will pass out of as you build muscle and lose fat.
    • When you begin running, try to run one mile four days a week. As you acquire more experience and endurance, run two miles four days a week. The stronger you are, the longer and farther you should run. Add distance to your run until you feel you are at your logical maximum.
    • Do not run every day. Continue to reserve at least one or two days out of your week for exercises apart from running in order to give your leg muscles time to rest and recover fully.
    • Do some sit-ups before running. Aim to do a low number (5-10) at first, then slowly add sit-ups to your pre-run workout routine until you feel you are at a comfortable maximum. Exercising the abs and core can help you avoid cramps.
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    Vary your running style and routine. Alternate between moderate runs and more intense runs. For instance, run at your normal pace along flat, even ground, then try sprinting for 400 to 800 meters. You could also boost your muscular stamina by running uphill for at least part of your run. Exercising at more intense levels will help prevent muscle fatigue which can lead to muscle cramps.[14]
    • If you have access to a track to run on, try pyramid intervals.[15] This running technique calls for sprints of various lengths in an ascending or descending order, followed by a run at a normal pace. For instance, you might sprint 200 meters, then run at a normal pace the rest of the way around the track. You might then sprint 400 meters before continuing the rest of the way around the track. Add 200 meters in this way, up to a distance of 800 meters.
    • You could also do pyramid intervals in a descending order by starting with an 800 meter sprint, then a jog at a natural pace around the track; then a 600 meter sprint followed by a jog at your natural pace; and so on down through a 200 meter sprint.

Method 3
Minimizing Cramps While Running

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    Decrease your pace.[16] If you feel cramps coming on, try slowing your pace for a few minutes. If necessary, slow all the way to a walk. Walking can give your body time to recover from the impact delivered by running. Once the pain passes, you can resume your pace.
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    Breathe deeply.[17] Push your stomach out when you inhale and relax it as you breathe out. Try a three-stage inhale and two-stage exhale. In other words, breathe in once, then again a bit more deeply, then a third time ever more deeply. Breathe out in one short and one long breath before beginning again.
    • Breathing out fully will allow your diaphragm (a sheet of muscle along the rib cage which pulls air into the lungs) to relax.
    • Avoid shallow breathing. If you feel your breathing quicken, slow down or walk a bit until you’ve recovered control over your breathing.
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    Press a hand into your side.[18] Lightly pressing a finger or your palm to the place where you feel pain (usually on or just below the ribs) can relieve pain. Doing so can relax the diaphragm and stabilize your insides. Many runner instinctively press the place where they feel a cramp in order to relieve their pain. Moving the tips of your fingers around the painful area in a gentle massage can also help avoid cramping.
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    Adopt a proper running posture.[19] Do not hunch over or bend at the waist. Keep your head up and your arms loose. Your elbows should be at a ninety degree angle. Lean your whole body forward slightly and hit the ground with the middle of your foot. Roll your foot forward toward your toe and push off from there.[20] Bring your knees up only as high as you need to in order to get your feet off the ground.


  • Never stretch to the point of pain. If it hurts, that’s your body telling you to stop.
  • Stay hydrated after your run too. For each pound lost, you should drink 16 ounces of water.[21]

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Categories: Running for Fitness