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How to stop muscle cramps when you're running

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If you're a runner you've no doubt experienced the pain and inconvenience of cramping when you run. Physiotherapist Brad McIntosh explains why we get them and gives us 4 tips to stop muscle cramps in their tracks.

Why do I get cramps when I run?

It is not unusual for runners to cramp whilst running. These cramps may occur in the side, the stomach or in the muscles of the leg.

While there are many factors that can lead to the onset of cramping, the consensus is that the main causes are:
  • Dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance
  • Shallow breathing
  • Exhaustion

How do I stop cramping up when I run?

1. Stay hydrated!

It is very important to stay hydrated. Cramping often occurs when there is not enough fluid in your system, or if you are sweating out most of it during a run. Ideally, you should be hydrating 45 minutes before you run, however if it is a long run or a hot day, make sure you re-hydrate during your run as well to keep your fluid levels balanced.

2. Don’t forget electrolytes

While your body will sweat out water while you run, it will also lose many electrolytes that are used in muscle contraction. Simple carbohydrates like fruit are easy to digest and provide good levels of electrolytes for the body to use as well as energy to keep you going for longer!

Remember to eat about an hour before you go running to give your body time to absorb these nutrients. 

A juice after your run with fruits and vegetables that are particularly high in electrolytes can help to replenish your electrolyte levels which may in turn reduce your chances of experiencing recurring muscle cramps.
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3. Are you breathing all wrong?

If you are shallow breathing during your run, you will not be maximising the oxygen your muscles need to use when working hard. Muscles that are starved of oxygen will fatigue quickly and cramp as they do not have the energy to allow the muscle to lengthen.

When running, breathe deeply. Slow it down and try to breathe through the base of your lunges while keeping your shoulders relaxed.

It may help to do some practice beforehand by placing your hand on your stomach, and feeling your stomach rise and fall as you breathe slowly in and out.

4. Don't peak too soon

Fatigue is another common factor in cramps. If your muscles are burning oxygen faster than your body can replace it then they will cramp as mentioned above.

Make sure you start slowly for the first 10 minutes to warm up into your run. This will allow you to get your breathing patterns sorted while not burning off too much of your stored muscle energy.

Want to run with more energy? Get 4 easy to follow tips to maximise your energy when you run.

~This article first appeared on Sydney Physio Solutions~

Sydney Physio Solutions was established in 2007 with the aim to provide a high quality service in injury rehabilitation using state-of-the art technology in an innovative environment.

Their team of highly qualified and caring physios, led by founder and Managing Director Brad McIntosh, can do a running analysis and provide advice & assessment for the very best outcome.

Brad and the team are also our injury prevention experts for the Blackmores Sydney Running Festival so send them your questions at Ask a Physio and they’ll help you achieve your goals and get you over the finish line!