Knowing how to prevent running cramps should be a part every runner’s basic library of knowledge. Every long time runner, amateur or professional that I have either talked to or studied says that preventing running cramps already puts a runner ahead of most others. Why? A cramp is like a brick wall to a runner. It cannot only slow you down drastically, but completely stop you in your tracks, period. If you are competing or are looking to PR, it is of utmost importance that you not let a cramp develop. If you do, game over. The top 5 things that you can do to prevent yourself from getting a running cramp are listed below.
Even at sedentary activity levels your body needs plenty of water, about 64 ounces daily, to function properly. It uses water to help the transportation and utilization of nutrients and oxygen. An inadequate water supply can create inefficiencies in this process and cause you to have cramps. While running on a regular basis your body needs twice as much or more as the average sedentary person, about 128 ounces daily. However, click here to read the full guide on how to hydrate properly.
Eating habits go a long way to prevent running cramps. You must make sure that you are eating enough calories to start off with. Second, you need to balance your diet. Third, you need to eat at the right time. Make sure you eat 30-45 minutes before the start of your run, no more, no less. Running too soon after you eat will divert oxygen carrying blood to your digestive system when your muscles need it more. Running too late after you eat will lead to a lack of fuel. You need to have generous amounts of complex carbohydrates in your diet, 6-11 servings per day from foods such as cereals, breads, potatoes, and pastas. These are the body’s preferred source of fuel because they are the easiest to break down and provide a steady stream of glucose. Proteins and fats, on the other hand, are the hardest to break down and are therefore not the ideal source of fuel for running. However, eating 2-3 servings of meats and dairy per day will help you recover after your runs and stay strong throughout your training. Finally, eat 2-3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day. These will provide you with essential vitamins and minerals to help your body move things along more efficiently. In particular, these vitamins include A, C, D, E, K, and the B vitamins (thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, biotin, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, and folate). The minerals you have to closely balance are sodium, potassium, and magnesium, which aid in efficient muscle contractions. If you are unable to get in enough fruits and vegetables, consider taking a multi-vitamin.
Stretch / Warm-up
Your muscles will cramp up if you strain them. Keeping them limber will significantly reduce your risk of straining them, and therefore reduce your risk of getting cramps. Before your runs, do a five to ten minute walk or jog to warm up. After your warm up, stretch for about ten minutes to fifteen minutes. Devote most of this time to your lower body; hips, glutes, quads, hamstrings, groin, and calves. However, do stretch your upper body as well. I’ve seen people get back and shoulder cramps because they ignored this area. Do the same stretching routine after your runs.
Take Deep Breaths
You need to have adequate levels of oxygen to prevent running cramps. A cramp could be caused by a lack of oxygen. During exercise, your body has an increased need for oxygen to burn fuel and move waste. To avoid a cramp that is caused by a lack of oxygen, take deep breaths. The deepest breaths are always taken by utilizing both the mouth and nose to breathe.
Condition Your Body
Nothing can keep you safer from cramps more than good old fashioned conditioning. As you run more and more, you will gradually increase your body’s aerobic capacity and waste removing ability. You will be able to endure high levels of exertion for long periods of time and your muscle fibers will simply be stronger to withstand strain. However, this is a slow process and it takes several months to a couple years to develop. Take small gradual steps, never increasing your speed or distance more than 10% per week.