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Cramping. They’re a total pain in the butt. Well, actually, in the side… and stomach… and legs. Every runner—from the everyday to the elite—has experienced the painful, wrenching, stop-everything-and-fall-to-your-knees horror that is the mid-run cramp. The bad news is that there’s no real scientific proof as to what causes cramps. The good news? There are some solid theories along with solutions to prevent and stop them.
Cramp Cause: When you first started running, odds are you were sidelined by your fair share of side stitches. That’s because when you’re not in the best shape you breathe a lot harder and unevenly, and all that huffing and puffing puts stress on your diaphragm, triggering a cramp.
Cramp Conquered: To prevent a cramp, make sure to warm up properly and match your breathing to your strides. When a side stitch does strike, there are several methods people swear by. You can try focusing on exhaling when the foot on the opposite side of the cramp hits the ground. You can bend at the abdomen, away from the cramp, with your arms extended up above your head. Or just try pressing on the area with your fingers when you exhale, and relax when you inhale. Try each method to find the one that works for you.
Cramp Cause: You know the feeling. You’re out on a perfect run, cruising along, and then it hits you: that terrible, painful/gassy/where’s-the-nearest-toilet feeling in your stomach. The most obvious cause is eating or drinking too much too close to your run. But your period can also get you in the gut; depending on where you are in your cycle, PMS or menstrual cramps can do a number on you too.
Cramp Conquered: Obviously, don’t eat a big or heavy meal right before your run; stick to an easily digestible snack with protein and carbs 30-60 minutes beforehand, like a banana and almond butter. You should also avoid a high-fiber meal before your run to avoid stomach pains, but be sure to include enough fiber in your overall diet to keep things regular and prevent digestion issues on the run. Staying hydrated throughout the day is smart; chugging a huge glass of water right before you head out is not. If the cramps are related to your period, try taking a pain reliever prior to your run, or use ice or heat (whatever feels better) on your abdomen before and after you work out. And since exercise can actually relieve the pain of menstrual cramps, running is a cure in itself!
Cramp Cause: As frustrating as it is, there’s really no hard and fast rule about what causes leg cramps. But experts do agree a likely culprit is tired or out-of-shape muscles.
Cramp Conquered: Though there’s really not much you can do to prevent a cramp, keeping up with your workouts and staying fit might help. In terms of dealing with a cramp when it does happen, the best thing you can do is stop right away and stretch. Don’t keep running to see if it will go away; the sooner you deal with it, the more likely the pain will subside and you’ll be able to pick back up. But if the pain worsens and you are having trouble walking, it’s probably necessary to call it quits and try again tomorrow.