Stomach cramps are a pain – no pun intended! They appear for seemingly no reason and are a problem while running. There are multiple reasons of cramping when running to appear, including a stitch and period pains.
The most common cramping when running are linked to actions you do before you start exercising. The great news is that they don’t have to appear. Cramping when running is not a necessity of being more active and something that you just need to push through.
To eliminate cramping when running, you will need to make a few changes to your pre-exercise activities. You’ll need to think about when you’re running and what you’re doing through the day. Here’s all you need to know about cramping when running and how to eliminate and avoid them. Also check out this all natural supplement for calming an upset stomach.
The Different Types of Stomach Cramps
While you likely get a stitch, here are different types of stomach cramps you can experience while running.
The first is the side cramp, which is often nicknamed the stitch. It usually appears on one side, just underneath the rib cage. The problem usually arises due to shallow breaths being taken, as the lower lungs aren’t getting the air or the oxygen that they need. If you breathe in deeply and focus on those breaths, you should find that the side cramp doesn’t appear that often.
Pain in your body is an alert to tell you that there is a problem. In the stitch case, it’s telling you that you need to balance out your blood electrolytes again. You will need more sodium, potassium, and calcium in your body. It doesn’t mean you’re in danger if you get one stitch every now and then, but you will need to slow down and breath in deeply again.
The full cramping when running are usually due to your pre-exercise routine but can also be linked to your breathing. If you ate or drank anything before you went running, you could find that there is a build-up of it in your body and will cause cramping when running. Your stomach is so full of either food or drinks that your body is unable to take in deep enough breaths.
Like with the side cramps, the pain can also be linked to an imbalance in the nutrients in your body. This is especially the case for calcium and potassium.
Sometimes cramping when running are the muscles that are going into a spasm or are dehydrated. This is more common in the legs rather than the stomach, but they sometimes appear further up. As the muscles become more dehydrated and don’t get the electrolytes they need, lactic acid builds up and solidifies the muscle temporarily.
Eliminating the Stomach Cramps that Occur
No matter what you seem to do, there are times that the stomach cramps will appear. You may not have made the changes to your pre-exercise routine yet, or you may still be getting into the habit of changing your actions.
So, what do you do when you get a stitch while exercising or had cramping when running? Is there any way to ease cramping when running without having to give up on the run entirely?
You will need to slow down the pace to start with to avoid cramping when running. This could be a slow jog or a walk. The aim is to get more oxygen into your body. While walking, open your lungs out and take deep breaths. You’ll need to do this for up to five minutes, and you should find that the pain subsides then, you won’t experience cramping when running.
If it’s not gone away, it could be trapped gas. In this case, you’ll need to try to get the gas out, whether that is through a burp or passing the wind. Think of it like having trapped wind when you’re not running. Once you get rid of the wind that is trapped, the pain subsides immediately. You’ll almost forget your cramping when running.
There are times that cramping when running is lactic acid build up. This is more common in the legs than in the stomach, but you will need to be aware of this. It’s important to rest and stretch when you get this type of cramping when running. At the same time, restore your electrolyte balance using drinks with added electrolytes, such as some sports drinks. Lactic acid build up occurs when you don’t have enough electrolytes in your system.
Prevent Stomach Cramps Even Becoming an Issue
Rather than dealing with the stomach cramps, you can prevent them ever becoming an issue. As I’ve said, it only takes a few changes to the way you get ready for any type of activity. If you’re struggling with change already, start with one change at a time and see how it works for you. It takes 6 weeks to get into the habit of something, so make an effort to follow the change for 6 weeks continually, and you’ll forget that it was ever a problem!
Stop eating before you run. The first thing to change is the food that you eat before a run. You shouldn’t run on a full stomach. This just closes the gap for your lungs to expand, so you don’t get the oxygen that you need. Most experts recommend that you don’t eat anything for two to four hours before exercising.
But what if you get hungry? Surely having some sort of energy is better than nothing at all?
This is where you will need to plan for your workout. Have a small, energy-dense food around two hours before you exercise. Something like a piece of fruit or some protein will be perfect for your needs. The nutrients break down slowly in the body to keep you satisfied.
Watch out for the heavy fiber meals. The slow breakdown does give you the energy, but it can also cause the stitch or cramping when running. If your body hasn’t digested that much before your run, it will take up room in your system and struggle to digest while you’re running. It’s best just to have a light meal on the days that you know you’ll exercise in the hours before.
You can wait until after your run, which will usually take between 30 and 60 minutes – depending on what you’re training for! After your run, you can enjoy a meal that has more protein and some carbohydrates to refuel the body.
Eliminate large amounts of water before running. Like with food, you want to cut down on the amount you drink before running. Sure, you need to have something to drink, but you don’t need a full water bottle’s worth!
Two to four hours before running, you just want to sip your water. This will help to prevent your muscles from getting dehydrated and will keep your stomach from getting full. You’ll have the space to breathe while you’re exercising.
During the run, you’ll want to hydrate throughout. Take a small water bottle with you and sip it at regular intervals. This is especially important if you’re running in hot temperatures or your run is going to last longer than 30 minutes.
You may want to consider a sports drink if you run for long periods of time. Your body will sweat out its electrolytes, which will cause cramping when running and cramping all over the body. Sports drinks replenish some of the electrolytes.
Track the food and drinks that you consume. One of the best things runners can do is keep a log of all the food and drinks that they consume daily. It’s best to make a note of all the food and drinks you have just before you run, within two to four hours of running. Check out more info on best sports drink for runners here
When running, make a note of any stomach cramps that you experience. You can mark the experiences in your food tracker so you can see if there’s a pattern. You may find that eating certain foods lead to cramping when running, whatever time you eat them or however much you eat.
Knowing this will help you figure out which foods to eliminate from your pre-exercise diet. That doesn’t mean you must cut the foods out completely. Enjoy them after your run instead.
It may not be the actual food but the amount that you consume. Include the weights and ounces of food and drink that you consume. This will give you an idea of whether you need to cut back.
Everyone is different. While someone will tell you that they can eat a full protein meal four hours before a run, others find that a small piece of fruit two hours before is more effective for them. You’ll find what works for you by keeping a log.
Start off slow and build your way up. Don’t get right into full pace running. This isn’t just bad for cramping when running, but it will be bad for your whole body. You’re at a higher risk of injury because your muscles haven’t had the chance to warm up.
Start by running slowly to warm up your body and don’t forget to do some stretches. You’ll run with your whole body, so don’t just focus on leg stretches! Torso stretches are good for keeping side cramps at bay. You’ll warm up these muscles to aid with the deeper breathing and avoiding lactic acid build up. Other abdominal stretches will also be good for your stomach to avoid cramping when running.
After about 10 minutes, you’ll be ready to pick up the pace. Do this gradually unless you have a trainer who can make sure you avoid injury!
Focus on deeper and slower breaths. Remember that many side cramps are due to breathing. Your body is telling you that the lungs just aren’t getting enough oxygen.
Veteran runners have developed the skills to breathe deeply and slowly. They don’t experience side stitches as often. They also don’t get nervous before running, so there is less chance of hyperventilating as they train.
However, when you start off running, you are likely to be nervous, and that means shallow breaths. With shallow breaths, you’re only breathing with your upper lungs. While you put yourself at risk of cramping when running, you’re also making your body work harder. You won’t be able to run as efficiently, and this will tire your muscles out a lot faster.
Focus on deeper and slower breaths while you run. If you start running at a slower pace, you can build your way up and put your mind on your lungs taking in the oxygen. Most runners will breathe in for three steps and exhale for two steps. You can choose the pattern that works better for you. You may find that inhaling for four steps is better to start with, but as you get faster that you need to switch down to the three-step inhaling sequence.
Keep focusing on your breathing pattern, especially as you get faster and more tired. Your body will want you to take in faster breaths, believing that will get more air in. Don’t listen to it because it really isn’t the case! You’ll just end up with side cramps because your body can’t get the air in.
If you find that the pace is too quick and you can’t take the deep breaths in, slow your pace down. You don’t need to walk, but you should slow down your running until you can get the deeper breaths in and to avoid cramping when running. This will keep any potential side cramp or stomach cramp at bay.
It’s Time to Improve Your Running and Eliminate Cramping
Most cramping when running occurs due to the lack of air getting into the system. It’s time to focus on changes before and during your run to eliminate the cramping forever.
You can prevent cramping when running from occurring. This is the case by focusing on deeper breaths and avoiding too much to eat or drink. Set up a routine so you can plan for your run and not eat high fiber meals too soon before your run. After 6 weeks, your routine just becomes a habit, and you’ll find it much easier to stick to daily. This will also benefit you physically and mentally, whether you’re running to improve your fitness, lose weight, or for an event.
If you do suffer cramping when running, slow your pace right down. Focus on taking the deep breaths for about five minutes, and you’ll find that the muscles start to get the oxygen back into them. You’ll find re-balancing your electrolytes is easier, especially if you take sips of a sports drink at the same time.
You don’t have to put up with cramping when running.
How Little Exercise Do I Really Need to Do?
My philosophy about exercise tends to be somewhat different from most people in the fitness industry because I use exercise as a treatment modality to treat chronic disease. Most of my patients developed chronic disease like high blood pressure and diabetes from leading an inactive lifestyle for most of their adult lives; so it is rare for them to be at risk for over training and cramping when running. Instead, I am regularly answering the question, “How little exercise do I really need to do?” Since there has been new research published on this subject, I’ve decided to share my answer. Let’s start with 15 minutes. A recent article published in The Lancet (Wen et al., 2011) found that individuals who were physically active, meaning that they got up and moved, for only 15 minutes each day, reduced the risk of cramping when running and their risk of mortality by 14% and added 3 additional years to their lives. Any additional 15 minute increase in physical activity beyond 15 minutes/day decreased risk of mortality by 4% and cancer mortality by 1%.
Can you find the time for 30 minutes of walking? Researchers at Harvard School of Public Health (Sattelmair et al., Circulation 2011) found that accumulating 150 minutes of activity per week reduced risk of developing heart disease by 14%. Doubling the amount of activity to 300 minutes per week or 60 minutes 5 days/week of brisk walking, reduced risk by 20% and also reduces the risk of having cramping when running. In addition, other recent research found that walking for 30 minutes, 3 days/week, or 90 minutes per week resulted in healthier arteries that reduced the risk of having a heart attack and cramping when running.
People tend to get the greatest health benefits when they move from being completely inactive to engaging in regular moderate activity such as briskly walking. This same trend has been observed when considering peak exercise capacity, that is, the maximum amount of work your body is able to do which causes cramping when running. This is determined during an exercise stress test that is done at a doctor’s office to evaluate someone for heart disease or in an exercise testing lab. A colleague of mine (Kokkinos et al. Circulation 2008) found that having a peak exercise capacity of what is roughly equivalent to not being able to do much more than climb a flight of stairs which can also be experienced if you are cramping when running, was associated with a 20% reduction in mortality risk. By increasing peak exercise capacity to a moderate fitness level that most people without significant chronic disease achieve easily by walking briskly for approximately 30 minutes most days a week, reduced cramping when running and the risk of mortality by 50%. As far as I am aware, there is no drug available to us that result in a 50% reduction in mortality when taken regularly to treat or prevent chronic disease.
There is a point where benefits level off, and there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. But the good news is that as we all sometimes find ourselves in “lifestyle mode”, and trying to accumulate some kind of exercise whenever we can because of our busy schedules, simply getting up and moving has significant health benefits but make sure that it will not cause cramping when running.