Whether you run for fun or preparing for your 29th marathon, leg muscle cramps when running can haunt you on the road. These muscle knots are universal, and they can take a toll on your running routine.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a silver lining if you pay attention to possible triggers and take the right measures, you can reduce your risks of muscle cramps in the future. That’s where today’s post comes in handy.
In this article, you’ll discover a few treatment and prevention options to help keep leg muscle cramps at bay, so you train pain-free and reach your running best.
Let’s lace up and dig in.
Muscle Leg Cramps While Running Explained
Virtually every runner has suffered cramps while running at one time or the other, especially when running long distances.
About 40 percent of long-distance athletes suffer from leg cramps, especially in the calves, hamstring, and quadriceps—before crossing the finish line, according to research,
Like a honey badger, leg muscle cramps during a run can attack anytime, anywhere. They can also hit when you’re sitting around watching TV in the afternoon or at night.
This means that they can really slow you down and compromise months of hard training.
Here’s the science behind cramps!
The Exact Definition
Muscle cramps consist of involuntary contractions of muscles.
Ideally, muscle fibers shorten and lengthen back to normal position when they contract.
But when cramping occurs, the muscle fibers stay in a shortened position, causing tension, pain, and may even force the ankle to flex. Imagine yourself freezing.
Not nice at all.
In runners, the most common sites for muscle cramps include the calf muscles (both the gastrocnemius & soleus muscle), the hamstrings, and quadriceps. Yes, all the big main muscles. Now it makes sense why the condition can stop you in your tracks.
The contraction may also force the muscle to spasm, which cuts blood flow the muscles, depriving them of oxygen and nutrients. This is the reason why sometimes you feel tingling or cold in the problem area.
What Causes Muscle Cramps When running?
Blame overuse for muscle cramps during a run. This means pushing your body, especially your muscles, more than they can handle, especially when skipping the warm-up, running in hot weather conditions for a prolonged time, etc.
More specifically, muscle cramps are caused by repeated or prolonged loading of a specific muscle group that’s in a shortened position. That’s actually the reason that the muscle that stays in the shortened position when running are most prone to cramps, such as the calf muscles.
The only thing that soothes the pain is resolving the spam by lengthening the affected muscle. In short, recovery position.
Leg Muscle Cramps are not created equal
Involuntary muscle contractions vary in severity from one runner to the next. Most fall within the mild category, but some cramps can be so excruciating that they shut down the muscles and can put a halt to any running routine.
When Do Muscle Cramps Hit?
Some runners may suffer the onset of cramps hours later, often while resting or sleeping at night.
Often, these involuntary muscle contractions can strike up to eight hours after a workout, creeping in when you least expect them.
Talk about a sneak attack…
How to Soothe a Leg Muscle Cramp While Running
Your best course of action for stopping a leg muscle cramp during a run is to simply: “Slow it down, stop, and take care of the cramped muscle.”
On the onset of an involuntary muscle contraction, gradually slow down your pace and stop running. Next, stretch the affected limb leg by doing the classical standing calf stretch.
Here’s how. Lean into a sturdy object, like a tree or a wall, with the heels flat on the ground. If this doesn’t bring any relief, lie on your back and straighten the cramping leg in the air, while pulling your toes toward your head. Make sure the affected area is higher than your head.
Next, massage the affected spot to increase blood flow to the area and resolve the spasm. This also helps realign muscle tissue and restore normal function. If you don’t know how to self-massage, , simply find the most painful point, and start rubbing there. Follow the muscle band as far as you can.
Once the cramp subsides, resume running slowly and build your pace up gradually.
If the cramps persist despite the break and the stretching, you may need to call it a day, stop running and go home. Running through a cramped muscle can only make things worse.
If muscle tightness persists for days after an initial cramp, consult your doctor to determine whether the contractions are caused by a medication side effect, vitamin deficiency, or an underlying medical condition.
How to Prevent of Leg Muscle Cramps While Running
As far as I can tell, there are no sound-proof measures for eliminating these muscle knots from tying up your runs. But, there’s a lot you can do when it comes to lowering your risks—even preventing—a leg muscle cramp from afflicting your next run.
Let’s look at a few.
Warm up and Cool down Properly
A good warm-up is critical for enjoyable and cramp-free running. When you warm up your body before a run, you get your blood flowing to your muscles, ensuring proper muscle function. Skip the warm-up, and you might put too much stress on your muscles before they’re able to handle it.
Follow these steps for proper warm-up:
- Jog slowly for 5-minute while taking deep breaths and releasing tension. This helps get your muscles and cardiovascular system ready for intense activity.
- Perform a series of quick and ballistic stretches, but avoid over-stretching a cold muscle, as it can lead to injury.
- Once your body is well warmed up, start running and pace yourself properly. Again, push the pace beyond your fitness level, and you’re more likely to suffer from these painful muscle knots.
Once you reach the end of your run, avoid stopping on the spot. Instead, take the time to slowly reduce your pace into an easy jog, then walk for five to ten minutes while breathing deep.
Next, stretch your running muscles, do some foam rolling, rehydrate, then jump into the shower.
Dehydration may contribute to muscle spasms while running. How? Reduced oxygenation means reduced blood flow to the muscles, severely impacting its function. So it’s key to make sure you’re well-hydrated before, during, and after your runs.
Here’s how you stay well hydrated.
- Drink 4 to 8 ounces of water before a run.
- Drink 4 to 6 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during your long runs. A Sports drink with electrolytes can also come in handy.
- Weigh yourself before and after each session, and have at least 20 ounces of water for every pound lost
- Avoid running during peak hours—from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.—especially during summer.
- Thirst isn’t a reliable indicator. In fact, if you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
How much water?
Fluid needs vary from one runner to the next and depend largely on your training intensity, weight, weather conditions, clothes worn, etc. but if you follow these hydration guidelines, you’ll be on the right path.
Another likely cause of leg cramps is a lack of electrolytes induced by excessive sweating. Need proof? Taste your sweat; it’s salty. That means the Natrium or Potassium is going out from your body. That’s why the longer you exercise, the more electrolytes deficient you become.
Electrolytes, including potassium, calcium, chloride, sodium, and magnesium, assist in muscle function and the transmission of muscle impulses. But they’re lost in droves through sweating.
How to keep your electrolytes up?
Follow a well-balanced diet, eating plenty of vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods.
But nutrition plans may fall short if you train for an extended period under hot weather conditions. When it’s the case, replace your electrolytes via a sports drink.
Unlike water, sports drinks are full of electrolytes and carbohydrates and can help you to quickly rev up your stores. Sports drinks, such as Nuun or other sports drinks, help you to rehydrate faster and to restore lost electrolytes.
Can’t afford one? Make your own sports drink or eat plenty of banana or salty snacks. Don’t forget to reduce your diet of salt food, since salty food retracts water inside your body that leads to dehydration quicker. Proof? You tend to drink more after salty food.
A likely culprit behind muscle cramps during a hard run or race is that you simply went out too fast. A muscle cramp can put a kink in your competitive spirit.
That’s why you should learn how to pace yourself properly when racing.
How do you make sure?
Invest in a few sessions training at your race pace in the months before the big event. Do plenty of interval race pace sessions, progression workouts, and fast finish runs. The more you get your body used to the demands of a faster pace, the better prepared you will be on race day.
There you have it! The above guidelines cover the basics of dealing and prevention muscle leg cramps while running. I hope you find them practical and useful.
Please feel free to leave your comments and questions in the section below.
In the meantime, thank you for dropping by.
Keep training strong.