This is something I suffered from a lot, and I often asked myself that very question “How Can I Stop Getting Muscle Cramps While Running?”. The main reason for the leg muscle cramps I was experiencing, in my particular case, is that I didn’t really know my body’s limits. This was especially true when I started to throw in ascents, descents, longer distances, technical terrain, and varying mountain weather conditions. All these “very new to me” factors required more from my muscles, and as a result, I had to learn how to be more efficient when running for longer on the trails to help prevent those calf muscle cramps from running.
I used to rock up to trail races without really knowing how to pace myself. So, I would just run out the blocks as quickly as I felt I could manage at the time. The problem with this is that once you have done a few hills, your body is completely depleted of salts and electrolytes, and before you know it, you’re hobbling to the finish with the most painful running cramps, usually in your leg muscles, not to mention a bruised ego. This was so frustrating as muscle cramps seemed like such an easy thing to avoid. And guess what, it is! When you know how to, of course.
In this post I cover my four steps to stop getting muscle cramps when running – if you follow these, you should hopefully have fewer cramping issues on your future training runs and races!
4 Steps To Stop Muscle Cramps From Running
Dynamic stretching before a run
It’s so important to do dynamic stretching before you run – this warms up the muscles so there’s less chance of you straining them when you start running. Straining your muscles can trigger the onset of muscle cramps from running, especially when your body begins to tire. This is even more important when you are running in the cold.
A few classic dynamic stretches to try to help with your pre-run warm-up are:
- butt kicks (great for the hamstrings)
- leg swings
- alternating toe touches (also good for the hamstrings)
- alternating walking lunges (great for the hips and quads)
- heel raises
I generally spend 5-10 minutes before a run, gently running around and then going through these dynamic stretches.
Pace yourself properly
As I said before, I used to run like a greyhound out the gates when a race started. That’s all very well if you’re running a 5k, but anything beyond that and off-road needs a different approach. I also tend to sweat a lot when running at an intensity of around 65% or higher. This has a handy purpose of cooling you down, but it also drains you of your salts and dehydrates you.
If you have lost a lot of electrolytes (for example, from sweating), then you are at greater risk of getting muscle cramps from running, especially in your legs as the leg muscles tend to be working the hardest when you run, for example many people, including me, can experience calf muscle cramps while running.
When running at a high intensity for anything less than 2 hours, and I know that race organizers will provide electrolytes at aid stations, then I only take water in my running hydration pack and drink the electrolytes provided. If electrolytes aren’t provided or I know my race or training run is going to last more than two hours then I’ll take my own electrolytes in one bottle, and have another soft flask for water.
I always run with a hydration pack which takes two 500ml soft flask bottles. This works perfectly for this scenario. The reason for having two bottles, is that sometimes you just don’t feel like drinking your electrolytes, but require hydration. Being able to satisfy the need for pure water is a must when on the trails.
The electrolyte and carbohydrate mix that I’m currently enjoying is Tailwind Nutrition (unflavored). I have tried many different brands, but right now, this one works for me without giving me an upset stomach.
If you’re not sure which to go for, then I advise you to try some out and see what works best for you. It really is a trial and error process for electrolytes, as everyone’s tastes and requirements differ.
Take Salt Tablets to Help Stop Muscle Cramps
Salt tablets were a bit of a revelation when I first discovered them. They are my ‘get out of jail free card’ when the first three steps fail me and I still manage to get muscle cramps when running long trail running training runs and races. The brand of salt tablets I use most often is called SaltStick Caps, also just refered to as Salt Stick.
They’re basically capsules filled with salts and electrolytes (and no carbohydrates, including sugars, lactose, and fructose). Whenever I feel like muscle cramps are imminent, I take one of these tablets and within 5 minutes, the feeling is completely gone.
I find I can keep instances of muscle cramps from running at bay by continuing this process throughout my race. Please consult the bottle guidelines to make sure you don’t take too many during a 24 hour period though.
I hope these tips help you stop getting muscle cramps from running
By applying a combination of these four steps, I have managed to stop getting muscle cramps from running all but the most challenging of long runs and ultramarathon races.
If you are suffering from running cramps, I hope that trying out these tips you can have the same success in preventing the dreaded leg muscle cramps and can concentrate on performing to the best of your ability.
If you have any questions ask away in the comments below!
*Disclaimer – We are not medical experts, and all information in this article has been gathered from our experiences on the trails and sourced from our own research on the internet. You should always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider, with any questions you may have regarding personal health or a medical condition, including diagnosis and treatment for your specific medical needs.