Does Dehydration While Running Cause Leg Cramps?

Leg cramps are a runner's worst nightmare.
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Cramp, charley horse, whatever you call it, a muscle cramp can be painful. Had enough of muscle cramps when you run? You can't really benefit from running if you are frequently sidelined by a cramping calf or quad. Muscle cramps are common, especially among athletes. Cramps generally occur in muscles that you can control, such as your skeletal muscles. Runners can experience cramps in the calves, thighs and even in the foot. Staying hydrated before, during and after running may help alleviate or prevent muscle cramps.

Causes of Muscle Cramps

    Muscle cramps are beyond your control. Your muscle contracts forcefully and stays contracted for a period of time. Although muscle cramps when running can be painful, they are generally harmless and will go away after a few minutes. Some of the causes of muscle cramps when running include running for an extended period of time in hot weather, overuse of your muscles or dehydration. Dehydration is often accompanied by mineral depletion.


    Your muscles need minerals, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium, to function properly. A lack of these minerals can contribute to painful leg cramps. The best way to avoid cramps due to dehydration is to stay hydrated and to eat a diet rich in the trace minerals your muscles need. Drink water fortified with minerals or sports drinks that contain minerals and electrolytes to help reduce your risk of leg cramps when running. Stretch your muscles before and after running to help reduce your risk of cramps.


    When you're sitting beside the running trail on the ground nursing a painful muscle cramp, there are some things you can do to relax your cramped muscle. In addition to rehydrating your body with water and replenishing minerals lost through sweating, gently massage the cramped muscle. Light stretching can also help relax the cramp. If you're cramping from overuse, the only thing you can do in addition to hydrating your muscles is to rest. Your muscles need time to recover and to heal.

At-Risk People

    If you seem to get more than your fair share of muscle cramps, you might be at greater risk of developing cramps when running than other people. Those who are at greatest risk for muscle cramps when running include the elderly and people who are overweight, sick or taking medications. Marathon runners are especially susceptible to muscle cramps. Prolonged exercise, such as running a marathon, depletes the body of water, minerals and sodium, which can cause cramps. Adequate conditioning, rest and hydration may help reduce your risk of getting a muscle cramp.

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