There you are, running at your perfect pace and feeling fine, and then it hits. The dreaded stomach cramp can stop even the most seasoned runner in her well-worn tracks. Cramped stomach muscles can have a number of causes, from that bacon burger you had for lunch to inadequate breathing while running. Knowing how to stop a cramp before it starts is the trick to banishing them from your running repertoire.
Eat smart before a run. Running with a full stomach can disrupt the digestive process, resulting in cramps and nausea. Instead, time large meals two or three hours before a run. Then, if you need to eat, grab a small snack made from both simple and complex carbs. Registered dietitian Manuel Villacorta suggests a whole-wheat bagel drizzled with honey. This gives you the energy to power through a workout without that too-full feeling that could cause cramping.
Stretch properly before your workout. Sports coach and nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald told Competitor.com that the best warmup for running includes a five-minute light jog plus dynamic stretches such as trunk rotations, strides and leg swings. These stretches can increase your core temperature and help ready your muscles for your run.
Pace yourself as you get started. Taking off too fast can cause cramps, warns MarathonGuide.com. Allow your body to get used to a slower pace and then pick up your speed as you become more comfortable. If you start to feel crampy, it's a good sign that you need to slow down and rethink your pacing.
Sip your water -- don't chug. The general rule of thumb for hydration is to drink 7 to 10 ounces for every 10 to 20 minutes of exercise, according to the American Council on Exercise. While dehydration can cause cramped muscles, tons of water sloshing around your stomach doesn't feel great either. Time your hydration properly and you'll retain the proper balance. If you're planning on running for more than 90 minutes, switch to sports drinks to help replace some of the sodium and potassium lost through long-term sweating -- a lack of potassium can cause cramping, too.
Breathe deeply as you run. In his book, "On Running On: Lessons from 40 Years of Running," Andrew Collins notes that shallow breathing can cause the diaphragm to spasm. He suggests that you try belly breathing as you run by inhaling so deeply that your belly pushes out before you exhale.
Train properly for running events. Even the best runner in the world can't take a three-month break and then attempt a marathon. Running events require weeks of training to condition your body -- and your stomach muscles -- to the strain. Talk to a trainer about your upcoming event to choose a suitable program that can help condition your body.
- American Council on Exercise: Healthy Hydration
- MarathonGuide.com: That Darn Pain in the Belly
- Runner's World: How Do I Get Rid of Side Stitches?
- On Running On: Lessons from 40 Years of Running; Andrew Collins; p. 148-149
Kay Ireland specializes in health, fitness and lifestyle topics. She is a support worker in the neonatal intensive care and antepartum units of her local hospital and recently became a certified group fitness instructor.