What Causes Abdominal Cramping After Exercise?

Don't let cramps stop your workout.
i Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images

Exercise can be invigorating -- until you stop and experience painful abdominal cramping. From a mild ache to a gut-wrenching strain, muscle pain halts your fitness fun. And when that muscle pain comes from your abs, it can sideline you. Cramps from any one of the abdominal muscles -- the large rectus abdominis, the obliques or transverse abdominis -- will leave your stomach in knots. Talk with your doctor if you're experiencing cramping after exercise.

Eating Before Sweating

You're muscles require a steady supply of fresh blood and oxygen when you exercise. The problem: your digestive system demands the same when you eat. This can spell discomfort during and after your workout. Instead, plan your meals two to four hours before exercising, especially for intense workouts. Chew on a smaller snack 30 minutes before exercising, if you wish. Go for light, non-gassy fruits and nutrition bars. Watch what goes in your mouth before and after exercise, packing snacks and meals with nutritious food options.


Diet books and healthy eating articles preach the eight 8-ounce glasses of water a day philosophy. The "8 by 8" as it's called, is a decent place to start; however, when exercising, you'll need added fluids to replace those lost by sweating. Take in an extra 1.5 to 2.5 cups of water -- sipping half a cup at 20-minute intervals. Take small, frequent sips throughout your workout for short high-intensity workouts. Stick with water and stay hydrated during your workout to avoid stomach upset. Sports drinks with more than 8 percent sugar, electrolytes and fructose contribute to stomach upset as well.


Fatigue and cramping may be signs you're pushing yourself too far. While cramps are more likely to strike in your legs, pesky knots can strike your abs too. Outside influences, such as heat, and internal influences, such as electrolyte levels and hydration, factor into how far you can push your body before cramps begin. But once the pain starts, you should listen and stop exercising. Evaluate your routine if discomfort strikes after your workout though. Check your routine for periods of anaerobic exercises, or quick, high-energy exercises. Anaerobic exercise will leave you nearly breathless because it uses a type of sugar called glycogen stored in the muscles as fuel instead of oxygen. Your muscles have a small amount of glycogen stored and you can only keep the fast pace going for a short time. Pack too many into your workout, especially without enough slow-paced intervals in between, and you may overexert yourself.


Other factors may be to blame too. Muscle strains can occur, depending on your activity. And skipping that two- to four-hour food-to-exercise window can increase your chances of getting a muscle spasm. Abdominal muscle strains, or minuscule tears in the muscle fibers, are overuse injuries and, like all muscle strains, need time to heal. Your gastrointestinal system, or GI tract, may be to blame too. Skip dense foods, high in fiber and fat before exercising. Even spicy foods and greasy foods can irritate your intestines and cause stomach cramping after a workout. Talk to a doctor if you are properly hydrating and watching your nutrition and meal timing and your stomach is still cramping after exercise.

the nest