Ask The Expert: How to Avoid Running Cramps

Ask The Expert: How to Avoid Running Cramps

Ask The Expert is a health & fitness advice column. If you have a question for one of our Fitness Goop experts, please email [email protected]. This question was asked by Lori from Vancouver B.C, Canada.

I am wanting to know why I get stitches in the side of my stomach when I go for a run. I have tried to keep running through the cramping, but they continue. A friend mentioned that it may be related to the way I am breathing while I run, if this is so, how should I be breathing to help eliminate these uncomfortable sensations?”

Spring is here, days are getting longer and brighter. It’s a nice time to get out for a run or start a training program for an upcoming race. Whether you are a new or experienced runner running cramps can show up at unexpected times. Running cramps can turn a run into a walk. There are many types of cramps that a runner can experience. There are also a few ways to avoid these unpleasant sensations.

One type of cramp is a muscle cramp that is caused by dehydration, not warming the muscle up enough, or heat exhaustion. As the weather gets warmer it’s important to stay hydrated and replenish the body with adequate amounts of electrolytes. Warming up and cooling down are very important aspects of training. Incorporating a simple yoga or stretching routine will help the muscles stay relaxed before and after workouts.

Another type of cramping is caused by shallow breathing. A Side stitch is an intense sharp pain under the ribcage that can show up during a run. It is also referred to as exercise related transient abdominal pain (ETAP). The pain may be caused by the internal organs (liver, stomach) pulling down on the diaphragm. Conditioning the body by using a training program will help these side stitches subside.

There are a few ways to avoid cramping.  Beginner runners can use a walk run program to keep the breath in control and avoid a side stitch. Try deep breathing with a full exhalation during intense running sessions. Eating and drinking 2-3 hours before allows the body to digest the food before exercising. Running on soft surfaces will also help to prevent a side stitch. When a side stitch occurs, try slowing the run down and focus on controlling the breath. With your fingers push on the abdomen where the pain is and deeply breathe with focus on the exhalation. Relax the mind and take the focus off the side stitch and onto the breath. When the body and diaphragm relaxes the contraction will subside.

A few tips to keep the running cramps away:

  1. Proper hydration:  drinking water and replenishing electrolytes before, during and after training runs.  Coconut water is a great post workout drink.
  2. Stretching/Yoga:  stretching before and after a run can eliminate muscle cramps. Incorporating yoga into a training program helps bring balance to the body.
  3. Warming up, cooling down:  proper warm up and cool down after workouts helps bring blood flow to the muscles to prevent cramps and soreness.
  4. Awareness of breath:  shallow breathing can cause a side stitch as the body is not getting enough oxygen.  Calming down the breath and taking deep exhales can help clear away any cramping
  5. Nutrition:  eating 2-3 hours before a training session gives the body time to properly digest the food.  Carbohydrates are digested easily in the body. Protein and fat take longer to digest.

Maintaining a mindful training program and listening to your body you should be on the way to some fun spring running.

Vancouver Health Coach