avoid muscle cramps tips while running

If you’ve ever been sidelined by a muscle cramp, you know how frustrating it can be. Whether it’s your calf, hamstring, quad, or back muscles that seize up on you during exercise—or even when you’re just sitting at your desk—at some point in your life, chances are good that you’ve experienced this painful phenomenon. 

Muscle cramps are especially common among athletes and others who push themselves physically. But luckily there are several things you can do to avoid getting them or reduce their severity if they do strike during exercise.

Here are nine quick tips for avoiding and dealing with muscle cramps:


1. Stay hydrated

You likely know that the best way to avoid a cramp is to stay well-hydrated. But what does that really mean? Eric Allen, a reputable Miami personal trainer and owner of ERA Fit, says it’s all about staying hydrated before, during, and after your workout. 

“The simple rule is to drink enough fluids so that you’re making regular trips to the bathroom,” he says. “If you wait until you feel thirsty before drinking anything, it might be too late.”

  • Drink more water if you’re exercising in hot weather or humid conditions (and even when they aren’t).
  • Drink water before your workout starts—and keep drinking throughout the session as well as afterward.
  • Try not to wait until you feel thirsty before reaching for another bottle or glass; doing so could lead to dehydration and increase your risk for a cramp due to low blood sodium levels (hyponatremia).


2. Eat more balanced meals and snacks

Eating a balanced diet is important for preventing muscle cramps. Avoiding certain foods and eating more of others can help you keep your body working at its optimal level.

  • Eat more whole grains, such as brown rice and quinoa, which are high in magnesium. These foods contain both soluble and insoluble fiber, which makes them slow-digesting and helps prevent blood sugar spikes that lead to muscle cramps.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables that are high in potassium such as bananas, spinach or avocados. The minerals found in these foods help keep sodium levels low in your body when it’s working hard—which can cause a type of muscle spasm called “exercise-associated hyponatremia.”
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to stay hydrated—water helps to flush out toxins from our bodies that might be contributing to discomfort during exercise (especially those who sweat profusely during workouts).


3. Include salt in your exercise fuel

You may not think about salt when you’re exercising, but it’s an important part of fluid balance and muscle contraction, so it’s worth keeping an eye on during your workout. 

Sodium is one of the electrolytes in the body that plays a key role in maintaining fluid balance. If you lose too much sodium through sweating (or other means), your system will try to retain water to compensate—which can lead to muscle cramps. Sodium also helps muscles stay relaxed as they contract and relax during movement.

Salt is found naturally in some foods like celery, tomatoes and meats; however, most people don’t get enough from these sources alone. Sports drinks and energy gels are often fortified with salt, which can help prevent dehydration along with muscle cramping caused by low-sodium levels in the body.


4. Warm up before you start moving

Before you start moving, it’s important to warm up. The best way to do this is with a 5-minute jog or walk and some basic stretches, like standing on one leg while holding the other foot in your hand. This will help you avoid muscle cramps and injury by increasing blood flow and preparing your muscles for activity.

If you’re using a more intense form of exercise, like running or weight lifting, the warm-up process should be longer than 5 minutes—probably at least 15 minutes—and involve more dynamic stretching routines so that you can loosen up without straining any joints or ligaments.


5. Stretch regularly

Stretching is a non-negotiable for anyone who wants to maintain a healthy body. It helps with muscle recovery after a workout, improves flexibility and injury prevention, and it can even help you perform better as well as help with the frequency and duration of muscle cramps. You should always stretch before your run and after your run—as well as any time you feel like it or have time in between sporting events.

If you’re new to working out, don’t be afraid of taking a few extra minutes at the beginning of your workout or after practice just to get loose. If you’re really tight, try stretching more often throughout the day until things loosen up naturally over time (this can happen within two weeks).


6. Don’t push yourself too hard

The best way to avoid muscle cramps is simply to not push yourself too hard. If you’re training for an event, take it slow and don’t overdo it. Don’t try to do too much too soon!

When you’re at the gym lifting weights, don’t push yourself past your limits. The same goes when doing cardio workouts—if you feel yourself getting tired or a little lightheaded, stop what you’re doing for a bit and give yourself a break before continuing on with whatever exercise plan it was that caused those feelings in the first place. 

Lastly (and this should go without saying), always remember that rest days are just as important as workout days!


7. Work with a dietitian or sports medicine specialist

A professional can develop an individualized nutrition plan for you and help you determine how many calories you need. They can also help determine what types of food are best for exercise performance and recovery, how much fluid should be consumed before, during and after exercise.

Sports-oriented dietitians can also help you determine what and when to eat or drink to fuel your training sessions or races and what kind of food will keep blood sugar levels stable so that energy is readily available when it’s needed most. This will help a lot when it comes to preventing muscle cramps.


8. Treat muscle cramps when you get them

If your muscles begin to cramp, the first thing you should do is stretch them out and massage them until they feel loose. If that doesn’t work, try holding a hot water bottle over the cramped muscles for about 10 minutes. This will help relieve some of the pain and also relax your muscles so they can recover faster.

If you get a muscle cramp during or after exercise and don’t have access to hot water bottles or heat packs (or if those aren’t working), take 500 mg ibuprofen every 4 hours until it’s gone. Ibuprofen will help reduce inflammation, which can make a cramp worse if it continues on too long without treatment.

If none of these options work for you and/or the cramps are really painful or bothersome, be sure to see your doctor right away so they can recommend another course of action! Most types of muscle cramps are harmless but still unpleasant—so anything that makes them go away faster is worth trying!

Now that you know how to keep your muscles from cramping, it’s time to get out there and play. The tips we’ve outlined will help keep you in the game for longer, which means more time for fun! And remember: if you do still have muscle cramps after trying out all these tips, talk with your doctor or an athletic trainer who can help find the right treatment plan for you.

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