Running cramps happen for a variety of reasons, and finding the root causes of running cramps will help you avoid them in the future and get rid of them after they happen. The most common types of running cramps happen due to lack of oxygen, lack of hydration, and lack of proper conditioning. Starting a running session too hard can lead to running cramps because the body is not yet used to the strain; complicating such a cramp is insufficient preparation, such as not drinking enough water prior to exercise or eating foods that are not easily digestible.
To avoid running cramps, you should first develop a pre-exercise routine of stretching, hydrating, and eating well. Muscle cramps can occur because proper hydration is needed to deliver oxygen to the muscles, and without proper hydration, insufficient oxygen levels can lead to cramps. By the time you feel dehydrated or thirsty, it's too late. You need to hydrate well before exercise and consistently throughout, especially in hot or dry climates.
Stretching will help avoid running cramps as well. Proper stretching prepares the muscles for the strain of exercise. Without such stretching, the muscles can become strained, overly tight, or worse, torn. Starting a workout too quickly can also lead to cramps because, again, the muscles are not properly prepared for the strain. Spend ten minutes before your run stretching out the leg muscles, especially the calves, hamstrings, glutes, and feet.
Foods that linger in the stomach or other parts of the digestive system can also cause cramps. A meal of carbohydrate-rich foods — such as pasta and potatoes — can be easily digested and turned into usable fuel for the body. Other foods that are rich in protein and fiber are more difficult for the body to digest, meaning the food lingers in the stomach and digestive system longer. This means the food has not been turned efficiently into usable fuel for the body, and worse, your body is working harder to both engage the digestive system and work out other muscles during the run.
If a cramp happens during your running session, try slowing down slightly and taking deeper breaths. This action can help deliver much-needed oxygen to the muscles that are cramping. Try to drink small sips of water as well; gulping large amounts of water will only compound the problem, so go slow and take small sips. This will again help deliver oxygen to the cramping muscles and help alleviate the pain of the cramp.