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The Distance Running/Marathon Guide to Dealing With Leg Cramps

Updated on June 21, 2013

The sudden and severe pain associated with muscle cramping is always serious. Whether you are in the middle of a big marathon race, or just out on a run by yourself; these muscle contractions and cramps will cause you a whole lot of pain in the moment. They also leave the afflicted muscle unable to work anywhere near it's usual capacity for a while.

We're all different, and what causes or cures your cramps might be entirely different for the next person. In my opinion, leg and calf cramps are one of those things that "just happen", whether you're a runner or not, and you've just got to do your best to figure them out and keep them from happening.

I'll do MY best to give you a few ideas and hopefully point you in the right direction.


I LOVE this Amish remedy because it is completely natural and works in literally just a few seconds to stop a cramp.
I LOVE this Amish remedy because it is completely natural and works in literally just a few seconds to stop a cramp. | Source

Some Quick Fixes

It isn't hard to be get caught off guard by a painful charlie horse in your leg. I've been hit by a cramp and had no idea what to do before, and it is an embarrassing and really horrible situation to be in, maybe even humbling.

Doctors used to prescribe quinine, the same quinine that you can find in tonic water, but this has since been made illegal because (A) it has some real nasty side effects and (B) it has been scientifically proven to not work. Some of my relatives used to swear by tonic water for cramps before all the bad news came out about all the potential side effects, so maybe it does have some effect, but I have always used something that I believe to be much better and safer.

A couple of years ago I found a product called Stops Leg Cramps (picture above) that was supposed to work in 60 seconds. I didn't really believe it because, well, I really don't believe anything at first, but it was worth a shot and I really love the idea of using natural and herbal remedies to cure my problems..

I took it along with me on a solo run for a couple of weeks until I got a cramp. Tried it, and it worked in maybe 20 seconds. Later I found out that you can even take a few doses before going on a run and it seems to prevent any cramps from happening spot-on every time.

I have found that eating some salt also works pretty well, so in a pinch consider going to the table shaker if you don't have the Stops Leg Cramps stuff shown above.

The reason I really don't recommend using salt is because sodium as a mineral is much better when absorbed naturally through foods like peanuts, potatoes, lemons, beets, celery, milk, fish, and meats of all sorts. Not to mention all the health problems associated with salt.

I've tried both on many occasions, and believe me when I say that it is definitely worth paying the twenty bucks for the good, NATURAL stuff. My first bottle lasted me over 6 months.

Just like with everything else, you aren't going to take a sip from a bottle or swallow a pill and be cured of your ailments forever. The Stops Leg Cramps product is great and it will keep the cramps away without introducing any nasty stuff to your body, but it is still important that you take the time to really learn your body and find out what it needs to grow to the next level.

Motivation + Knowledge = Success
Motivation + Knowledge = Success

Some Causes and Things to Work on to Help Prevent Muscle Cramping

I looked, and you can find most of the stuff I'm about to tell you on any website about muscle cramps or leg cramps, so I'm going to do my best to be brief with each point. Still, this stuff is important and I highly suggest you read through it to make sure you know it all. If you don't, learn it.

As you grow and mature into a better runner throughout life, you'll find that you don't have to take breaks and are able to run your entire route without a problem. It's a great feeling, but you have to be aware of the fact that your muscles are working for that long without a break - something they might not be used to when you look back at your entire life's history.

When you feel that sudden charlie horse creeping up on you, you'll be glad that you've read this article.

Vitamins and Minerals Associated With Muscle Cramps

Scientists and doctors have believed quite a number of different vitamins and minerals to be somehow linked to the sudden cramping that occurs commonly among runners and athletes. Most recently, potassium and magnesium have been found to somehow correlate with the cramping of your skeletal muscles, whether it be while you are asleep at night or during an important sports event.

I couldn't tell you how much of this is true, but you should take the time to learn your vitamins and see if there is anything lacking in your usual diet. A healthy diet leads to a healthy life, and cramps are your body's way of telling you to try to take a little bit better care of it, or to be aware of what you're doing.

Heavy Exercise

If you take good care of your body, it is a bit unlikely that your cramping is caused by a lack of nutrition or hydration. Instead, most athletes suffer from muscle cramps because they exercise too hard. When your muscles reach a point that they will not be able to go on much longer, they respond with these cramps, at least that makes sense to me.

Water is the source of life. Kinda funny that it can also be the source of your cramps!
Water is the source of life. Kinda funny that it can also be the source of your cramps!

Water: It Can Be Good and Bad

Your muscles need water and electrolytes to be flowing through your body and bloodstream at all times in order to function properly. As you run, the sweat that secretes through your pores will carry with it a portion of electrolytes and water that your body was previously using to perform. Unfortunately, constantly drinking water as you run is not exactly an option as this can actually lead to serious cramps in your abs or stomach.

The reason that drinking water while running causes cramps likely has a lot to do with how drinking interrupts your breathing pattern, might throw off your diaphragm and cause the stitch in the same way you can get a case of the hiccups.

Whatever the exact cause is, you have to learn to hydrate your body before it needs it, and keep it fueled along the way.

Have you ever used the Stops Leg Cramps remedy mentioned above? How did it work for you?

See results

Some Closing Tips:

  • Drinking water throughout the day is important, not just right before a big run. You should make sure that your body remains constantly hydrated for the weeks, months, or even years prior to your upcoming marathon or long-distance freerun. This generally means you should drink 8 glasses a day, but this might be more if you are doing lots of exercise or training on a regular basis.
  • Failing to stretch your muscles properly can often times result in some sort of sprain, cramp or pull. Think back to your stretching routine before your cramp - did you neglect any muscles?. Maybe you stretched the most important areas but overlooked something else. Just because soccer players can't use their hands doesn't mean they shouldn't be stretching the muscles in their arms. Even if you aren't a sports player or athlete of any sort, stretching before laying down at night can help you to get a better sleep and decrease the chances of your muscle unexpectedly cramping up on you.
  • If you've got bad dieting habits then you already know what they are. I don't need to point them out to you. Fix the poor areas as best you can, and supplement that by providing your body with more healthy foods that you might not have before.
  • If you are a long-distance runner or serious marathon sprinter, learning to gradually increase your endurance through training over long periods of time is an absolute necessity. You can't expect to complete a tough run in record timing if you have never even ran that far before in your life, so train accordingly and remember that cramps are a very "human" thing, and we're all just humans at the end of the day.

Funny little Video About Fixing Cramps

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