Being a runner you have no doubt suffered from a “charley horse” or leg cramp.  Ever wonder why? 

In my experience, I discovered that if I wasn’t fully hydrated, then a cramp was definitely on the horizon.  In fact, there are several different causes for cramping, especially amongst athletes.   

Obviously, one cause is dehydration. This happens when we fail to intake enough fluids. How to know how much fluid to ingest? Well, if you don’t mind me getting a tab gross here, the easiest way is to check your urine. 

Contrary to popular opinion your urine is not supposed to be yellow, but rather clear or pale yellow. Therefore, if you are capable of passing at least one clear urine a day, then you are fully hydrated. 

Another method is to take your body weight, say 100 lbs. and divide that number by 2 (100/2 = 50)  Now, you should be drinking at least 50 ounces of fluid, preferably water, a day. This will help you avoid most leg cramps. 

Of course, dehydration isn’t the only cause for the leg cramps. Lack of sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and phosphate may be another cause, especially if you are running in hot weather. Replacement of the lost electrolytes will definitely help. Try drinking some Gatorade or other sports drink about one-half hour before you go out for your run to be sure that your body is ready for the work. Also, be sure to drink a sports drink immediately after your workout. 

Over exertion, or fatigue, is the most common cause of cramping.  When your muscles are deprived of oxygen it leads to the accumulation of a byproduct called “lactic acid” in the muscle.  Once this accumulation of lactic acid becomes too great, the muscle revolts by going into spasm or cramping.

Try to listen to your body. You may be surprised at what it is saying. Pushing through the pain is not always a wise decision.  Try not to buy into the “no pain no gain” philosophy of exercise.

You do your body more harm than good and it could cost you weeks in recovery time; whereas, if you just rested one day, you wouldn’t miss that much training time and be well on your way to your goal. 

Curiously, another cause for leg cramping could also be due to you having one leg longer than the other.

Or you run with too much rolling in of the foot or too much rolling out of the foot. Proper form is crucial as well as the proper fitting shoes. 

These cramps are quite painful and usually disappear on their own, sometimes leaving the affected area sore for several days. 

Here are a few tips to help you get through the pain: 

Stop running and gently stretch and massage the cramping muscle. Hold the stretch until the cramp stops. 

Of course, the best way to conquer the leg cramp is not to get one in the first place! 

Here are a few preventive measures: 

Stretching – after a few minutes of a light jog/run, stop and stretch your muscles. Do light stretching, no jerking, and hold for 5 seconds.

Never, ever stretch cold muscles. If you have been running for awhile you would say wait a minute here, you are supposed to stretch before you run. Wrong. Current research has shown that stretching without warming up your muscles first causes more injury than prevention. 

After your run, take a few minutes, after your cool down of slow walking for 5 – 10 minutes, and perform the following:

Stretch the calf muscle: In a standing lunge with both feet pointed forward, straighten the rear leg.

Stretch the hamstring muscle: Sit with one leg folded in and the other straight out, foot upright and toes and ankle relaxed. Lean forward slightly, touch foot of straightened leg. (Repeat with opposite leg.)  

Stretch the Quadriceps muscle: While standing, hold top of foot with opposite hand and gently pull heel toward buttocks. (Repeat with opposite leg.)