Abdominal Cramp When Running

What is an Abdominal Cramp

Medically speaking they are exercise-related transient abdominal pain (ETAP) and are otherwise known as side-stiches, ab-cramps, or stomach cramps.

An abdominal cramp when running can kick in suddenly or develop over time and they have probably affected every runner at least once or twice.

Cramp when running

What Causes Abdominal Cramp When Running

ETAPs tend to manifest due to increased pressure and strain on the diaphragm muscle that occurs during exercise. Whilst every runner’s body is different and therefore there may be varying reasons for an ETAP to occur, the following are considering primary culprits:

  • Dehydration – or more specifically inadequate fluid intake coupled with an electrolyte imbalance have long been seen as a potential source of abdominal cramps. One should ensure optimum hydration for exercise, especially when it is hot. When it is hot the bodies thermal response is to direct greater blood flow to the skin to help your body cool down. Unfortunately this means that there is less blood available in the digestive tract which increases the chances of a cramp kicking in.
  • Running Too Soon After Eating – when running, blood flow is diverted away from your digestive system to better support the now working muscles, lungs, heart with oxygen enriched blood. Digestion of food will practically cease and so any food that was sitting in your stomach or small intestine will struggle to be digested. This can place stress on the ligaments and abdominal cavity which in turn may cause a cramp.

    Foods that are high in fat, protein, or fiber, take longer for your stomach to move into the small intestine. Running too soon after consumption, before your body has had chance to process these foods, can cause further problems.

How to Avoid an Abdominal Cramp When Running

  1. Ensure adequate hydration prior to exercise. Hydration is cumulative so it’s no good downing a liter of water 10 mins before you start. Drink water consistently; make it a habit, and avoid sugary, carbonated sports drinks.
  2. Wait for your food to digest before running. Every body’s body is different but personally, I would run 1-2 after a banana, 3-4 hours after a big meal.

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Abdominal Cramp When Running


Keen amateur runner & qualified coaching assistant who likes keeping fit & devising training plans that help you get faster. The plans on this site have helped me knock minutes off all my times.

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