Before Runs: An hour before you start your run, try to drink 16 to 24 ounces of water or other non-caffeinated fluid. Stop drinking at that point, so that you can void extra fluids and prevent having to stop to go to the bathroom during your run. To make sure you're hydrated before you start running, you can drink another 4 to 8 ounces right before you start. If you're doing a long run or race (such as a marathon), you can do a "salt shot" before you start running, to get some extra salt. Get a packet a salt, dump it into your hand, and follow it with water.
During Runs: The general rule of thumb for fluid consumption during your runs: You should take in 6 to 8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes during your runs. During longer runs (90 minutes or more), some of your fluid intake should include a sports drink (like Gatorade) to replace sodium and other minerals (electrolytes) lost through sweat. You can also do another salt shot halfway through your run. Muscle cramping often occurs as a result of electrolyte imbalance, so it's critical that you replace your electrolytes.
After Runs: Don't forget to rehydrate with water or a sports drink after your run. If your urine is dark yellow after your run, you need to keep rehydrating. It should be a light lemonade color.
Staying well-hydrated will help prevent muscle cramps, but if you're dealing with cramps on a run, try slowly stretching the affected area. Stopping to stretch for a minute or two during a run will help keep the cramps from getting worse.
Another possible cause of muscle cramping at the end of long runs or races is that you simply went out too fast. Here are some ways you can avoid pushing the pace too much in the beginning and burning through your stored energy and hitting the wall:
- Deliberately run your first mile slower than you plan to run the final one. It's tough to do, since you'll most likely feel really strong in the beginning. But keep in mind that for every second you go out too fast in the first half of your race, you could lose as much as double that amount of time in the second half of your race.
- Try to make sure you're in the correct starting position. Don't start yourself with faster runners because you'll most likely try to keep up with them.
- Start your race at a comfortable pace and make sure you check your watch at the first mile marker. If you're ahead of your anticipated pace, slow down. It's not too late to make pace corrections after just one mile.
- Keep telling yourself that lots of other runners are going to pass you in the first mile. But you'll be passing a lot more later in the race.
- Practice starting out slow during training runs. When you do your long run each week, try to hold back during the first few miles, so you get used to the discipline of not going out too fast.
Going for a sports massage is a good way to treat soreness that often develops as a result of muscle cramps. Regular massages also help keep your muscles in optimal shape, greatly reducing your chances of muscle cramping during runs.