Causes and Prevention of Stomach Cramps when Running

Stomach cramps are sharp annoying pains around your abdominal. They normally cause a runner to slow down or even stop running altogether depending on how severe the pain is. They are not always a sign of illness but a sign that the abdominal muscles are experiencing some kind of stress.

Here is a list of the most common causes of stomach cramps while running and some suggestions on how to prevent it and how to alleviate the pain.

Rapid Breathing & Shallow Breathing

This is the main cause of abdominal pain among new runners and runners with a habit of shallow breathing. This pain is referred to as “side stitch” Running involves a lot of rapid breathing. This rapid breathing cause stretching and contracting of ligaments attached to the abdomen. New runners are not used to this over stretching and they will experience some level of pain. The pain usually goes away over time as the body adapts to the rigours of running. The best remedy for a side stitch is to take deeper breaths. Deep breathing will allow the ligaments to relax. Another effective option is to massage the area.

If you are new to running and you suffer from constant side stitches just know the problem will go away as you continue to get running experience.


Another explanation to the cause of abdominal pain when running is dehydration. This normally happens during training when a runner has minimal water supply but it can even happen at a race where runners have access to water. This happens when runners follow a poor hydration routine. One good example of a poor hydration routine is poor timing – Instead of taking a sip at every water station, a runner takes water only at half way point.

A runner may drink plenty of water during the race but other physiological factors might block the body from absorbing the water. Factors that interfere with hydration are:-

  1. Excessive sweating
  2. Very cold water

To prevent cramps make sure to drink water at regular intervals along the cause. Drinking water at every water station may be excessive. A good idea is to always skip one station. If you are they type that sweat too much try to increase your water intake.

Poor choice of pre race meals

Some foods are also known to cause stomach cramps. Proteins like beef and pork are slow to digest and stay for a long time in the stomach and are known to be a cause of cramping when running. Other no no foods are high fibre diets eg. fruits like pears, apples, pineapples. Gluten rich foods are also known to cause stomach cramps among athletes. Read. Common foods that cause abdominal pain when running.

Lactic Acid Build-up

Lactic acid build-up happens after a long period of strenuous running. Although the lactic acid build up happens in the muscles, the symptoms are felt all over the body. As lactic acid builds up, a runner will start experiencing symptoms such as nausea and vomiting and abdominal pain. The only treatment is rest. Most runners feel better after taking adequate rest.

The best way to prevent this problem from occurring is avoid over training. Too much training will cause a situation where there is too much lactic acid floating around the body. Make sure you take adequate rest after running to allow the body to go back in to balance. Avoid training two days in a row.

Undiagnosed illness

At times the problem can be a case of undiagnosed illness especially with runners who suffer chronic stomach cramps while running. If your pains are very bad, consult a doctor to investigate if it is a case of Irritable bowel syndrome, gastroenteritis, appendicitis, crohns disease or any other intestinal infection.

Abdominal cramping while running is a problem that most runners have to deal with at one point or another. The best way to alleviate the problem is to make sure you are well hydrated, use a proper breathing technique,eat right and in good health. Remember, as you get more running experience the problem will get less severe.

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