It can be awful when you're enjoying a lovely run and cramp strikes - and sometimes you can stop or ease off and it goes. But, more often than not it stays or gets worse.
I've had a little look into it and here's what I have found out about cramp.
What is cramp?
Cramp is a sudden contraction or spasm of the muscles (often in the calves). It comes on quickly and often without warning and can be extremely painful.
Stopping and stretching out the affected muscles can help to ease it. But sometimes this just brings it down to a dull ache. This happened to me with the Race for Life in 2016 - everything was fine, the my calf cramped up. I stopped and stretched it out, nothing changed. I had no choice but to continue to run on it - painfully. I made it to the finish, stretched again but after a brief rest (to eat my pain au chocolat) I had lost the ability to walk on that leg! Next day - everything was fine, tight, but fine again.
What causes cramp?
There are various reasons - according to Runners World it can be down to a lack of potassium, sodium or calcium! But here's where RW gets it wrong - firstly it recommends eating bananas for potassium but if you read How Not to Die By Dr Gregor (one of my favourite nutrition books!) he demonstrates that actually bananas are not even in the top 5 of great sources of potassium!
So if you're looking to increase your potassium intake it might be easier than you think!*
Great sources of potassium are; potatoes, apricots, orange juice, peaches, currants and all kinds of beans! Check out this handy search from the USDA where you can even put in what nutrients you want to search for: https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/nutrients/report/nutrientsfrm?max=25&offset=0&totCount=0&nutrient1=306&nutrient2=&subset=1&sort=c&measureby=m
Next let's look at sodium - salt - now you've got to be careful with salt as you don't want to consume too much. And if you eat plenty of processed food, the chances are you already have plenty of sodium onboard!
As a general rule to stay healthy you shouldn't add salt to your food when cooking or before tasting it, and you can switch to low salt if you absolutely HAVE TO HAVE it at mealtimes.
But let's say you've got loads of salt in your system - you're still going to sweat it all out when you're on a run, more on a long run.....and you do NEED that salt to help your body to function (it's vital for helping your muscles to contract, sending nerve impulses and regulates fluid balance -keeping you hydrated).
So how do you put what's seeping out of your skin before the cramp kicks in - well you can go old school with a packet of crisps (will keep your fat topped up too!) or pop a salt tablet. Ben Finch recommends Dioralyte which comes in a sachet that you can put in water and drink. This isn't designed for running - it's designed to keep you hydrated after a bout of the squits - but it WILL help to replace body water and salts.
On to Calcium and NO milk is NOT a great source of calcium no matter what we were told at school. The best sources of calcium are cheeses followed by dark leafy greens! The darker the better! And if you're trying to keep the fat intake on the low side - go for the greens (again orange juice as well!) instead of adding extra cheese!
So we've looked at the nutrition side of cramp - BUT what if you're one of those amazing people who has perfectly balanced macros and micros and nutrients and vitamins etc! YET you're still getting cramp - you might be under or dehydrated - make sure you're getting enough water. You need approx 2.5-3L of water a day just to live. And you must put back what you use up - to figure out how many litres of water you use up - weight yourself in Kgs, then run, then weigh yourself again after. The difference in Kgs = litres of water. So if after a 1-hour run you weigh 1kg less, you've lost 1ltr of water, so next time take that litre and keep putting it in AS you run. Simples.
Lastly - cramping - especially in the calf muscles CAN be cause by - you guessed it - WEAK GLUTES!!
MORE reason to work your posterior chain - glutes, hamstrings, calves....So if you are in any doubt - work those glutes, backwards walking, glute bridges, leg lifts in all directions - a whole bunch of 4-point kneeling moves....basically if you're awake and breathing I want you to be activating and squeezing those bum cheeks!
So I hope this has helped and given you something to try the next time you get that crampy feeling. Please do comment, question and dd any advice/tips you have!
*AND you should never really eat in terms of "ooh that has xx in it" food really needs to be the full package.