When you're trying to elevate your training intensity or improve your race time, side stitches are the last thing you want. Also referred to as running cramps, side stitches are usually felt in the abdomen and can range from mildly uncomfortable to completely debilitating. While they are sometimes unpredictable, below are four ways you can minimize your chance of sustaining unwanted side stitches.
Manage Your Eating Schedule
When you run, blood flow is diverted from your stomach and other digestive organs to your muscles. This physiological response is critical for performance, but it slows down digestion and can cause cramps.
Cheryl Zonkowski, University of Florida football nutrition director, recommends eating an easy-to-digest meal two to four hours before activity. It should include 50 percent carbs, a moderate amount of protein and limited fat. Then, 15 to 20 minutes before activity, eat a few simple carbs [e.g., fruit, crackers and pretzels] for fast-acting energy that doesn't weigh down your stomach.
It's also important to have a carefully-planned drinking schedule for sustained hydration and to avoid excess fluid sloshing around in your stomach. Follow these guidelines from Zonkowski for proper pre-game and training hydration.
- Two hours prior: drink 20 oz. of water/sports drink
- One hour prior: drink 16 oz. of water/sports drink
- 15 minutes prior: drink 8 oz. of water/sports drink
Warm-Up and Stretch
Warming up prepares the body for exercise by activating muscle groups, elevating heart rate and redistributing blood flow necessary for performance. Don't shock your body with sudden activity. If you start running without any preparation, cramps could result.
Perform a dynamic warm-up to activate your muscles with athletic movements. Use stretches that target cramp-prone areas. Former Navy SEAL Steve Smith of Military.com suggests performing Side Twists and Side Leans. Raise your arms overhead and lean to the left and right.
Strengthen the Core
Your lower body does most of the work when you run, but don't ignore your core. The core helps stabilize the trunk and spine for an upright position, balance and smooth stride while running.
One of the best ways to avoid cramps is to strengthen your core. This prepares your muscles to withstand the forces they encounter when you run while reducing fatigue and overuse.
Don't perform ab exercises only. Focus on the entire core to build a strong and stable foundation. Check out Core Exercises to Boost Your Power for info on how to develop total core strength.
The above suggestions will help you fend off side stitches. But if you do experience cramps, there are a few steps you can take to ease the pain.
The true cause of side stitches remains a mystery. It's possible that trunk ligaments that connect the diaphragm [the primary muscle responsible for breathing] to other organs may fatigue. CorePerformance.com recommends taking slow deep breathes to relax these ligaments, massaging the area, slowing down and stretching with exercises similar to the warm-up, holding for two seconds with three to five reps.
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