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tranquilsea's avatar

Running/side cramp mystery. Can you elucidate?

Asked by tranquilsea (17226 points ) April 3rd, 2012

I’ve been running for 3 years now and something I’ve noticed is a mystery to me. If I run on an empty stomach I get side cramps. If I run after eating toast/cereal I get side cramps. But if I run after eating oatmeal I don’t get side cramps. In the eating scenarios I wait the same amount of time (usually about an hour to an hour and half) before running.

Why does eating oatmeal matter?

I’m glad oatmeal seems to cure the cramps because side cramps suck.

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14 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

I’m guessing certain foods cause your intestines to wake up and to contract. Well, that would not explain when you don’t eat though. Ok, not sure.

gondwanalon's avatar

You present a question that perhaps your body has already answered for you. Your body likes oatmeal and it oatmeal works for you then go with it. Why this is so is not really important.

I’ve been running, racing and jogging through the last 33 years. I have seen other runners eat things just before a marathon that would most likely send me to the E.D.. For example donuts, pan cakes and 2 large Baby Ruth bars. This tells me that we are all different and we must find out what works for each of us.

I can’t eat much of anything before I run or jog. I can get away with a couple bites of a power bar and a lot of water.

I’m glad that oatmeal works for you.

Bent's avatar

Those side-cramps are caused by a build-up of lactic acid in the muscles which in turn is caused by anaerobic metabolism; your muscles aren’t getting enough oxygen from your bloodstream for the amount of exercie you’re doing. I can’t think why eating oatmeal before exercise would make any difference. But a bit of googling also led me to discover that a deficiency of calcium can also cause muscle cramps, and presumably you are eating your oatmeal with milk? In which case it’s the milk, not the oats, that is helping.

JLeslie's avatar

I would think milk would possibly cause the problem. Funny.

tranquilsea's avatar

@Bent that makes some sense but it doesn’t explain why I get cramps when I eat cereal. As I have cereal with milk.

noraasnave's avatar

Certain foods require more participation of your stomach, the stomach draws blood away from the rest of the body to fuel its purpose of breaking down food. Which is why we feel tired after eating a big lunch…because our stomach pulls that much blood away.

Oatmeal seems to take a fast track through the human body, requiring less time in the stomach, allowing your diaphragm to receive more blood, more blood equals more delivery of fuel and more waste products (lactic acid) taken away.

Of course there are probably 10 other factors to consider for side cramps: Sodium intake, Diet, sleep, warm-up, stretching, stamina, strength, the load one is carrying, etc.

From person experience, I can say that as I push myself harder and beyond my current limits I get side cramps.

I always prefer to run on an empty stomach..for the last 19+ years. If I drink water at any point during the run I get cramps, so I rinse my mouth out and don’t swallow the water on really long runs.

Hope this helps!

tranquilsea's avatar

@noraasnave thanks for the info.

I’ve tried, quite a few times, to run on an empty stomach because my theory for a while was that having anything in my stomach was causing the problems. I’d get cramps then too.

Increased effort is probably part of what goes on for me.

JLeslie's avatar

If you are running an hour to an hour and a half after eating, the food is no longer in your stomach.

tranquilsea's avatar

@JLeslie But the longer I wait after eating oatmeal the more likely I’ll get cramps. When I’m running on a 100% sure empty stomach (one where I haven’t eaten for hours and hours) I still get a cramp. This really is tied to the oatmeal.

JLeslie's avatar

Well, your pain is lower, correct? Your stomach is high up. Which side? Is it lower left? That is the descending colon most likely.

tranquilsea's avatar

I get the cramp where cramps typically occur: just under my ribs on my right side.

JLeslie's avatar

Maybe you have a little twist or scar tissues there in your intestines and it is sensitive? If you jog only a half hour after eating does it happen? I’m just guessing at stuff, the oatmeal would likely digest slower than the other cereals.

tranquilsea's avatar

No cramps if I eat and immediately go out and run. I usually wait a while because I don’t like the feeling of food sloshing around in my stomach.

I’ve had this problem since I was a teenager.

I think you may be right about the oatmeal digesting a bit slower than other foods I’ve tried.

JLeslie's avatar

Right rib, kind of liver area, or intestines. Food could be there moving around that long after eating. The food kind of goes down the esophogus right into the stomach, the stomach is slightly left of the breastbone, so kind of behind your left breast, and then the food kind of winds over to the right, and then through the long journey of the intestines.

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