Can I Get Cramps from Drinking While Running?

Women running with water
Photo by Zia Soleil

"Whenever I drink water before or during my runs, I get cramps on my side. Is it OK to not drink water while running so I can avoid cramps?"

The idea that you'll get cramps from drinking water while running is a common myth among runners. Drinking water, whether it's warm or cold, before or during running should not cause side stitches. The best ways to prevent side stitches while running is to make sure you warm-up properly and to breathe deeply through your mouth.

If you avoid drinking during runs because you're worried about cramps, you could end up with much bigger problems, such as dehydration or heat stroke. You should make sure that you drink some water (about 4-8 oz) before you start running so that you're hydrated when you begin.

The current recommendations for hydrating while running is to obey your thirst and drink when you're thirsty. In general, that means about 6 to 8 ounces of fluid for runners running faster than 8-minute mile, and 4 to 6 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes for those running slower than that. Make sure you sip your water, don't gulp it, so you don't get hiccups or other issues.

Don't let not having access to water be an excuse for you not to drink while running. There are lots of great hand-held water bottles and fluid carriers available that you can use to carry water on the run.

And keep in mind that if you're running longer than 90 minutes, you also need to hydrate with a sports drink to replace electrolytes lost through sweat.

How to Treat Side Stitches When Running

If you do experience a side stitch because of improper warm-up or shallow breathing, here's how to get rid of it:

  • First, gently push your fingers into the area where you're feeling the stitch -- that should help relieve some of the pain. Then, to get rid of the side stitch, try altering your breathing pattern.
  • Take a deep breath in as quickly as you can, to force the diaphragm down. Hold your breath for a couple of seconds and then forcibly exhale through pursed lips.
  • If you get a cramp in the middle of a run, you might want to try changing your breathing/striding pattern. If you always exhale when your right foot strikes the ground, try exhaling with the left foot strike.
  • If all else fails, you may have to stop and walk briskly for a few seconds while concentrating on deep breathing. Continue running after the stitch goes away. 
     

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