Why do my calves cramp when I run?


Couch to 5K is a 8-10 week program to help you run 5K. It starts with interval runs where you run for a 1-2 minutes and walk 1-2 minutes for about 25 minutes and it builds from there getting you run for longer periods of time until you are able to run for 30-35 minutes (which is about the time it takes to run 5K).

Early this year when I started Couch to 5K (my third attempt) it went fine until I began running for longer than 4-5 minutes and then the cramps started. I asked around and most people wondered if 1. I was getting enough water, 2. I was stretching enough, and 3. Whether I knew if my electrolytes were out of whack. So as I continued I made sure to get enough water and I started my runs with a 5-min brisk walk followed by a good stretch. This did the trick and I was able to finish the program and run 5K in under 31 minutes.

Then I kind of stopped running.

A month ago I picked up the program again on week 5 to prepare for a 5K in December. The first week was fine but since I started to run 10 minutes straight, my calves have started to cramp when I get to the walking part of the interval. Last thursday I began with a brisk walk, then stretched, and ran 15 minutes, no problem, then I started a 3-min walk and half-way through I could feel the cramp coming… by the time it was time to run again I had to stop. 😡


I started to do some research and found this:

“Despite modern science, the true cause of exercise-induced cramps is not known.”


My virtual coach on my facebook group asked if I was getting enough water. I am. Then she asked if I was stretching. Again, yes, I am. Finally, she mentioned electrolytes and asked if I was getting enough minerals like magnesium, calcium, and potassium… and suggested a multivitamin. In this case, potassium may be the culprit. I take a daily multivitamin and a Calcium, Magnesium, and Zinc supplement so I am good there but I may be burning too quickly through my daily potassium intake. I also may be working too hard. According to this article,

“You may have had too many workouts in a row, increased the workload of the workouts too quickly, or have been working too hard every day.”

I looked up “potassium rich foods” and I have to admit that lately I probably haven’t hit my daily required value. I found that white beans are of the foods with highest potassium value so I now have the perfect excuse to make this White Bean Chicken Chili that I have been wanting to try. I looked back at my food diary when I was completing the program before and saw that I was eating lots of spinach, salmon, and avocado so it’s looking more and more like potassium may be the thing that’s making me cramp.

Next week I’ll be upping my potassium while taking a rest day every three days, drinking plenty of water, and trying a new pre-run stretching routine that involves regular calf stretches, leg swings, and walking lunges. Hopefully, I’ll have better news next week.

Do you suffer cramps while exercising? Any tips? How do you deal with them? Articles or books I should read? Any advice helps!



    1. Oh wow! I take magnesium every day and have not been woken up by cramps (that must suck!). However, the cold may be affecting my muscles too and I feel them weaker overall. 😦 Thanks for the good wishes. Hopefully… it will be better next week.

  1. My suggestion is to try walking in between runs. I dont get cramps but I am having all sorts of pains I didn’t have last year and I think the biggest issue is not walking in between my runs.

    1. Thank you Jackie. How long do you run before you start walking? Sounds like your cramps are due to muscle fatigue… that could be too. I wonder how much I should limit my running. Thanks for the suggestion.

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