By Linda Melone
By Linda Melone
You really pushed yourself with yesterday’s workout. And while you felt great afterward, you woke up this morning with sore muscles.
A vigorous workout, starting a new fitness program or simply trying a new exercise can leave you aching and uncomfortable. The soreness that occurs 12 to 24 hours after working out, called delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), results from microscopic damage to muscle fibers.
“Symptoms may include pain, stiffness, tenderness to the touch or movement and reduced flexibility and strength,” says Kimberly Safman, MD, a physiatrist with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine, California.
Safman recommends staying well hydrated to reduce muscle soreness. She also suggests cross-training, or alternating activities to avoid overtraining muscles. If you enjoy running, for example, try biking or swimming on alternate days. For resistance training, start at a low intensity and gradually increase repetitions and weight levels.
1. Muscle Recovery Nutrition
You can also eat to aid recovery. Protein, such as that found in high-quality shakes, can supply the amino acids needed to repair muscle tissue. And the following foods and supplements may help speed the process.
Found in marine algae and seafood, this carotenoid helps fight the toxic byproducts of intense exertion and is known to help aid in reducing post-workout recovery time.†
One study found that including a little less than half a pound of blueberries in a smoothie 12 hours before and up to 48 hours after a workout can significantly help reduce damage to muscles. “Blueberries not only reduce the pain associated with exercise-induced muscle damage and improve recovery time, but they also aid in removing cellular waste from muscle tissue,” says Mary Bove, ND, author of The Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children and Infants (McGraw-Hill).†
A study in the Journal of Pain found that exercisers who took daily ginger supplements for 11 days experienced 25% less muscle pain. “Ginger’s stimulating action on the circulation aids in bringing blood, oxygen and nutrients to the muscle tissue while removing cellular waste,” says Bove.†
Found in French maritime pine tree bark, Pycnogenol has shown to improve performance and endurance, and reduce muscle cramping and soreness. A clinical trial published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness found reduced muscular pain over four to eight weeks of supplementation with Pycnogenol. “This would be a supplement to use more long-term to build endurance and overall fitness performance,” says Bove.†
Tart cherry juice
Marathoners who drank tart cherry juice recovered faster than those who didn’t, according to a study in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science.†
Studies show the spice turmeric to be a powerful post-workout pain reliever. “Using a synergistic combination of turmeric and black pepper can improve the absorption of the active compounds in turmeric,” says Bove. (Ginger and turmeric are also available in supplemental form.)†
An amino acid called L-citrulline found in watermelon helped ease muscle soreness in athletes after 24 hours when they drank the juice an hour prior to working out, according to one study. Bove recommends drinking 500 milligrams (approximately two cups) pre- and post-exercise “to aid the detoxification of cellular waste built up during exercise and to enhance muscle performance.”†
2. Topical Herbal Remedies
Applying herbal remedies to the skin can also help ease muscle soreness.
White willow: often used as an alternative to aspirin. When applied topically, it gets absorbed into the bloodstream and helps to relieve soreness and muscle pain.†
Arnica: helps break up tiny clots that form in injured muscle tissue, allowing for better blood flow.†
Comfrey: helps reduce muscle soreness as well as discomfort from sprains and strains.†
Witch hazel: may promote flexibility because it contains an enzyme that inhibits the breakdown of collagen and elastin.†
Please note that herbal remedies may help with muscle recovery, but always consult with your doctor before using them.
Additional Tips for Muscle Recovery
3. Get More Sleep
During sleep, your body produces muscle-building hormones like human growth hormone (HGH). When you are in the non-rapid eye movement phase of sleep, blood flow increases, helping with tissue growth and repair. According to many studies, sleep also improves muscle coordination. Stick to a sleep schedule and try to get seven to nine restful hours every night.
4. Listen to Calming Music
Listening to your favorite upbeat music with a rapid beat during your workout helps you to keep moving. This kind of music affects the autonomic or sympathetic nervous system, which enhances sweating and increases blood pressure. When listening to relaxing music, the parasympathetic nervous system activates and helps lower blood pressure and heart rate. Find music that calms you down and listen to it after your workout for increased muscle recovery.
5. Eat Protein Before Bed
Protein helps create muscle tissue and eating a little of it before sleep helps to build muscle. Having a protein shake or chocolate milk is an easy way to supplement the protein in your body. If you’re consuming a protein shake before sleep, watch the sugar content because the sugar may wake you up when you need the rest for muscle recovery.
6. Make Foam Rollers Your Friend
Foam rollers help to break down scar tissue and aid in active recovery for sore muscles. Foam rolling helps to lengthen muscle fibers, which enhances flexibility and helps to reduce stiffness. There are different levels of firmness in rollers, with each designed for a specific muscle group. It’s best to start our slowly when using foam rollers and get used to how they feel. Overall, you should experience a reduction in soreness after using one.
7. Get a Massage
Not only does a massage feel good after a workout, but it can also increase the flow of blood and oxygen to sore muscles. Massages also help stimulate the lymphatic system, which helps to flush out the waste that muscles produce during a workout.
8. Drink Cold Water
Staying hydrated during and after a workout is essential. Muscles need oxygen, and oxygen is delivered to the muscles through the bloodstream. The better hydrated you are, the easier it is for the blood to flow throughout your system. What’s more, the better the flow of blood, the more oxygen delivered to your organs, muscles, tissues and cells. The temperature of the water is fairly irrelevant; however, most people tend to drink more water when it’s at a cooler temperature. In addition, drinking water helps to flush out post-exercise waste.
Stretches That Help Muscle Recovery
Forego working out until soreness subsides. Safman suggests practicing light stretches unless the affected muscle seems extremely sore or swollen. (Lingering or severe pain should prompt a visit to your practitioner.)
Quadriceps stretch (front of thigh). Stand on one leg and raise the other leg off the floor, bending it behind you. Gently grab your foot with the opposite hand and bring it close to your buttock (balance on a wall or chair if needed). Hold 15 to 20 seconds, increasing the stretch as the muscle relaxes, and repeat with the other leg.
Hamstring stretch (back of thigh). Sit on the ground and bend one leg, resting the foot of the bent leg on the inside of the outstretched one. Bend forward, keeping your back straight, and reach for your toes on the outstretched leg. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds and repeat on the other leg.
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.