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Rethink your medicine kit: natural remedies can help to heal aching muscles and speed recovery.
The payoff for all that work can be a fair amount of aches and pains. Known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, it’s likely the aftermath of microdamage to muscles and ligaments. While it’s a step toward building muscle fibers stronger than before, that’s not much solace when it hurts to sit (or stand back up). And doctors warn against reaching too often for pain relievers, which can lead to significant stomach problems. Luckily, a number of natural strategies can help you feel better faster with minimal side effects.
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“Proteins, made up of amino acids, are the building blocks of our muscles and are preferentially depleted during intense workouts,” explains Drew Jamieson, N.D., a naturopathic doctor at the Polo Health + Longevity Centre in New Westminster, Canada. The key is to get your fill through quality sources, such as grass-fed meats, free-range chicken, eggs, wild salmon, nuts, and seeds. Adding a scoop of powdered L-glutamine or branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to a post-workout protein shake can help ensure your body has the raw materials to quickly repair muscle damage, adds Jamieson.
How much: 15g of protein powder plus 5g of BCAAs and 5g of L-glutamine derived from whey protein powder.
A study in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found curcumin, an important compound in this deep yellow-orange spice, was as effective as ibuprofen at easing knee pain. And another study in the European Journal of Applied Physiology found it reduced muscle damage following a soreness-inducing workout. You could pop it as a pill, but you’d be missing out on the warm, peppery flavor turmeric lends to many Indian and Chinese dishes. Toss it with roasted cauliflower, mix it into a smoothie, or grate it into a tea with some ginger and almond milk.
How much: Up to 3g of turmeric (root or powder; about 1 teaspoon), or up to 600mg of curcumin powder 3 times a day.
The fatty acids found in fish ilke salmon can keep muscle soreness to a minimum.
There are two types of health-boosting omega-3 fatty acids: EPA and DHA. EPA is known primarily for its anti-inflammatory benefits, while DHA helps improve brain function. Together they also work to reduce triglyceride levels and balance hormones, says Jamieson. Research shows female athletes who took just one week of DHA supplements had a 23% drop in training-induced muscle soreness. Key sources include fish like salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines as well as avocado, flaxseed, chia seed, egg yolks, and nuts or seeds, says Sigornie Pfefferle, R.D., a sports dietitian at St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis, IN. Depending on your diet, you might consider a supplement to top off your intake: Look for one that contains mostly EPA and DHA versus other omega-3s (the label should say).
How much: You’ll get about 1,000mg from 4 oz of canned tuna or 2 to 3.5oz of wild salmon. For supplements, up to 3,000mg a day is considered safe by the FDA.
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A plant-based natural remedy used for nearly five centuries to heal bruising and sprains, arnica salve massaged into the quads every four hours spelled less soreness when research subjects were tested three days after downhill running workouts.
How much: There are no standardized recommendations but look for topical creams or a pure arnica extract, which you can mix with water and apply with a cloth. You can also take homeopathic pills with a 30x dilution. Note that ingesting any other form of arnica can be toxic, so you should never apply it to broken skin.
More than 70% of adults don’t reach the RDA for magnesium in their diets. But a 2014 study shows magnesium intake (found in foods like whole grains, leafy green vegetables, legumes, and nuts) reduces inflammation in the body. Try sipping magnesium citrate powder mixed with water throughout the day, or especially after a workout or just before bed, recommends Carolyn Dean, M.D., N.D., medical advisory board member at the Nutritional Magnesium Association. For generations, people have also sworn by Epsom salt baths (made from magnesium sulfate crystals). Magnesium is readily absorbed through skin, so a soothing Epsom salt bath after a hard session can feel good while boosting magnesium levels in the body.
How much: 320mg for adult women, though more may be beneficial during intense training. For baths, pour 1–2 cups of Epsom salts into the water.
This delicious drink recipe from Leith Hill, founder of the popular NYC restaurant Ellary’s Greens, is packed with recovery-boosting ingredients, including natural anti-inflammatories, antioxidants, and muscle-building amino acids. Give it a whirl after your next tough workout.
Makes: 1 serving
1 cup frozen pineapple
1⁄2 banana*(can be omitted for lower sugar)
1⁄2 tsp turmeric powder or small pinky-size fresh turmeric root
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp shredded coconut (or coconut meat)
1 lime, peeled
1 cup water or coconut water
1. Add all ingredients to a high-powered blender and blend on high until smooth.
Bromelain, a unique mixture of enzymes found only in pineapple, may reduce swelling, bruising, and healing time.
Chia seeds provide protein, calcium, omega-3 and omega-6 fats, soluble fiber, and tons of antioxidants.
￼￼￼Coconut water contains five essential electrolytes: sodium, magnesium, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus.