It’s an unfortunate truth that to strengthen your muscles, you need to induce muscle damage during your workouts, causing the fibers to repair themselves and become stronger in the process. In the meantime, you’re left with debilitating soreness. Forget ibuprofen, which has not only been shown to be ineffective, but some studies say it may even reduce the ability of muscles to repair themselves. Ditto for post-workout ice baths. In fact, while there is no solution that will completely rid you of post-exercise pain, there are some ways that have been proven to efficiently speed up and mitigate soreness — and the most effective solutions may be far from what you’d expect.
In a study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, researchers monitored seven athletes after intense exercise. Athletes were given watermelon juice, enriched watermelon juice or a placebo drink before each of their workouts. On the days they drank watermelon juice, the athletes reported considerably less soreness. The scientists attribute their findings to an amino acid called L-citrulline, which is thought to improve athletic performance by helping to get more oxygen to muscles, allowing them to repair themselves faster.
A study published in the Molecular Nutrition & Food Research journal found that the antioxidant anthocyanins, found in large quantities in blueberries, may help prevent muscle damage. A similar study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that participants who drank 12 ounces of a cherry juice blend daily for eight days post-workout had less muscle soreness because of the anti-inflammatory properties of the fruit’s antioxidants.
A study published in the European Journal of Sport Science found that runners who rubbed arnica on their legs every four hours for three days after an intense workout experienced less soreness than those who didn’t. Arnica comes in a few forms, including creams and gels. Check out Kneipp for a variety of options.
Protein and Carbs
Protein-rich foods provide amino acids, which are essential for the muscle-building process, while carbohydrates give your body fuel (repairing damaged muscles requires lots of energy). So fuel up on a mix of protein and carbohydrates post-workout.
Foam rolling is a form of self-myofascial release, which helps get rid of muscle tension while increasing blood flow to your muscles. Studies have shown that vigorously rolling muscles for 20 minutes can be an effective recovery tool. Natural Fitness makes a variety of foam rollers. Alternatively, you can try using a tennis ball.
Epsom Salt Baths
Epsom salt has been shown to help alleviate muscle pain when combined with hot water, since it reduces swelling and improves circulation because the salt’s minerals are quickly and effectively absorbed through the skin, providing near instant relief. Simply pour one to two cups of the salt in hot water (you can also add essential oils) and relax in the bath for about 20 minutes.