When I was doing my internship, my favorite way to unwind after an exhausting day in the ICU was to hit the gym or go for a long run. The little soreness that came with the workouts was mostly pleasant. But there were times when the soreness was so severe; it became a big ol’ pain in the gluteus maximus (especially when patients told me with a smirk ‘you look in worse shape than I am!’). At that time, the only (unhelpful) advice I got was to pop a pain-killer, get a massage, take an ice bath or suck it up. My beef with these recommendations was that (1) pain killers and other NSAIDs have nasty side effects, (2) I couldn’t afford professional massages and (3) ice baths are painful! So I chose to suck it up. Good news: you don’t have to. Keep reading to discover nutrition strategies that will alleviate muscle pain and speed up recovery so that you can hit it hard again and boost your performance, muscle gain or fat loss.
1. Hydrate (with water).
I know, I know, this is probably the oldest advice ever but the fact remains that dehydration will seriously impact your recovery rate by inducing delayed onset muscle soreness. In fact, researchers found that runners who became dehydrated during a downhill run in the heat experienced much greater muscle pain than those who drank liberally throughout their run.
You see, the body needs water to regulate its core temperature, muscle and heart function. Being as little as 2 percent dehydrated will decrease your stamina and performance. That’s because less water in your body equals a drop in blood plasma volume which means that less energy will be available for your muscles. That’s not all; research also suggests that, by adversely impacting the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio, dehydration delays recovery.
How much do you need: At least 0.7 ounces per pound of body weight.
When: Drink up throughout the day, not just during or after working out.
Check out this video to better understand what exactly muscle soreness is: [youtube id=”PUJpU6Ti5jU”]
2. Become best friends with the beetroot.
Scientists from St Louis University reported that compared to athletes who ate cranberries, those who consumed the purple root before hopping on the treadmill were able to run 5km (about 3 miles) faster! The volunteers ‘running on beets’ were also able to speed up by 5% during the last 1.1 miles.
‘What’s in the beetroot and why cranberries?’ you’re probably wondering.
Equivalent amounts of cranberry relish and beetroot have a similar caloric content but unlike the beet, the cranberries aren’t rich in nitrates.
The researchers speculate that the high nitrate levels in the beetroot improve exercise performance by boosting blood levels of nitric oxide. Higher blood concentrations of nitric oxide widen blood vessels, decrease the amount of oxygen which muscles need for energy (ATP) production and improve the efficiency of muscle contraction. Put simply, having more nitric oxide in your blood when you exercise makes your muscles more effective at utilizing energy.
How much do you need: 200 grams (7oz) of grated, baked or steamed beetroot.
When: 1 hour before your workout.
Don’t like eating beets? Drink ‘em!
In another study, researchers found that beetroot juice could improve endurance of moderately trained athletes by 16% – if you can normally run 1 full hour before hitting the wall, drinking that juice before running could allow you to keep going for an extra 10 minutes.
Note: Don’t freak out if your pee turns orangey-pink– you’re not turning into an alien; it’s normal for some of the beet’s natural pigment to get excreted in the urine.
How much do you need: At least two 250ml cups (about 8.5oz) of beetroot juice.
When: 2 to 3 hours before your workout and/or immediately after your workout.
- Beetroot juice has a slightly earthy aftertaste – to ‘hide’ that taste, simply add in a chopped apple.
- Keep the greens – they’re loaded with antioxidants.
3. Try watermelon post workouts.
Highly prized among athletes, the juice of this tropical fruit can relieve muscle soreness after exercise. Scientists found that watermelon juice is packed with L-citrulline – this amino acid can reduce muscle soreness by speedimg up the removal of hydrogen ions that are formed when lactic acid is broken down.
Since the body converts L-citrulline to L-arginine (another amino acid) and nitric oxide, consumption of watermelon juice can also reduce your recovery heart rate by dilating veins and arteries to enhance blood blow. L-citrullin may even improve glucose transport to skeletal muscles, thus providing more fuel to your muscles.
These three effects can boost your athletic prowess by enabling you to train more intensely and recover faster after each workout.
How much do you need: At least 500ml of pure watermelon juice – if you use a juicer make sure to retain the fiber. This will help slow down the absorption of the fruit’s natural sugar in your bloodstream and hence provide a more sustained release of energy.
When: 1 to 2h before your workout.
Note: If you’re trying to burn fat, eat the whole fruit instead of juicing it. But if your goal is to replenish your glycogen stores, then juice is your best option (unless you have the metabolic syndrome or insulin resistance).
4. Get more dark-colored fruits in your diet.
I’m talking about fruits such as blueberries, tart cherries, watermelon, blackberries, strawberries and pomegranate. Studies indicate that they reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and can help you recuperate faster.
Let’s consider tart cherries since they have been specifically tested in exercise studies. Did you know that these little red gems can be a perfect complement to a training routine? Not only can they hasten muscle recovery, but these antioxidant packed fruits can also stifle pain and inflammation after a run.
According to a British study, trained athletes bounced back to 90% of their normal muscle force within 24 hours after drinking cherry juice. Without the juice, they only returned to 85% of their normal muscle strength during the same time frame. The scientists reported that this difference could have a considerable effect on the athlete’s next performance. The researchers believe that the cherries’ high concentration of anthocyanins, potent antioxidants, may promote faster muscle recovery by slashing the wear and tear which usually occurs when the muscles are maxed out.
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