Whether you're hurting from a challenging workout or stiff from overtime at the office, my five favourite remedies will soothe your sore and aching muscles and have you feeling better by morning.
1. Hydrate. Then hydrate some more
While this may seem like an obvious solution, remember that we humans don't have a very good thirst response, so don't wait until you feel thirsty to take a drink. If there's not enough water and electrolytes in the body, your muscles won't be able to do their job and will become tight, tender and easily injured (if you need a visual as to what a dehydrated muscle looks like, think of beef jerky - yikes!).
Bottom line: A cup of water every hour you're awake may be less daunting than staring at a 3 litre bottle on your desk. If you're heading to the gym drink water throughout, and immediately after, your workout. I recommend a large glass of water with a scoop of protein and either a greens powder (this will also help lower post-workout cortisol) or a sugar-free workout recovery powder. After a high intensity cardio session you may want to add ¼ teaspoon of Celtic sea salt to replenish lost electrolytes as well.
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2. Double-up on magnesium
Magnesium has a powerful, soothing effect on sore muscles, so it's not surprising a clinical trial published in Rheumatology International found that a daily dose of magnesium can reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia (a syndrome that causes symptoms like soreness, tenderness and low energy). Researchers concluded that low magnesium levels in the red blood cells may be a causative factor of fibromyalgia symptoms.
Bottom line: Magnesium calms your nervous system, induces relaxation, reduces blood pressure and treats and prevents constipation and muscle cramps. Take 200 to 800 mg of Magnesium Glycinate or Magnesium Citrate at night. Begin at 200 mg and keep increasing the dosage until you reach bowel tolerance (i.e. the point at which you develop loose stools).
3. Take in some taurine
Taurine provides an anti-anxiety effect that helps calm or stabilize an excited brain. This amino acid plays a major role in the brain as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. By inhibiting the release of adrenaline, taurine also protects us from anxiety and other adverse effects of stress. It's often used in energizing, high-caffeine drinks to soften any overstimulation. Taurine also aids endurance and the healthy function of our heart and lungs. It keeps potassium and magnesium inside the cell, while keeping excessive sodium out and is essential for muscle function. This important neurotransmitter is, however, easily depleted in all skeletal muscles after exercise.
Bottom line: Take 500 to 1,000 mg a day, without food.
4. Go a long way with whey
A recent study evaluated the effect of a whey protein isolate on exercise-induced muscle injury and recovery. In this clinical trial, 17 healthy males performed a resistance exercise session. The participants received either whey protein isolate or a carbohydrate supplement for 14 days after their workout.
Bottom line: Compared to the subjects in the carbohydrate-supplementation group, the subjects given whey protein isolate had significantly higher muscle strength and improved recovery time, plus reduced markers for muscle damage. Another great reason to follow up your workout with a protein drink!
5. Spike your workout with tart cherry juice
If you're looking for a healthy way to fight post-exercise soreness, cherries fit the bill. Studies suggest a cup and a half of tart cherries or one cup of tart cherry juice (no sugar added) can significantly reduce muscle inflammation and soreness.
Bottom line: Remember to have it immediately post workout (with your whey protein) when your muscles are primed to absorb excess insulin in the bloodstream. As a bonus, it also boosts melatonin levels and can help you sleep, which is when your muscles usually experience the most amount of repair.
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.
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