April 18, 2014 at 1:19 PM ET
Ever try running that extra mile, upping the ante in your weight-training routine or trying out a new aerobics class only to pay for it in sore muscles the next day…or two? Called “delayed onset muscle soreness” (DOMS), the achy pain results from tiny, microscopic tears in the muscles that naturally occur when they are stressed.
The good news: Simple science-based solutions can help ease the soreness.
Get a massage
This one is easy, right? It’s nice when something that feels good actually does good. A February 2012 study published in the journal Science Translational Medicine showed massage can ease post-exercise pain because it reduces the production of compounds called cytokines, which play a role in inflammation.
Drink watermelon juice
Watermelon juice contains an amino acid (L-citrulline) that has been shown to help reduce muscle soreness and boost physical performance, says Amy Goodson, R.D., board-certified specialist in sports dietetics and the Dallas Cowboys sports dietitian. “Consuming watermelon juice after a workout can be a great way to rehydrate as well as recover faster.”
Add blueberries to your post-workout smoothie
Women who drank a blueberry smoothie before and after their workouts recovered faster than women who consumed a smoothie without blueberries, according to a study published in the 2012 Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. “Blueberries are an antioxidant powerhouse and possess anti-inflammatory protection,” says Goodson.
Put yourself on ice
Although some studies have shown that ice doesn’t exactly work miracles on sore muscles, as many people think — it actually lessens dexterity and accuracy so one shouldn’t apply ice until the very end of an exercise routine— it does help with keeping swelling down, says Dr. David Geier, orthopedic surgeon in Charleston, S.C. “Elite athletes have been using ice baths for years.” Try an ice pack or a cool bath in lieu of a full ice bath, Geier suggests.
Grab a cup of Joe
Coffee lovers may find themselves recovering from workouts faster than their non-caffeinated friends, according to a study from the University of Georgia. The study shows drinking coffee prior to a workout reduces muscles soreness and fatigue by nearly half, making it more effective than aspirin. If you’re healthy, two cups before your workout should do it, says Dr. Ann Kulze, author of the best-selling "Eat Right for Life series" (WELCOA 2010).
Spice it up
A dash of the spice turmeric in your post-workout meal may be just the thing to ease muscle soreness. An effective anti-inflammatory, turmeric contains a powerful, non-toxic compound called curcumin. “Studies found that turmeric’s anti-inflammatory effects are on a par with potent drugs such as hydrocortisone and Motrin, without the side effects,” says Goodson.
Drink ginger tea
Ginger, another tasty spice, also works to ease muscle pain. “It contains phytonutrients called gingerols, some of the most potent inflammation fighting substances known,” says Goodson. Make fresh ginger tea by adding finely chopped ginger to boiled water, letting it steep for two to three minutes, and then straining out the ginger.
Sip tart cherry juice
Research shows tart cherry juice links to significantly decreased muscle pain and reduced inflammation at levels comparable to some well-known pain medications, says Wendy Bazilian, R.D. Marathoners who drank tart cherry juice recovered faster than athletes who did not, according to a 2010 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports.
Don’t worry. You don’t have to drink it. Bazilian recommends using tart cherry juice in salad dressings, adding it to marinades for grilling chicken and blending it into low-fat yogurt for a quick smoothie.