Soothe Those Achy, Breaky Muscles

1 May

Soothe Those Achy, Breaky Muscles

Tim Skwiat, MEd, CSCS, Pn1

Do you have trouble with sore, achy muscles? Do you struggle with excessive soreness after exercise? Do you have difficulty warming up those “cranky” areas? Even marginal tightness or a minor tweak to your muscles can distract your focus and disrupt the way you move. Once that happens, it’s only a matter of time before your quality of life and performance are negatively impacted—or worse, you sustain a more serious injury. Heck, sore muscles—or the thought of getting sore—may keep you from participating in the activities you love altogether.

According Sage Rountree, a sports coach specializing in athletic recovery, some muscle soreness is a normal side effect of strenuous exercise activity; however, certain types of soreness can be a more serious warning sign1:

Soreness

With that in mind, if you typically and consistently experience symptoms on the “Warning Side” of the table above, it may be best to visit with a medical professional and/or qualified fitness professional.

When it comes to sore muscles, the great news is that you don’t just have ignore them altogether (i.e., “rub some dirt on it”) or become a slave to them. In fact, there are simple, yet significant proactive steps and recovery techniques that you can implement to help reduce muscle soreness—both before (i.e., preventative) and after the fact.

First, it may be important to point out that acute muscle soreness is caused by microscopic tears between muscles and the surrounding tissues. (Not, as you’ve likely been led to believe, lactic acid build-up.) These microtears, which, in the “right amounts,” are an important part of the strengthening and rebuilding processes, lead to acute inflammation. In other words, to effectively deal with sore muscles, it’s important to properly manage inflammation.

  • Balance your fats. Increasing your consumption of anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats (e.g., freshwater fish, fish oil) and subsequently decreasing your intake of industrial vegetable oils (e.g. soybean, corn, safflower, sunflower), which are high in pro-inflammatory omega-6 fats2 and found on the ingredients list of nearly every packaged food, is one of the single-most important things you can do to better manage inflammation.3
  • Consume more anti-inflammatory foods and nutrients. In addition to freshwater fish and fish oil, there are a number of foods that contain anti-inflammatory compounds: avocados, blueberries and other berries containing anthocyanins, coconut oil, cruciferous vegetables (e.g., broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale), tea (e.g., green, white, oolong, rooibos), cocoa, papaya, pineapple, hot peppers, red wine, turmeric (curcumin), basil, thyme, cloves, garlic, ginger, and cinnamon.
  • Remove inflammatory foods. Food intolerances can stimulate an inflammatory response and act like slow-burning systemic inflammation. These are distinct from true food allergies, and the following is a list of “probable suspects”: grains, dairy, soy, shellfish, FODMAP-containing foods, nightshades, histamine-containing foods, food additives and preservatives, processed sugar, artificial sweeteners, tree nuts, and peanuts. This is not to say that everyone will have a problem with all of these foods (or any of them); however, it’s simply meant to point out that these foods (some of them otherwise “healthy”) could contribute, and using a food journal could be helpful to identify any individual triggers.
  • Get your gut in order. The gut is more than a digestion center and what you eat (or don’t) can have a significant impact on overall wellbeing and performance. Probiotics (i.e., friendly gut bacteria) perform a variety of very important functions, and of importance to this conversation, they help regulate the immune system, produce anti-inflammatory chemicals, and down-regulate pro-inflammatory molecules. Foods that are rich in probiotics include fermented foods like plain yogurt (with live cultures), kefir, sauerkraut, kimchi, miso, tempeh, and kombucha.
  • Eat more building blocks. Over time, joints stiffen and muscle goes bye-bye. This, to some degree, is determined by exercise (i.e., physical activity), but nutrition also plays a crucial role as it provides the basic components (e.g., amino acids) of tissue rebuilding. Along these lines, it’s crucial to boost your intake of lean protein, which provides critical amino acids. Furthermore, research shows that specific amino acids (especially leucine, one of the BCAAs) may be especially important for muscle recovery and strength as folks get older.4 Taken together with above recommendations, a vanilla-blueberry protein-chia seed—cinnamon protein smoothie made with kefir sounds like a great post-round option!
  • Recovery exercise and massage. In a 2003 review study, researchers from Auckland University found that, amongst all treatment factors including massage, anti-inflammatory drugs, stretching, homeopathy, ultrasound, and more, “exercise is the most effective means of alleviating pain” when experiencing muscle soreness.5 In a 2013 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers found that 10 minutes of active recovery exercise (performed with resistance bands) was just as effective as massage treatment in relieving muscle soreness.6
  • Epsom salt baths. Magnesium helps relax muscles, and magnesium deficiencies are amongst the most common nutrient deficiencies. Taking a magnesium-based Epsom salt bath can help restore magnesium levels and help sore muscles recover.
  • Sleep. One of the most important recovery techniques that you can begin to emphasize is getting plenty of quality sleep, as sleep debt has been shown to hinder muscle recovery.7 While consistently getting 7 – 8 hours of sleep per night would be ideal, even increasing your sleep time by 30 – 60 minutes can make a difference in promoting muscle recovery (not to mention myriad other health, body composition, and performance benefits).

As you can see, there are many factors well within your control that can aid in preventing and reducing muscle soreness. Even better, by helping your body better manage inflammation (aka the “silent killer”), you’ll also be improving your overall health, feelings of wellbeing, and vitality to boot!

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References:

  1. Rountree SH. The Athlete’s Guide to Recovery: Rest, Relax, and Restore for Peak Performance. Boulder, Colo: VeloPress; 2011.
  2. Bosma-den Boer MM, van Wetten M-L, Pruimboom L. Chronic inflammatory diseases are stimulated by current lifestyle: how diet, stress levels and medication prevent our body from recovering. Nutr Metab. 2012;9(1):32. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-9-32.
  3. Simopoulos AP. The importance of the ratio of omega-6/omega-3 essential fatty acids. Biomed Pharmacother Bioméd Pharmacothérapie. 2002;56(8):365-379.
  4. Casperson SL, Sheffield-Moore M, Hewlings SJ, Paddon-Jones D. Leucine supplementation chronically improves muscle protein synthesis in older adults consuming the RDA for protein. Clin Nutr Edinb Scotl. 2012;31(4):512-519. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2012.01.005.
  5. Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L. Delayed onset muscle soreness : treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports Med Auckl NZ. 2003;33(2):145-164.
  6. Andersen LL, Jay K, Andersen CH, et al. Acute effects of massage or active exercise in relieving muscle soreness: randomized controlled trial. J Strength Cond Res Natl Strength Cond Assoc. 2013;27(12):3352-3359. doi:10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182908610.
  7. Dattilo M, Antunes HKM, Medeiros A, et al. Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Med Hypotheses. 2011;77(2):220-222. doi:10.1016/j.mehy.2011.04.017.
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