Anyone that takes their training seriously knows that sometimes pain and soreness are going to occur. Whether you are a serious athlete going through two-a-days in preparation for competition, or an average civilian hiking once a week to stay in shape for your significant other – soreness will occur. While minor pains (< 3 out of 10) and soreness is acceptable, there are some simple ways to reduce the intensity and duration.
For years, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen have been handed out like candy to help reduce pain. But it is now well known that NSAIDS can damage gut lining, wreck your gut bacteria, and even increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. NSAIDS work by blocking prostaglandins, which are compounds that stimulate inflammation (the body’s natural process of healing). However, prostaglandins do a lot more that control inflammation - they also have a large role in protecting gut and stomach lining. When you do the math, even short-term use can cause many problems.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours to many days after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. Most cases of DOMS are felt strongest at about 48-72 hours post-training. Because of this, most resort to throwing a few pills down the hatch to eliminate this soreness to get their next session in. When done chronically, there can be serious consequences. That being said, there are natural ways to attack pain and inflammation to keep you training and feeling your best. By tweaking your diet just slightly - you can get all the anti-inflammatory benefits of NSAIDS without the risk.
Turmeric is an orange spice that has been used as medicine for centuries to treat wounds and infections. Curcumin in the main active ingredient in turmeric that has powerful anti-inflammatory effects, and is also a very strong antioxidant. Easy ways to include in your daily diet include adding to tea, soup, or even sprinkling into your scrambled eggs. Turmeric root only contains about 5% curcumin, so make sure to buy curcumin, and not turmeric root for best results. By adding natural anti-inflammatory herbs like turmeric to your diet you can get all the benefits of NSAIDS without the negative side effects.
Another spice that will inhibit the pro-inflammatory pathways and promote anti-inflammatory pathways while providing a large volume of antioxidants is ginger. For thousands of years, ginger has been used as traditional medicine to treat infection, reduce headaches, and can be easily found at any grocery store. The use of ginger greatly inhibits platelet aggregation, which in turn promotes blood circulation to speed up healing time (just as light recovery sessions would). For some, the taste of ginger may be a bit strong, but even small amounts can make a big difference. Try adding to smoothies, or cooking with it to add flavor, but if you prefer not to do either you can even buy it in capsule form.
Boswellia is far less popular than the last two, but has been long used for connective tissue and joint support in Asian and African folk medicine. This Ayurvedic herb modulates the production of pro-inflammatory enzyme 5-lipoxygenase, or 5-LOX. Excess 5-LOX is common in joint pain, allergies, and cardiovascular issues. Boswellia has been shown to reduce this enzyme, but has also been shown to be useful in treating asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Whether you take this via capsule or even apply topically, this herb can naturally alleviate pain and joint soreness.
It has become the standard to simply take the advice of doctors as the gold standard without asking questions, but it is important that we are also educated on natural remedies that can help, as they typically don’t come with more of the negative side effects. By adding in simple ingredients (turmeric, ginger, boswellia) to our everyday diet we can take control of pain and soreness without the risk of NSAIDS. Be sure to experiment with what works best for you, like with most things an individualized approach works best.
Bottom line: take ownership of your own health and performance.