by Caitlin Reid
Everyday muscle soreness can affect everyone, whether you’ve just finished a big run or you’ve been increasing movement and trying to be less sedentary in your day-to-day life. Muscle soreness after a workout is normal, but general daily soreness is rarer. It can occur if you’ve been overdoing it in some area of your life (like lifting something too heavy) or if you sit for long periods in poor posture. From massages to chocolate milk, check out some common remedies that a growing body of research shows may be connected to reduced muscle soreness in your everyday life.
In This Article
Tart cherries have been found to decrease inflammation and help with daily aches and soreness in some people. This handy fruit has been found to reduce oxidative stress (the response your body has to free radicals from pollution, sun, chemicals, poor diet and alcohol and cigarettes). One research paper found markers of oxidative stress decreased in 8 out of 10 studies after participants consumed many cherries. Inflammation, muscle soreness and sleeplessness also improved. However, the studies involved feeding the participants anywhere between 45-270 cherries per day, so the jury is out on how beneficial smaller servings of cherries can be.
You can also try one of these three ancient anti-inflammatory ingredients to help with soreness. Better yet? Combine all three in your morning tea.
Cinnamon has been used for soreness and inflammation for centuries. It works thanks to its ability to decrease the generation of reactive oxygen species thanks to its phenolic and flavonoid contents (both compounds are connected to suppressed inflammation). Dietary cinnamon is often combined with ginger for its anti-inflammatory effects.
Like cinnamon, ginger has been used as a dietary medicine for centuries. Its powerful anti-inflammatory properties are linked to its ability to inhibit prostaglandin and leukotriene biosynthesis, which are part of inflammation. Studies find taking ginger daily is far more effective than a one-off dose. Try steeping fresh ginger in hot water; add turmeric and cinnamon for ultimate impact.
Similar story: turmeric has long been used as an anti-inflammatory agent in ancient medicine. Its anti-inflammatory abilities are linked to curcumin, a chemical component of turmeric. It has a strong taste, so adding just a sprinkle to a morning tea or smoothie may be just enough. Your local coffee shop may even serve turmeric lattes. (Note: When taking turmeric supplements, it should be mixed with black pepper to become more bioavailable to the body).
Carbohydrates are often dismissed in favor of superfoods, but they deserve a special place in your muscle care menu, especially if you do endurance workouts. Carbs are directly linked to helping reduce exercise-induced muscle damage (and therefore soreness). To be more specific, carbohydrates have been found to:
- Delay neuromuscular fatigue
- Significantly improve physical work capacity
One study looked at how increased carbohydrate supplements (over 120 grams per hour) worked to sustain mountain marathon runners. The results showed the boosted carbs stimulated long-term neuromuscular recovery and decreased soreness, and it helped manage the decline in sports performance 24 hours after the marathon.
Fatty fish (like salmon) contain highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs), which are directly linked to muscle re-building, a necessary process that helps decrease muscle soreness. HUFAs have been found to boost muscle mass in adult males. This change in muscle mass only occurred when coupled with resistance exercise though, so don’t forget to add weights to your cardio session to see the best results.
CBD may also have recovery potential thanks to its ability to support your body’s endocannabinoid system, which is responsible for maintaining a normal response to inflammation and stress. After a workout, your body experiences low-level inflammation due to microtears in a muscle, and one review of the current research has found that CBD may support your body’s ability to regulate its response to this stress.
However, it’s important to note that CBD oils have poor bioavailability. This is because CBD is lipophilic and repels water (what your body is largely made of), meaning the two ingredients don’t mix well. When looking to support your muscles, look for bioavailable formulas rather than CBD oils, which can be absorbed up to 4.5 times more easily than CBD oil.
Whether you’re vegan or a keen meat eater, there’s a protein source to suit your dietary needs and enhance your muscle recovery. Muscle soreness is normal after activity, but if you’re not getting enough protein, your soreness can linger for longer and be triggered easily if you’ve only been doing minimal exercise. Protein helps decrease the time your muscles are sore by helping repair and rebuild muscle fibers after a workout and the movement demands of daily life.
If you’re keen on non-animal protein sources, pea protein has been found to increase muscle thickness after weight training. If you’re happy with any protein source, whey protein is a common favorite. Protein powders aren’t for everyone, so if you prefer whole foods, think grilled chicken breast, fish or a hearty lentil dal with some tempeh pieces.
Science says chocolate milk is a powerful muscle recovery snack. Sounds too good to be true? It’s all about the powerful balance of protein and carbohydrates in this chocolatey drink (which outweighs that of regular milk). The carbohydrate boosts glycogen repletion after a hard workout, which means your body recovers lost energy. This energy directly relates to muscle soreness, as the ache you feel is caused by mini tears in the muscle after a workout. Repairing these takes energy, and if you’re running on empty, it’s harder for your body to repair the muscle and your soreness lasts longer. The protein in chocolate milk boosts the protein synthesis required for remodeling sore muscles faster and easier; decreasing the length of time you feel sore.
Compression tights and leggings, reserved for hospital wards in the past, are now hugely popular in the activewear realm. This is thanks to their ability to decrease post-workout muscle soreness and perceived exertion. How?
Compression garments, particularly those created with graduated compression, work as a pump to stop post-workout inflammatory swelling from building up. They work alongside your calf pump to move fluid and lymph around your body, ensuring it’s disposed of efficiently without building up. Professional athletes have jumped on the compression garment bandwagon as they've also been found to increase agility in some athletes.
A post-workout massage feels great, and it’s also a powerful muscle recovery tool. A systematic review of 99 studies looked at the effects of massage on delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) you usually feel a day or two after a big workout. It found DOMS was significantly less in the massage group, as it decreases the levels of muscle damage and inflammatory markers (such as creatine kinase) after working out.
Foam rolling isn’t just a fad; it’s a way to increase circulation and break up myofascial adhesions that develop after a challenging workout. Rolling out doesn’t take long, but it can make a big difference to your muscle recovery. Key muscles to roll out include:
- ITB (iliotibial band), as this muscle spans two joints and isn’t easily stretched
- Quads and glutes
- Your thoracic spine or middle back (to ease stiffness from daily life as well as your workout)
Easing muscle soreness from daily life or exercise can help you move better and feel brighter. Day-to-day muscle soreness may mean you’re overdoing it in some daily activity, so see if you can modify your routine. Take rest days and encourage your toddler to get into their car seat if they can, rather than lifting them yourself. Plus, try the foods and tips above, and you may be amazed at how much better you feel.
Caitlin Reid is a freelance journalist with over ten years of experience. She is also a Physiotherapist with a special interest in blending the realms of evidence-based medicine with inspiring holistic health.