Foods Can Help Ease Muscle Pain After Too Much Exercise

Patient Expert

A couple of months ago, I had coffee with a friend who had just started an exercise program. She would grimace anytime she got up, obviously her muscles and joints rebelling against her new regimen. To ease the pain, many people would use the heating bad, a massage or a hot bath with lots of Epsom salts. Those all are great ways to ease the discomfort, but there are other options you can use as well.

For instance, your dietary choices can make a big difference "Food works on a cellular level, so you might not notice a difference in the first hour after eating them," Jessica Crandall, a Denver dietitian and member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, told The Wall Street Journal. However, some foods can decrease muscle inflammation and can help you recover.
These foods and beverages include:

  • Omega-3 fatty acids - The University of Maryland Medical Center reports that eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids help to reduce inflammation. The George Mateljan Foundation points out that research suggests that these nutrients may be better absorbed if consumed from food than when taken in supplement form. Foods with high levels of omega-3 fats include ground flax seeds, walnuts, salmon, sardines, grass-fed beef, soybeans, halibut, scallops, shrimp and tofu. However, if you need to use supplements, the University of Maryland Medical Center recommends taking a dosage that is based on the amount of EPA and DHA, instead of the total amount of fish oil. A common amount of omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil capsules is 0.18 grams of EPA and 0.12 grams of DHA.
  • Whole grains - In a column called "Fuel School" on Runner's World's webpage, registered dietitian Pamela Nisevich Bede recommends whole grains due to their anti-inflammatory properties, as well as because they are rich in antioxidants, dense in nutrients and full of fiber. ABC News points out that the fiber in whole grains causes reduced levels of C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation. Whole grains also have less added sugar. Bede recommends a variety of whole grains, including amaranth, barley, buckwheat, oats, quinoa, rye, wheat and brown, red or other exotic import varieties of rice.
  • Fruits and vegetables - Vitamin E may protect the body from cytokines, a pro-inflammatory molecule. This vitamin can be found in spinach, kale, broccoli and collard greens. Isoflavones, which are found in soy products, may help lower inflammation. Soy products to use include soy milk, tofu and edamame. Bell peppers and hot peppers can help inflammation in some people. Tomatoes, which are rich in lycopene (especially when cooked), have been shown to reduce inflammation. Beets and beetroot juice have fiber, vitamin C and betalains, which have been shown to reduce inflammation. Garlic shuts off the pathways that lead to inflammation. Onions contain anti-inflammatory chemical such as quercetin and allicin. While all fruits help fight inflammation, berries such as red raspberries, blueberries and strawberries have been found to have greater anti-inflammatory properties due to anthocyanins, which are the chemicals responsible for their bright colors. Tart cherries (but not sweet cherries) have been found to have the highest anti-inflammatory content of any food. Experts recommend eating 1-1/2 cups of tart cherries or drinking 1 cup of tart cherry juice.
  • Lean proteins - Consuming lean protein is important since it's necessary for muscles to repair themselves.
  • Green tea - Green tea, which is made from unfermented leaves, is believed to contain the highest concentration of polyphenols, which are powerful antioxidants. These antioxidants fight free radicals and reduce or prevent some of the damage that they can cause.
  • Cinnamon - Cinnamon has a long history of being used both as a spice and as medicine. This spice can lower the release of arachidonic acid from cell membranes, thus lessening inflammation.
  • Turmeric - This spice, which is found in curry, turns off a protein that regulates the immune system and triggers inflammation.
  • Water - This liquid helps lubricate the joins and can decrease joint pain.

However, certain foods can trigger inflammation. These include processed refined grains, salt, trans fats and saturated fats. Therefore, it's important to cut back or stop eating these foods.

Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

Bede, P. N. (2013). Eat whole grains to fight inflammation. Runner's World.

George Mateljan Foundation. (nd). Cinnamon.

George Mateljan Foundation. (nd). Omega-3 fatty acids.

MacMillan, A. (2013). Foods that fight inflammation. ABC News.

Murphy, J. (2013). Inside baseball: A guide to anti-inflammatory foods to help sore muscles. The Wall Street Journal.

University of Maryland Medical Center. (2011). Green tea.

University of Maryland Medical Center. (2011). Omega-3 fatty acids.