The lull before the crazy holiday season hits might just be the perfect time to start a workout routine.
Just a few sweat sessions a week can boost immunity, improve mood, increase energy, and help you feel fit and confident while making the holiday party circuit. But hit your workouts too hard the first few days and you might quash any aspirations of a healthier winter—after all, if you can barely walk because you're so sore, how are you expected to work out?
Blame delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, for crushing your enthusiasm. It happens to even the most competitive athletes, so don’t feel bad if the morning after your first yoga class it was hard to get out of bed. The cause of this pain, as far as researchers can tell, is the inflammation that surrounds the tiny micro tears that occur in muscles and connecting tissue after doing work. Typically this happens when muscles are pushed beyond their usual workload, like when you lift a little heavier or sprint instead of jog.
Usually the lower body is the victim of most intense DOMS, but every body part can experience this same uncomfortable tension. If you’re dealing with severe DOMS, it can be difficult to walk down the street, sit on the toilet, or even laugh or sneeze.
The bad news? DOMS is notoriously difficult to treat, even with over the counter meds. But there are a few ways you can treat this annoying issue naturally, that work just as well (if not better!) than pill popping.
We already know that a small amount of caffeine can help burn fat, but it seems that taking 5 mg to 1 kg of body weight before a workout can help reduce muscle soreness. For a 175-pound man, that’s only about 16 milligrams of caffeine; the average cup of coffee contains around 95 milligrams, so the amount needed to make an impact is pretty small. Those in the study who supplemented with caffeine were much less sore two to three days after those who didn’t, and in a similar study women who added caffeine into their pre-workout regimen were 26 to 48 percent less sore. Sip on a green tea or add a little green coffee bean extract to a smoothie to keep sore muscles at bay.
Tart cherry or blueberry juice
The juice of these dark, antioxidant-rich berries might hold the magic key to unlocking stiff and sore muscles. It seems that the antioxidants in the juice dramatically affect inflammation, which in turn can keep muscles from getting sore and staying sore for an extended period of time. According to a study done by researchers at the University of Oregon, tart cherry juice is as effective as NSAIDs like aspirin in treating inflammation.
A topical menthol cream
It doesn’t sound very sexy, but menthol-based creams can be your BFF if you’re having trouble moving your body a few days after a workout. The science behind it? Menthol tricks calcium ions in your body to activate neurons that sense temperature, which tells your brain that the area where menthol has been applied is cold. Blood is sent to the area to warm it, along with oxygen, which can help muscles repair more quickly.
Turmeric does it again. Our favorite natural supplement (and spice) is packed with curcumin. Well known for its anti-inflammatory properties, curcumin is also linked to decreased effects of muscle soreness. Try cooking with this powerful spice to reap its many health benefits, or pop a few turmeric capsules after a workout.
The last thing you might want to do is knead out the knots in sore muscles, but although this practice can be painful, it's proven to help tissues recover more quickly. Foam rolling and massage after a workout reduces muscle fatigue, allowing the tissues to heal more quickly.
It might seem obvious, but water plays a huge roll in how well your body recovers after a workout. DOMS can be aggravated by dehydration, so if you start your workout already parched it’s more likely you’ll be seriously hurting the next day. For best results, pay close attention to staying hydrated in the 24 hours before your workout and immediately following your sweat session. If necessary, try an electrolyte supplement or even sprinkle a little Himalayan sea salt into your water.
Photo credit: Alicia Cho