You either love the feeling of sore muscles after a tough workout or you hate it. There seems to be no in-between. But no matter which camp you fall into, one thing is for certain: muscle soreness shouldn’t be ignored. Feeling sore and achy after a workout is an indication of inflammation in your muscles and joints, which can potentially lead to slower recovery, pain and even injury. And while popping an ibuprofen may seem like an easy solution to the problem, research shows that NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can actually hurt your body’s ability to heal and repair itself after exercise.
With these facts in mind, it’s hardly surprising then that more people are turning to natural solutions — like high-quality CBD products and ice baths — to help manage their symptoms of post-exercise soreness. Here’s what you need to know about post-exercise inflammation and how to get it under control without turning to painkillers.
Is Post-Exercise Inflammation Bad?
Not necessarily. In fact, some inflammation is actually good for us! Inflammation is a natural and vital part of your body’s immune system. Here’s how it works: When you create microscopic tears in your muscles after an intense workout, your body triggers inflammation to heal itself from injuries and stimulate new muscle growth. A moderate amount of exercise-induced inflammation can also help boost immune function and improve bone health.
However, exercising too much or at too-high of an intensity can send inflammation into overdrive. When inflammation lingers at a high level, your body thinks that it’s under a consistent attack. This can lead to chronic inflammation, a type of inflammation that is associated with heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and cancer, among other things.
Natural Ways to Reduce Post-Exercise Inflammation
Like most things in life, inflammation is good in moderation. While NSAIDs and other OTC medicines can provide short-term relief, they may end up hurting your recovery and training. Below, here are some natural ways to curb your symptoms and make the most of every workout.
- Load Up on Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Figuring out what to eat after an intense workout can be tricky. But if you want to speed recovery after exercise, you can’t go wrong reaching for foods that can help fight inflammation. Some of the best anti-inflammatory foods include:
- Blackberries, blueberries and raspberries all contain antioxidants called anthocyanins, a compound with anti-inflammatory properties.
- Fatty Fish. Fatty fish (think: sardines, salmon and mackerel) are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to increase the body’s anti-inflammatory molecules for up to 24 hours.
- Green Tea. Ditch the sugary, post-workout beverage and drink green tea instead. Known for reducing the risk of heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions, green tea is loaded with inflammation-fighting antioxidants that can do a body good.
- Use CBD Oil
For regular soreness, you may want to try using a CBD tincture after your workouts. Tinctures are one of the more popular ways for athletes to consume CBD since they’re generally fast-acting and low-calorie.
CBD — short for cannabidiol — won’t get you “high” like its chemical cousin, THC. Although research is currently limited on CBD, plenty of former and current pro athletes — including professional soccer player Megan Rapinoe and NFL player Rob Gronkowski — have come out in support of using CBD for post-workout pain management.
- Take an Ice Bath
Many of us have seen (or heard about) athletes and fitness enthusiasts dipping themselves into ice water after an intense workout. While taking an ice-cold bath may not sound appealing, it can potentially help reduce your inflammation and post-workout pain.
Known as cryotherapy or cold water immersion, ice baths are believed to reduce inflammation and soothe post-workout pain by stimulating muscle cell activity, reducing swelling and constricting blood vessels. When muscles are rewarmed, the increased blood flow is thought to increase circulation, speeding up the recovery process.
There is some research to support cryotherapy for muscle soreness, including this 2012 review which found that cryotherapy could reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). If you decide to try an ice bath, make sure that you get the all-clear with your doctor beforehand.
- Unwind with an Epsom Salt Bath
If an ice bath is too cold for you (no judgment here), try an Epsom salt bath instead. In water, Epsom salt breaks down into sulfate and magnesium. This combination is believed to aid a variety of the body’s natural functions, one of which is the flushing out of toxins. The theory is that the magnesium in Epsom salt can help get rid of toxins in the body that build up and contribute to inflammation.
- Cool Down with Yoga
You probably know that cooling down after physical exercise is important. Not only do cool-down exercises help reduce muscle pain, but they also lower your risk of injury and improve relaxation. One of the best ways to cool down after an intense workout is by practicing restorative yoga.
With restorative yoga, you can gradually slow down your heart rate and relax your body. But the benefits don’t end there. According to research published in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research, regular yoga practice can improve your inflammatory response to intense exercise and help protect you against inflammatory diseases. Time to roll out the yoga mat!
- Drink Up
Staying hydrated is key to optimal health in general, but it’s especially important for reducing inflammation and recovering after a workout. When you don’t drink enough water, your cells don’t get enough of this essential nutrient, causing your cellular functions to slow down.
To keep everything in working order — including your body’s natural ability to fight inflammation — make sure that you drink plenty of fluids before and after your workout. For extra hydration, munch on water-rich foods like cucumber and broccoli. (By the way, broccoli is also an anti-inflammatory powerhouse!)
- Treat Yourself to a Massage
Nothing feels better than a deep-tissue massage after a tough workout. Not only can a massage reduce your overall recovery time, but research also shows that it can boost muscle strength after intense exercise.
Don’t have the time or the money for a professional massage? Give yourself a massage with a foam roller. Although it may not be nearly as relaxing as a professional massage, it should do the trick.
Give Your Body a Natural Boost
Don’t let inflammation slow your recovery or stop you from working out altogether. Remember, some inflammation can be a good thing. By taking steps to reduce your inflammation naturally, you can keep your body running optimally for years to come.