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This supplement is gaining an increasing amount of attention for its muscle-recovery abilities. A 2010 study carried out on recreational runners who were given either tart cherry juice concentrate or a placebo for five days before running a marathon, then again on the day of the race, and for another 48 hours afterwards found that the runners given the cherry juice had less damaged muscles immediately after the race, had lower levels of inflammation and recovered muscle strength quicker.1 The naturally high levels antioxidants, anthocyanins and flavonoids are thought to provide these potent anti-inflammatory effects and the juice has a higher concentration of these nutrients than whole cherries.
What is it that packs such a muscle-recovery punch? A concentrated amount of natural anti-inflammatory nutrients including anthocyanins, antioxidants and flavonoids. The cherries also contain melatonin (the sleep hormone) and have been shown to help improve the quality of sleep.
The powerful anti-inflammatory compounds fish oils contain, particularly EPA , have been shown to reduce joint pain and tenderness. They will also help speed up your workout recovery time - lowering your risk of pain, particularly delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).2 This is the distinct muscle pain and stiffness that you get when you haven't exercised for some time, do an unfamiliar exercise and/or over exert yourself and it generally peaks around 48 hours after exercise. Symptoms can range from mild muscle tenderness to debilitating pain. DOMS can also be exacerbated by dehydration and lack of rest.
Glucosamine and chondroitin - natural compounds found in cartilage - should also help form part of your arsenal. Generally partnered up to work more effectively, this nutritional double act can help you avoid injury and enhance exercise recovery. It is difficult to get glucosamine or chondroitin from your diet so supplementation is necessary.
Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, potassium (to help reduce muscle cramps), magnesium (to help muscle relaxation), calcium (for muscle contraction) that can be lost through sweat during intense exercise (and particularly in sweltering conditions). If you don't replace depleting electrolyte levels this can lead to muscle cramps and your muscles can feel weak and wobbly. Electrolytes can be used before, during and after intense exercise to rapidly replace any essential nutrients lost through sweat.4
Research has shown whey protein supplementation helps athletes build lean muscle mass and help with muscle recovery. This type of protein, found naturally in milk, is rapidly absorbed and contains a high percentage of amino acids including cysteine and leucine. Leucine is an important player in muscle protein synthesis, the process in which the body repairs and regenerates muscle. After exercise your body needs enough leucine levels to enable this muscle-building process to take place. Add a scoop to juice and smoothies for an easy to whip up post work out recovery drink.
Not only can the muscle-relaxing effects of this mineral help you sleep like a dream, but it can also speed muscle recovery by helping to improve muscle function, maintain electrolyte balance and reduce fatigue. Without enough of it your muscles can potentially cramp and spasm. You can supplement by adding magnesium flakes to your bath after your work out - the combination of the soothing hot bath will help loosen tighten muscles and the magnesium helps relax them further whilst helping to reduce muscle soreness.
Supplementing with the antioxidant alpha lipoic acid and amino acid L-carnitine has also been shown to reduce tissue damage and muscle soreness after intense workouts.5 Another study carried out on middle-aged men and women showed supplementation with L-Carnitine reduced muscle damage and optimised muscle tissue repair.6
This amino acid has been the subject of extensive research and evidence shows it not only improves exercise performance but can help with muscle recovery by delaying muscle fatigue, helping to prevent or reduce injury, encourage recovery from injury and even increase tolerance to heat when exercising in hot weather.7 Research shows supplementing with it can increase muscular strength and performance in high intensity exercise.8
Nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet to provide all the nutrients we need. But when this isn’t possible, supplements can help. This article isn’t intended to replace medical advice. Please consult your healthcare professional before trying supplements or herbal medicines.
1Influence of tart cherry juice on indices of recovery following marathon running, Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports
2The effects of ingestion of omega-3 fatty acids on perceived pain and external symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness in untrained men, Canadian Academy of Sport Medicine
3Transdermal cannabidiol reduces inflammation and pain-related behaviours in a rat model of arthritis, nternational Association for the Study of Pain European Federation of Chapters
4Dehydration, rehydration, and exercise in the heat: rehydration strategies for athletic competition, Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology
6l-Carnitine l-tartrate supplementation favorably affects biochemical markers of recovery from physical exertion in middle-aged men and women, Metabolism: clinical and experimental
7 Safety and efficacy of creatine supplementation in exercise, sport, and medicine, International Society of Sports Nutrition
8The effects of polyethylene glycosylated creatine supplementation on anaerobic performance measures and body composition, National Strength & Conditioning Association (US)