There’s a reason I’ve been going to the same trainer for more than a decade (shout out to Peter!): He kicks my a$$ — in a good way. Like most people, I never push myself as hard when I strength train on my own, and his workouts leave me with the kind of day-after soreness that makes me feel strong, accomplished, and Wonder Womanish. But it’s still soreness. And who wants to hobble around for days until the DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) subsides or resort to popping Advil like Skittles? Not me. And I bet not you either. (Plus, there’s some new evidence that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, may do more harm than good for post-workout pain anyway.) So here are eight creative ways to fast-track your recovery—none of which involve Epsom salts or ice baths. You know, so you can get right back in the gym and do it all over again.
1. Drink a turmeric latte.
The bright gold spice contains an antioxidant called curcumin, which has been shown to reduce muscle pain and inflammation and speed recovery after a killer workout. Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Nicol LM, Rowlands DS, Fazakerly R. European journal of applied physiology, 2015, Mar.;115(8):1439-6327. Reduced inflammatory and muscle damage biomarkers following oral supplementation with bioavailable curcumin. McFarlin BK, Venable AS, Henning AL. BBA clinical, 2016, Feb.;5():2214-6474. Attenuation of indirect markers of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage by curcumin. Tanabe Y, Maeda S, Akazawa N. European journal of applied physiology, 2015, Apr.;115(9):1439-6327. Double down on the benefit by picking a recipe that also calls for ginger (many do; Pinterest it). There’s evidence ginger can slash a mean case of the DOMS by as much as 25 percent. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces muscle pain caused by eccentric exercise. Black CD, Herring MP, Hurley DJ. The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society, 2010, Apr.;11(9):1528-8447. To latte it, try this recipe.
2. Eat something garlicky.
Yep, garlic. Studies show it’s pretty powerful at reducing muscle fatigue—especially when you crush the cloves. Smashing the garlic’s cell walls creates a compound called allicin, which also dials down inflammation. Add it to a post-workout meal with protein and carbs (like a stir-fry) to help muscles bounce back quicker.
3. Get a good night’s sleep.
OK, so maybe this isn't the most ingenious idea, but there’s good evidence that being deprived of zzzs amps up your perception of pain, so any soreness you have will feel even worse. The association of sleep and pain: an update and a path forward. Finan PH, Goodin BR, Smith MT. The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society, 2014, Aug.;14(12):1528-8447. Another good reason to rest up: Your body has a sophisticated system for clearing out inflammation and repairing cell damage—and it happens while you sleep. Sleep and muscle recovery: endocrinological and molecular basis for a new and promising hypothesis. Dattilo M, Antunes HK, Medeiros A. Medical hypotheses, 2011, May.;77(2):1532-2777. So aim for at least seven and a half hours of shut-eye per night—good advice just in general, DOMs or not.
4. Roll, don’t stretch.
It’s no secret we’re fans of foam rolling. We’ve talked about the benefits a lot, and it’s far better at reducing soreness than limbering exercises because it allows you to really isolate the muscle and zero in on a specific area. Stretching just can’t do that. But here’s the thing: The way most of us do it is wrong, according to Morey J. Kolber, doctor of physical therapy and an expert who studies the most effective foam-rolling techniques. We tend to roll from one end of the muscle to the other, when we should actually be breaking it up. For larger muscle groups, such as your quads and hamstrings, try divvying it into three smaller sections and rolling each for one minute. Smaller muscles such as your triceps or calves can be done in two sections.
And slow your roll too. Going fast to get it over with won’t give you the same benefit. Roller just not cutting it? For more personalized relief, try the new Soothe app, which is like Uber for massage. You can have a top-rated therapist show up right at your door in as quickly as an hour starting at just $99.
5. Sip on tart cherry juice.
You’ve probably heard about this trendy recovery drink, and its hype is well deserved: A growing body of research suggests consuming tart Montmorency cherries—in juice or whole fruit form—aids in exercise recovery. A recent study tested the fruit’s effects on pro athletes and found that participants who drank one ounce of tart cherry juice cut with a little water (it is tart), twice per day for several days after a tough training session, reported significantly less soreness compared to a placebo group. A handful of other papers published around the same time found similar results. Not a cherry fan? Watermelon juice has also been shown to help fatigued muscles bounce back faster. Blend fresh watermelon with some ice for a refreshing post-workout slushie.
6. Grab a cup of coffee.
That’s right. We’re green-lighting your 3 p.m. Starbucks run because a bunch of research has linked caffeine and post-workout recovery. One study found that sipping the equivalent of two cups of coffee reduced the amount of pain people reported by nearly 50 percent. Caffeine attenuates delayed-onset muscle pain and force loss following eccentric exercise. Maridakis V, O'Connor PJ, Dudley GA. The journal of pain : official journal of the American Pain Society, 2006, Dec.;8(3):1526-5900. Bonus: There’s also evidence caffeinating before you exercise can improve performance while making your sweat sesh actually feel easier. Effects of caffeine ingestion on rating of perceived exertion during and after exercise: a meta-analysis. Doherty M, Smith PM. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 2005, Jul.;15(2):0905-7188. So whether you're a morning or an afternoon exerciser, a cup of joe can't hurt—and could even help.
7. Walk your dog.
As tempting as it is to stay parked on the couch when you’re sore, experts insist that getting out for an easy 20- to 30-minute walk is a better bet. We’re talking an effort level of 2 or 3 on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being no harder than, say, breathing). The reason? Part of the pain you feel is caused by metabolic waste that’s still hanging out in your muscles, and light exercise will boost circulation and help flush it out faster than totally taking the day off, says Pete McCall, an exercise physiologist and personal trainer based in San Diego.
8. Dust cinnamon on your morning oatmeal.
Think of it as nature’s ibuprofen. Cinnamon has been shown to have analgesic effects on stiff, achy muscles. And it doesn’t take much either: A study in the International Journal of Preventive Medicine found that consuming about a teaspoon of the stuff was enough to get the benefits—the perfect amount to sprinkle on your oatmeal or in your coffee.