It was an early morning when I was getting ready to go for a run, and I was determined to push past my "best time" record. I was pumped and ready to go. However, after the first mile I was feeling muscle cramps in my side, my legs felt like dead weight, and I was completely out of breath. I knew I wouldn't be able to achieve what I had set out to do that morning. Goals, yea we'll scratch that.
If you've ever experienced similar symptoms when working out or simply during your physical therapy sessions, you know how annoying it is to be sidelined when you're trying to move forward with your goals/recovery process.
There's definitely more to it than that. The pain effects your daily routine, and seeps slowly into the other areas of your life, bringing you down. You'll practically give an arm and a leg to overcome this hurtle, and to get rid of the soreness. It's demotivating.
With that said, I want to share 5 proven (and scientific) ways to help you recover from your physical therapy sessions and workouts so you don't experience setbacks. Let me educate you on how to NOT put your life on hold.
What Causes Sore Muscles?
Muscle soreness, in a nutshell, occurs due to “microtrauma” of the muscle fibers and connective tissues. I know, it doesn’t sound pretty, but I promise, it’s a completely natural result of the breaking down of muscle that occurs during the recovery process and with your exercises.
These tiny tears cause pain due to the inflammation that occurs as the body works to repair them. Prostaglandins, white blood cells, and nutrients flood the area of the muscle tearing and THAT is what causes the soreness. This healing process can take several days, which is why it can sometimes take 24-48 hours for you to feel sore (and if you pay attention the second day is usually the worst).
After this bout of pain, however, the muscle has fully repaired itself and as a result has become stronger. This doesn’t mean we can’t try out a few tactics to lessen our pain. Check out some of the most effective ways below.
Warming up before exercising is one of the most overlooked ways to prevent and ease delayed onset muscle soreness. Now not a lot of people avoid warming up, but it is a necessary component to health and fitness, and to speed up your road to recovery.
One of the reasons we shrug off the warm up is because the idea of “warming up” is still kind of vague. Should we focus mostly on stretching out our muscles? Or on doing something aerobic, like jumping jacks?
The short answer: your warm up should be dynamic.
By dynamic, I mean performing movements that mirror what you’ll be training that day. So, say you’re focusing on lower body training; you’ll want to perform dynamic movements like walking lunges, leg swings, butt kicks, and lateral lunges, combined with dynamic stretches like the plantar flexor stretch and a light aerobic activity.
Key tip: When in doubt, get your phone out- and GOOGLE it. Google has a massive list of supplemental warm up exercises for you to use as a personal template. Also, to effectively reduce muscle soreness the next few days, you should make your target warm up time roughly 7-10 minutes.
2. Get Enough Protein
Getting enough of the right kind of protein is crucial when it comes to easing muscle soreness.
Remember how we discussed that soreness is caused by microtrauma of the muscle fibers? To repair this trauma, the body needs sufficient amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein.
Research shows getting protein immediately before and after exercise (combined with a small amount of carbohydrates) can help ease muscle soreness. Plus, it's really easy to just add a scoop of protein powder into that handy dandy little shaker cup of yours, so...no excuses!
It increases the body's speed with muscle synthesis. But wait, there's MORE!
One study conducted on 130 U.S. Marines found that marines eating protein (compared to a group who took no protein before or after exercise) had, “33 percent fewer total medical visits, including 28 percent less visits due to bacterial or viral infections, 37 percent less orthopedic-related visits, and 83 percent less visits due to heat exhaustion.” Also, in light of those test results, the ones who increased their protein intake had significantly reduced soreness.
So what kind of protein is best to consume, and how much?
For most active individuals, 0.8g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight is plenty to meet your needs. If you weigh 180 pounds (82kg) then you’re looking about 66 grams of protein per day.
To simplify things, focus on consuming healthy and clean food sources that contain a good amount of protein, including a balanced proportion of fats and carbs. With regular well-balanced meals you’ll easily meet your daily protein requirements. No crazy diets needed my friend.
3. Soak in Epsom Salt
Epsom salt, or magnesium sulfate, is a natural mineral compound historically known for its ability to reduce inflammation, ease stress, and flush toxins from the body.
Today we know that magnesium is indeed a true powerhouse nutrient, and you can find them at any of your local grocery stores.
Fun fact: Most of the magnesium in your body is located in the bones and muscles, making it a key player when we're targeting muscle repair. This also helps create ATP in the body, which increases muscle endurance for the exercises you'll be performing at your physical therapy office.
Even if you don't necessarily enjoy a hot soak in the tub, it’s important to note that magnesium absorbs best through the skin. In fact, doing do a few times a week is an effective and proactive way to ward off muscle soreness and helps get rid of it faster.
4. Ingest Anti-Inflammatory Foods
The most common side effects of injuries and post-workout muscle soreness is inflammation. With the inflammation (as mentioned earlier) comes that annoying body pain after nutrients are being shuttled to the area to rebuild vital tissues.
Because of this, trying out anti-inflammatory foods might help to quickly get rid muscle soreness. A few awesome foods fit for the job are below:
Turmeric, ginger, fatty Fish, olive oil, tomatoes, spinach, kale, nuts, and fruits.
5. Let's Rock and Roll! (Foam Roll)
Foam rolling is essentially an inexpensive, convenient way to give yourself a deep tissue massage.
The scientific term for rolling is myofascial release, which refers to releasing those deep knots formed in our muscles that can cause pain and stiffness.
But the benefits don’t stop there: foam rolling has also been shown to alleviate muscle fatigue, soreness, delayed-onset muscle soreness, and even enhance performance. One study found that foam rolling immediately after exercise improved muscle tenderness by a “moderate-to-large amount,” and also increased power and strength endurance.
Looking at these results, it seems the best time to foam roll would be after a workout. In reality, you can foam roll anytime you feel stiffness or soreness. Make sure to pause for a few breaths when you feel the foam hit those tighter-than-normal areas.
With these techniques, hopefully getting out of bed after some physical exercise will be less stressful and allow you to get back to your best self as quickly as possible!