Q. Can supplements help muscles recover after exercise?

A. Forget the outdated saying, "No pain, no gain." A growing body of evidence indicates that the muscle damage and inflammation that develops after a strenuous workout—particularly if you have not exercised much recently—is not just a sign of hard work, but also the result of out-of-control free radicals wreaking havoc on your muscles.

Aerobic exercise that makes you breathe hard produces more free radicals in your body than when you are at rest (because you are using 10 to 20 times more oxygen). Fortunately, the body has a natural antioxidant defense system to counteract those extra free radicals; in fact, regular exercise primes your antioxidant defenses. But if you don't get an aerobic workout regularly (at least three times a week)—and, let's face it, that's most of us—you probably don't have the necessary internal defenses.

But the fix may be as close as your supplement aisle. Upping your intake of antioxidants—500 mg of vitamin C and 100 IU of vitamin E daily—has been shown in some studies to boost the body's ability to recover. If you are sore after a workout, homeopathic arnica gel rubbed on problem areas (or tablets taken internally) can speed your recovery. Or try eucalyptus ointment to remedy muscle soreness.

This Q&A was written by Victoria Dolby Toews, health journalist and author of The Soy Sensation (McGraw-Hill, 2002). Toews lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest, where they enjoy hiking and cycling.