Starting a new exercise regimen? Use these supplements to replenish lost nutrients and minimize injury.
Exercise builds and tones muscle, strengthens the heart, and improves lung function. But during and immediately after strenuous exercise, your body is stressed. Sweat wicks away potassium and other minerals, saps energy reserves, and leaves muscles fatigued and sore.
How can you bounce back safely and quickly? Don’t sabotage the process with sport mixes and drinks loaded with refined sugars, such as glucose, fructose, and the infamous high-fructose corn syrup. Instead, reach for these nutrients and herbs to speed recovery and minimize post-exercise aches.
Omegas. Muscle soreness results from microscopic tissue tears and the resulting inflammation, says elite-athlete trainer Joe Friel, author of The Triathlete’s Training Bible (Velo Press, 2009). The Danish Olympic team has long used a combination of omega-3 fish oils and gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), an anti-inflammatory omega-6 plant oil, to dampen inflammation and encourage healing. Vegetarians can take algae-sourced omega-3s, which, milligram for milligram, are just as potent as fish oil.
Dose: For overuse injuries, take 700 mg omega-3s and 700 mg GLA daily until healed. For mild post-exercise soreness, try 400 mg omega-3s and 100 mg GLA.
Boswellia. This herbal extract, a staple in Ayurvedic medicine, offers impressive anti-inflammatory benefits. It works slightly differently from many other natural remedies: Boswellia blocks an inflammatory pathway known as 5-lipoxygenase, whereas omega-3s inhibit inflammatory prostaglandins. The benefit of taking both is that you can dampen inflammation in multiple ways, boosting the odds of exercise-induced pain relief.
Dose: 125–150 mg daily.
Curcumin. This turmeric root extract blocks inflammation at 97 biochemical sites in the body, likely making it the most potent anti-inflammatory herb. A recent study found it provides even more health benefits, such as improving blood vessel tone in postmenopausal women who exercise.
Dose: 300–750 mg daily.
Pycnogenol. Harmful molecules commonly known as free radicals spike during exercise—possibly because of tissue damage—promoting inflammation. Pycnogenol, a proprietary extract of French maritime pine bark, contains a complex of 40-some antioxidants that, as a group, battle inflammation. Research on Pycnogenol shows it could help ease inflammatory overuse injuries, according to Ronald Watson, PhD, a supplements researcher at the University of Arizona, Tucson.
Dose: 150–300 mg daily.
Whey protein. It’s crucial to consume protein after your workout because muscles need it to rebuild, says Loren Cordain, PhD, coauthor of The Paleo Diet for Athletes (Rodale, 2012) and professor of exercise physiology at Colorado State University in Fort Collins. Some evidence also suggests that whey protein can boost metabolism, aiding weight loss efforts. A simple approach is to mix a scoop of whey powder in vanilla almond milk; shake vigorously before drinking.
Dose: Follow label directions.
Coconut water. This popular beverage is a natural source of electrolytes—four minerals that keep the heart beating and muscles working, while also preventing muscle cramping. Coconut water is particularly rich in potassium (averaging 600 mg per 11 ounces) and contains modest amounts of calcium, magnesium, and sodium. Its naturally occurring sugars—about 14 grams per serving—are a fraction of those found in soda and many energy drinks, but watch out for brands that add sweeteners, such as high-calorie fruit concentrates.
Dose: 11 or so ounces immediately after exercise.
Recovery products to try:
Carlson Inflammation Balance. Contains anti-inflammatory omega-3 fish oils and GLA, plus vitamin E.
New Chapter Zyflamend. This formula combines 10 herbs to support a healthy inflammation response.
Solgar No. 7. Seven ingredients (mostly herbs) ease exercise-induced sore muscles and joints.