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A Diet to Conquer Athletes' Aches
By Brett Warren

Whether you're a seasoned runner or a rookie determined to get started, post-workout pain can be a serious drag. Without proper preparation, from stretching to water intake, muscle soreness can be the motivation-killer that keeps us from even lacing up our shoes. Skip a day, and it's easier to skip the next as well.

Don't let that happen! Pain is normal, even for marathon runners (or especially for them, depending on your perspective!) Soreness means your muscles are getting stronger. Physiologists call the pain we feel 24 to 48 hours after activity 'delayed onset muscle soreness.'

Fortunately, by making simple adaptations in our diet, we can alleviate much of the soreness we initially feel. Your body doesn't want to hurt, but it can only work with the fuel you feed it. Start with these easy pain-killing foods:

  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids - These polyunsaturated fats, known to decrease inflammation, are found in fish, soybeans, walnuts, and flaxseeds. Omega-3s have long been known to help with the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, and the same principle applies to weary athletes. Salmon is rich in these oils, or get them through an organic fish oil supplement.
  • Banana, Pineapple, Cherry smoothies - For three fruits that pack a pain-fighting punch, mix up this delicious combo in your blender. Pineapples are rich in vitamin C and the enzyme bromelain, both of which encourage healing. Bromelain can also reduce swelling and tenderness. Cherries contain anthocyanins, an inflammation-reducing antioxidant. A study published in February 2011 by the American College of Sports Medicine found that drinking cherry juice daily can reduce muscle damage and speed post-workout recovery. (http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/216129.php).
  • Finally, stock up on potassium with bananas (Orange juice is rich in this vitamin as well). We lose potassium through sweat and muscle burning when we exercise -- replace it with at least one banana for each hour of activity.
  • Meat - After a workout, our body immediately gets to work repairing itself. The amino acids in protein are the building blocks for this process. But, a word of warning: Consuming high levels of protein without also eating carbohydrates can actually lead to increased pain! Somebody call Dr. Atkins, right? When it exploded in popularity, the Atkins Diet urged people to reduce carbs and up protein, thus encouraging the body to burn its fat reserves. Of course, the diet (and the results) were not largely sustainable. Whole grains and fruits are full of carbohydrates that our body needs. The sugars in these foods work with proteins to build muscle. If we deplete our muscles of the sugars in carbs, they will become more likely to cramp and ache. So, eat a chicken breast, but enjoy some quinoa or brown rice alongside it.

What Not to Eat

  • Ibuprofen and other anti-inflammatories. -  These drugs do alleviate our pain (and they're okay to take for isolated incidents), but relying on them can lead to big problems, including stomach bleeding. Furthermore, ultra athletes who take anti-inflammatories during exercise can cause blood sodium levels to drop, leading to dangerous neurological symptoms including seizures. Yikes!
  • Saturated and trans fats - You probably already know these fats are not good for you. The tricky thing is, saturated fats are in everything from ice cream to bacon. The good stuff, right? And trans fats may be even worse. Both increase our levels of body fat, which produces hormones that can actually increase inflammation! No good. A slimmer person's muscles will ache less than an overweight person. That doesn't make it any easier for the overweight people to start exercising, but it's another amazing benefit of what happens when they do.
  • Refined sugar and white flour - These empty carbs increase levels of pro-inflammatory compounds. That means more pain! Skip the cookies and feel better.   

When making dietary changes, for any reason, it's important to look at the big picture of your health. Fit, active people still feel muscle pain after running. The best ultra-marathon runners get sore. But, they'd be a whole lot worse if they tried to exert themselves like that without first setting the scene with the proper diet. From dark leafy greens to melons to fish oils, the more whole, healthy foods you eat, the better your muscles will feel the day after a workout. Most importantly, you'll be ready to get out there and burn those healthy calories all over again.

Brett Warren is a fitness and weightlifting enthusiast from Boston, Massachusetts. He is passionate about nutraceutical science and loves his job developing workout supplements for Force Factor. Brett's extensive background in biochemical engineering means he's one scientist you don't want to mess with. When Brett is not crushing it in the gym or working at Force Factor, you can find him spending time outdoors with his family.

Thanks Brett for sharing your article.

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