Aching after a brutal workout? Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can make you feel the burn while your muscles recover and rebuild. But, if you take the right steps after your workout, you can go hard without paying the price. Here are 8 easy ways to prevent postworkout pain.
Stretch. Stretching is your first line of defense after a good workout. “When you train, you contract the muscles, and the muscle fibers get shorter,” says Steve Edwards, Head of Fitness and Nutrition Development at Beachbody®. “Lengthening them after a workout promotes mobility, and can lead to a more thorough recovery.” While fitness experts can’t seem to agree on this strategy—one Australian study claimed that stretching had no impact on muscle soreness—it certainly won’t hurt, especially if your flexibility is limited.
Eat for rapid recovery. In a study on “nutrient timing,” researchers found that a postworkout drink with between a 3:1 to 5:1 carb-to-protein ratio reduced muscle damage and improved recovery times. A tough workout depletes blood sugar, as well as the glycogen stored in your muscles. Restoring that supply within an hour of finishing your workout is your body’s top priority. P90X® Results and Recovery Formula® is optimized with the 4:1 ratio, but in a pinch, down a glass of grape juice with whey protein powder or a glass of chocolate milk. Denis Faye, Beachbody’s Nutrition Expert, explains. “When the sugar [from the drink] rushes into your muscles to restore that supply, the protein piggybacks to jump-start the recovery process.”
Ice it. Immediately after a tough workout, icing your muscles can stave off inflammation. “Inflammation is one of nature’s defense mechanisms, but it works like a cast—it immobilizes you,” Edwards says. “When you keep inflammation down, that area is free to keep moving, and movement promotes healing.” Like stretching, its effectiveness is up for debate—some researchers have claimed that ice is only effective for injuries and not for run-of-the-mill soreness, but it’s a simple and safe option that many top-level athletes swear by. “Unless you ice so long that you give yourself frostbite, there’s really no danger,” Edwards says. “It seems to really speed up healing without any adverse effects.”
Change your diet. “When your muscles are sore, inflammation is a huge part of the problem,” Faye says. To help reduce this inflammation, add foods that are rich in omega-3s—such as salmon, free-range meat, flax, avocado, and walnuts—to your diet. The natural anti-inflammatory properties of these foods can help dial back the soreness after overexertion. Amino acid supplements can also help with muscle recovery after a high-intensity workout.
Massage your sore spots. A recent study found that massage can reduce inflammatory compounds called cytokines. One type of massage that’s gaining popularity is myofascial release, which targets the connective tissue covering the muscles. You can hit these areas yourself using a foam roller—put the roller on the floor, use your body weight to apply pressure, and roll back and forth over the sore areas for about 60 seconds. But . . . before you do, make sure you’re rehydrated and your heart rate is back to normal. “When your muscles are hot and loaded with lactic acid, you might make it worse,” Edwards says. For a more detailed tutorial on foam rolling, check out the Beachbody Tai Cheng® program.
Get heated. While ice can work wonders immediately after a workout, heat can help once your muscles have returned to their resting temperature. “Heat increases circulation, especially focused heat in a jacuzzi, where you can hit areas like joints that don’t normally get a lot of circulation,” Edwards says. Just don’t jump in the hot tub immediately after a workout, because the heat can exacerbate inflammation, and the jets can pound your already-damaged muscles. Edwards cautions, “When your body heat is already high and you have a lot of muscle breakdown, sitting in a hot tub with the jets would be counterintuitive.”
Move it. You may be tempted to plant yourself on the couch until the pain subsides, but don’t skip your next workout. Circulation promotes healing, so it helps to get your heart pumping—just don’t overdo it. “Active recovery” is low-intensity exercise that gets your blood flowing without taxing your muscles. What qualifies as low-intensity? It depends on your typical workout. If you know your training zones, you can use a heart rate monitor. But, Edwards says, the easiest way to engage in active recovery is to exert around 50% of your max effort, and keep your heart rate below 140 bpm or so. Most Beachbody workout programs include a recovery workout, but if yours doesn’t, a gentle yoga class or going on an easy hike are good options.
Pop a painkiller—if you must. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen can relieve pain, but many experts aren’t sure if they’re worth the risk. “A lot of athletes call it ‘Vitamin I,'” Edwards says. But he cautions that NSAIDs can cause nasty side effects and accelerate muscle breakdown. “The only time they might help is if you’re in so much pain that you can’t do low-level exercise—you can’t get off the couch,” Edwards says. In that case, meds might help, but be careful not to overdo it—because if you’re not feeling pain, you may push too hard and cause an injury.
Past research has shown how yoga could help to lower depression and improve cognitive functioning among caregivers — and now, a new study is showing exactly what is responsible for that effect.
University of California, Los Angeles, researchers found that participating in Kirtan Kriya Meditation — a kind of yoga practice — is linked with a decrease in inflammation.
“This is encouraging news,” study researcher Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA, said in a statement. “Caregivers often don’t have the time, energy, or contacts that could bring them a little relief from the stress of taking care of a loved one with dementia, so practicing a brief form of yogic meditation, which is easy to learn, is a useful too.”
The new study, published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, included 45 caregivers for family members with dementia who were split up into two groups: one that did the 12-minute yoga practice once a day for eight weeks, and one that just listened to relaxing music for 12 minutes once a day for eight weeks.
The researchers found that the caregivers who participated in the yoga practice experienced a change in the response of 68 genes, leading to the decrease in inflammation. Inflammation has been linked with health problems like heart disease, depression, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, Scientific American reported.
According to the American Medical Association, 16 percent of caregivers have worsened health after they’ve begun caring for someone. And about half of Alzheimer’s disease caregivers go on to develop psychological distress.
In a previous study conducted by the UCLA researchers in the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, they found that Kirtan Kriya was linked with better scores on a depression and mental health scale than just relaxation.
You don’t need us to tell you that losing weight — and keeping it off — is hard. About 80 percent of people who lose weight gain it all back, and sometimes more, within a year, experts say. But understanding why weight loss is so difficult can help you stop beating yourself up over every little setback, and increase your chances of success. Forget the gimmicks, and come to terms with these difficult weight-loss lessons.
Hard Truth No. 1: Your Body Works Against You
It’s not your imagination. When you try to lose weight, you’re not only fighting your cravings, but also your own body. When you lose body fat, you decrease the hormone leptin, which signals your brain that you’re full, and you increase the hormone gherlin, which stimulates hunger, Australian researchers found. The bad news is that this hormone imbalance continues long after dieters succeed at weight loss, making it even harder for them to keep the pounds off. But if you try to cut too many calories for weight loss, your body will go into hibernation mode so that you don’t starve, and your metabolism will slow, Sarah Dolven, MD, an endocrinologist in Charleston, S.C. explains.
It’s also important to realize that once you reach your weight-loss goal and start eating a little more again, the pounds can come back pretty quickly, so it’s smart to increase your calories gradually.
Hard Truth No. 2: There Are No Quick Fixes
Wishing you were 30 pounds lighter in time for your high school reunion next month will not make it so, and there are no magic pills or miracle cures that can make it happen. “When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s hard to be patient,” says Mark Pettus, MD, chief of medicine at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany, N.Y., who also developed and teaches the Healthy Living program at the Western Massachusetts Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge. But you have to be patient because quick starvation diets can wreak havoc on your metabolism, damaging your weight-loss efforts for the long term. As you start your diet, remember that slow and steady weight loss is the easiest to maintain, Pettus says, and aim for one to two pounds of fat loss each week.
Hard Truth No. 3: Exercise Can’t Conquer All
Yes, exercise helps you lose weight and keep it off — the National Weight Control Registry reports that people who maintain their weight loss exercise for at least 60 minutes most days — but it’s nearly impossible to lose weight from exercise alone, Pettus says. Just do the math: A 135-pound person biking 60 minutes at 12 miles an hour will burn 369 calories. You can put all that back on with just a post-workout protein bar. To lose a pound of fat, you have to burn 3,500 calories more than you consume, so you can see how hard it is to exercise your way through a poor diet. Instead, you have to watch what you eat and exercise, Pettus says. If there’s any “magic” to dieting, it’s in that combination.
Hard Truth No. 4: Diet Supplements Don’t Work
Those little pills that claim to supercharge your metabolism are tempting, but there’s little evidence that they work. After a review of thousands of dieters, researchers at Beth Israwl Deaconess Medical Center in Boston found that liquid diets, fad diets, and over-the-counter supplement were not linked to weight loss. So what worked? Portion control, regular exercise, and group support. As Dolven says, “nothing replaces a low-calorie diet and exercise for weight loss.”
Hard Truth No. 5: Fad Diets Don’t Work
Grapefruit. Maple syrup. Cabbage. Apple-cider vinegar. Juice. All these “miracle” diets are supposed to help you melt pounds and trigger fat burning. The hard fact: Not only is it hard to lose weight on fad diets, but also they can be so restrictive that they’re almost impossible to follow, and they can damage your metabolism. When it comes to weight loss, Dolven warns that if it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Not to belabor the point, she says, “but the key to weight loss is to be diligent about eating quality calories and staying physically active.”
Hard Truth No. 6: One Diet Doesn’t Fit All
Every body is unique, so the diet that works for your friend, your co-worker, your mother, or your sister might not work for you. When looking at how best to lose weight, consider your health and family history, your metabolism, your activity level, your age, your gender, and your likes and dislikes. When you’re dieting, it’s important to allow yourself some foods that you enjoy, Dolven says, or else you’ll feel deprived and be less likely to stick with an overall healthy eating plan. For weight-loss success, tailor your diet to your body and accept that one diet won’t work for everyone.
Hard Truth No. 7: Building Muscle Is Hard Work
Because a pound of muscle burns more calories at rest than a pound of fat, an increased muscle mass is the key to a revved metabolism — plus it helps you look more sleek and svelte. Unfortunately, many dieters skip strength training when in reality, it’s one of the most important components if your weight-loss plan. Schedule it into your routine two to three times a week, along with at least three 30-minute cardio sessions.
Hard Truth No. 8: He Can Eat More Than She Can
It doesn’t seem fair, but men can eat more than women and still lose weight. That’s because men tend to naturally burn more calories than woman, thanks to their larger size, muscle mass, and elevated levels of the hormone testosterone, which promotes muscle growth. Plus, the male body is genetically designed for more muscle and less fat than the female body because men do not have to store the energy required to bear children. Once you come to terms with this fact and start eating less than your male partner or friends, the scale will thank you.
Hard Truth No. 9: It’s Not a Diet, It’s a Lifestyle Change
If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you have to change your behavior not just until you reach your goal weight, but for the months and years to follow. That’s because as soon as you stop your “diet,” you’re likely to gain back the pounds you worked so hard to shed. To be successful at weight loss, you need to make lifestyle changes, healthy food choices at most every meal, and exercise almost every day for a minimum of 30 minutes a session (60 is even better). Getting to your healthy weight and staying there really has to be a way of life for the long haul, Dolven says.