Physical 

8 Natural Ways to Promote Muscle Recovery

September 24, 2020 6 min read

Man running on the street outside

Dr. Sandra El Hajj-MSc, N-MD, DHSc

Whether you’re beginning a new workout routine or are a seasoned athlete, you’re probably familiar with the soreness that can set in a day or two after a tough workout. Formally known as delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS for short, the soreness you experience following a workout is the result of temporary damage to your muscle fibers(1). Given that exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health, let’s talk about natural ways to improve muscle recovery.

When you workout, you’re improving your insulin sensitivity, reducing inflammation, enhancing your cardiovascular health, gaining muscle mass and reducing body fat. All of these factors work to enhance your well-being. But it’s important to keep in mind that physical exertion should be accompanied by rest time to allow for proper recovery between sessions. When you ignore resting between workouts, you’re putting yourself at higher risk of hormonal disturbances, fatigue, mood fluctuations, feelings of stress and disrupted sleep patterns(2).

Rest time helps you get the most out of every workout you’re doing. It helps your body re-energize, preventing injury and burnout. Muscle strains are among the most common muscular injuries, so it’s important to take the proper steps to prevent them. Here are eight natural methods you can use at home to help speed your muscle recovery, along with a few bonus tips.

1. Eat anti-inflammatory foods

Inflammation contributes to adverse effects in your body including joint stiffness, swelling and muscle pain. While many resort to anti-inflammatory drugs to mask the pain, they are not treating the root cause of the inflammation. Inflammation in the body indicates a problem that has to be addressed, so it’s not something you should ignore. Addressing inflammation to heal your muscles is an important post-workout practice. Fortunately, anti-inflammatory food can help. Here’s a list of the top anti-inflammatory foods to reach for when (or before) you’re feeling sore:

  • Berries are superfoods that are high in anthocyanins(3). These are potent anti-inflammatory agents that can lower your body’s inflammation and help with muscle recovery. Berries include strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries.
  • Fatty fish are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are excellent for combating inflammation in the body. These include salmon, sardines, herring, mackerel, anchovies and others.
  • Broccoli and cauliflower are rich in sulforaphane, which can help fight inflammation by lowering the levels of cytokines responsible for producing inflammation.
  • Avocados are a recommended dietary staple for those who are active. They are high in potassium, magnesium, fiber, monounsaturated fatty acids, carotenoids and tocopherols—all of which can help calm muscle inflammation.
  • Peppers are loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants. They are rich in quercetin that may tackle inflammation.
  • Mushrooms are rich in selenium, copper, and B-vitamins. They are rich in phenols and anti-inflammatory agents.
  • Grapes are rich in resveratrol that can decrease the production of inflammatory gene markers.
Avocado toast with an egg for protein and muscle recovery

2. Eat a diet rich in proteins and amino acids

Eating the right types of proteins can help your muscles recover and rebuild faster. Always opt for lean proteins like chicken, tuna or eggs. You may also want to try plant-based protein from legumes like garbanzo beans, edamame and black beans. Finally, peanut butter is an excellent post-workout source of protein. Consider mixing yourself a protein-rich salad with boiled eggs, grilled chicken breast, edamame and chickpeas topped with almonds and quinoa.

3. Go for compound muscle movement

Acompound exercise is one that requires the use of multiple muscle groups for a single movement. Among the many benefits of compound exercises, they can promote joint stability and increase the efficiency of your workouts. Sticking to compound movements in your routine can also help reduce the stress inflicted on one single muscle, accelerating the recovery process.

4. Eat a lot of fruits and veggies

An important component of recovery includes eating the right fruits and veggies. Healthy fruit options include oranges, cherries, grapefruits, watermelon, apples and melons. Bananas, in particular, are rich in carbohydrates that are perfect for post-workout replenishment. They’re also high in potassium which helps to rebalance electrolytes in fatigued muscles, promoting recovery.

To ensure you’re getting your greens, consider a post-workout smoothie blended with kale, banana, berries or any other produce you’d like to add. This is one of the simplest ways to get the proper servings of fruits and veggies into your diet every day.

5. Drink a lot of water

Drinking water is one of the most important steps to keeping your cells functioning as they should. It’s advised that you don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink water. If you’re not properly hydrated, your muscles will be stiff and at higher risk of injury. To stay on top of hydration, make sure you’re drinking a glass of water every hour.

6. Epsom salt

Epsom salt is not the same salt you’re putting on your table. Instead, Epsom salt is made of magnesium sulfate. Fortunately for your muscles, magnesium is a powerful muscle relaxant that helps tone down tissue swelling. All you have to do is add two cups of Epsom salt to a warm bath and soak the aching muscle areas in it for 15 minutes.

7. Heat therapy

When you apply heat to your aching muscles, you’re increasing the flow of oxygen and other nutrients to them. This will help suppress the pain signals sent to your brain while nourishing the aching area. You can apply a hot towel, a heating pad or maybe a hot bottle to ease the aches.

8. Use essential oils

An aching muscle warrants individualized attention, which essential oils can provide. You can use essential oils on their own or mix them with a carrier oil that can help them penetrate the skin better. Pick the right carrier for you and mix it with 8 to 12 drops of the essential oil of your choice. Some of the best essential oils include:

  • Peppermint oil
  • Lemongrass oil
  • Chamomile oil
  • Lavender oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Marjoram oil
  • Juniper oil
  • Yarrow oil
  • Ginger oil
Essential oil poured out onto a white countertop

Other recommendations

  • Stretch. When you’re sore from a workout, your muscles are likely to feel tight which can prevent you from wanting to move more. Unfortunately, this can make the pain worse. You need to keep stretching, as often as possible. The more you incorporate stretching into your daily routine, the easier your recovery will be.
  • Cool down with ice. Muscle pain indicates inflammation of the muscle fibers. Ice can act as an anesthetic, helping to relieve pain you may be feeling after exercising. It’s best to apply ice as quickly as possible after a workout, as it can prevent inflammation from accelerating during the recovery process.
  • Try ginger. A study published by theJournal of Pain explored the benefits of ginger in the reduction of muscle pain(4). The results showed that consuming ginger on a daily basis can help reduce pain caused by exercise.
  • Add cherry juice to your smoothies. Cherry juice has been shown to help relieve exercise-induced muscle soreness (5). The pigment responsible for coloring cherries dark red is a potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. To maximize its effect, you might blend a post-workout smoothie combining several antioxidants like cherries, kale and blueberries.

In summary

Regular exercise is one of the best measures you can take to improve your overall health and well-being. With benefits for cardiovascular, mental and physical health, there’s little that exercise can’t improve. The opportunity for harm from exercise comes in the form of overexertion orovertraining. When you fail to provide your muscles with enough time to recover from strenuous workouts, it can lead to negative health outcomes.

To promote healthy recovery at home, prioritize proper nutrition and hydration as a cornerstone of your post-workout routine. This includes eating anti-inflammatory fruits and veggies, lean proteins and drinking enough water. Other natural recovery remedies include Epsom salt baths, heat and ice therapy, essential oils and stretching. Finally, remember the importance of rest days and provide yourself one or more days per week strictly dedicated to muscle recovery. By keeping these healthy habits around exercise in mind, you’ll be well on your way to meeting your strength goals and maximizing the potential of each workout session.