Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Muscle Away from Aches and Pains

Muscle Away from Aches and Pains
Sarah Reid, RHNC

We’ve all been there – the day after a training session at the gym, an all-day stint playing soccer and tag at a family picnic, an afternoon of  mall-crawling  for Christmas gifts or even a day out in the garden pulling weeds. What felt great during the activity now burns and aches, and even the simple act of reaching into the cupboard for your morning cereal sends twinges of pain through your muscles. Activity-related muscle soreness, stiffness and injuries are more common in “everyday” non-training individuals than with athletes pulling hours at the gym, simply due to the fact that we generally do not think to warm up, cool down or stretch during our mundane chores, and our diets are much less designed for recovery and prevention than those working out for a living. No matter if you’re a weight room regular or you’re simply gearing up for a winter of skating, tobogganing and cross-country skiing, there are a few nutrients you should be aware of to minimize that muscular hangover.

Muscle soreness after new or prolonged exercise (also called Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness [DOMS]) is the result of microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. Any activity, especially those you aren't used to, can lead to the onset of DOMS, but large volumes of movement that cause forceful muscle contractions often cause the most soreness.

A balanced, high-nutrient diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains should be the “norrn” no matter how much or what type of activity you take part in. However, endurance and strength athletes will both tell you there is no substitute for proper preparation before a workout or event. Physically, this means a decent “warm up” period of light cardio activity such as walking or stair-climbing to get your heart and muscles prepared. Nutritional preparation, however, is a bit lengthier to accomplish fully, although even a few days of eating differently have marked results. Foods high in vitamin E (like whole grains, sunflower seeds and spinach), vitamin C (papaya, bell peppers and berries), the B-complex (whole grains, oily fish, and legumes), choline (soy foods, eggs and bananas), and potassium (mushrooms, squash and eggplant) are essential for pre-exercise fueling. Vitamins E and C are intensive antioxidants that fight cellular damage (and subsequent inflammation) that occurs with muscle use. Vitamin C also has the role of replenishing vitamin E stores in the cells, which in turn helps to clear the buildup of lactic acid and cellular waste from the muscles to prevent the next day pain. The B complex of vitamins is instrumental in helping the muscle cells use and regenerate their energy stores, and also help bring muscle-repairing oxygen to the tissues – preventing major damage and minimizing recovery time.  Choline’s main job in the body is to keep the levels of a pro-inflammatory amino acid called homocysteine low in the blood. By doing this, chance of chronic inflammation and irritation caused by muscle use is greatly reduced. Finally, having adequate potassium in the blood and muscle keeps contractions smooth and replenishes the glucose stores in the cells for later use as energy. Try to “load up” on foods rich in these nutrients for at least a week before you know you’ll be stepping up the activity so your body has enough stores to cope.

While you’re in the midst of activity it can be hard to remember the most important key of all when it comes to fighting off muscle soreness – hydration. Most people don’t drink enough water under normal circumstances, and this need is multiplied when we are active. When properly hydrated before, during and after exercise, the muscle fibres are more elastic and the damage caused by movement is lessened. The Institute of Medicine advises an average of 11 cups for adults daily – and a good rule of thumb while exercising is ½-1 cup (4-8 oz) of water every 20 minutes, more often in hot or cold weather. If the exercise is for longer than an hour at a moderate to strenuous pace, replacing carbohydrates and electrolytes with a low-glycemic sports supplement interspersed with still water should be consumed during this time. Examples of storebought formulas are Cytomax® Performance Plus or GU Electrolyte Brew, but they are costly and not strictly necessary for those who are lightly to moderately active (the category for most people at the gym). It is simple to make your own, better balanced blend from 1 part tart cherry juice, 1 part peach juice, 3 parts clear water, 1/4 tsp sea salt - all of which provide electrolytes as well as carbohydrates.   

What about after the deed’s been done? Luckily, the speed of recovery is greatly enhanced by the basics of active stretching and proper nutrition choices – relatively simple and a good deal less expensive than massage therapy and painkillers! Increasing foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc, phytonutrients and the amino acid glutamine assist in preventing inflammation, repairing muscle fibres, detoxifying the chemicals created by cellular energy production and relaxing the entire body (preventing cramps and spasms). As well, foods rich in proteases (like bromelian in raw pineapple or papain in papaya) are powerful anti-inflammatory agents due to their activity breaking down the excess proteins that lead to swelling.

When looking for a pre-workout snack or meal, don’t eschew the carbs and focus entirely on protein, since not feeding the muscle cells leads to fatigue and increased damage. One of the best combinations is a (¼ cup) serving of almonds (rich in fibre, vitamin E, magnesium, potassium  and almost equal in protein and carbs) paired with a cup or so of antioxidant- and anti-inflammatory-rich fresh berries like blueberries or cherries. After working out or being more active than your usual, a snack with complex carbohydrates, protein, a touch of fat and lots of antioxidants is required for recovery. Try an omega-3 rich brown rice and salmon bowl with a dark green veggie (kale or broccoli are good choices) or a black bean and papaya salad (full of glutamine, enzymes, vitamin C, vitamin E, manganese and magnesium) with whole grain toast and almond or sunflower seed butter (filled with B-complex vitamins, vitamin E, manganese, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus).  

Don’t let the weeks go by without regular activity thanks to the fear post-workout pain can cause. Prevent the worst of the damage with proper diet, hydration and physical preparation and accentuate the healing process with more of the same. The burn will soon be only be felt while on the StairMaster and not two days later!

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I started my "working life" as a holistic and allopathic nutritional consultant with a love of cooking. Teaching the value of wholesome meal choices to families became close to my heart after I battled a long history of struggles with weight and health, and the passion for teaching led me into where I am now. My blog, which focuses on "bringing good taste to healthier food" through creative use of whole grains, fresh produce and acknowledging the importance of the occasional treat, also features a wealth of "specialty diet" friendly recipes for gluten-, egg-, dairy- and sugar- tree nut-free items that everyone can enjoy without alienating those who need them.

Overall, I want to bring back the desire for good quality, homemade, (mostly) healthy food into the hearts and kitchens of families so that the next generation will be less box-reliant than mine. I firmly believe that any “homemade” food, even when labelled as "naughty", is a more wholesome treat than pre-packaged, cookie-cutter junk. With the knowledge of good food (and how to cook good food) as a base, a healthy lifestyle can follow, and then anything is possible!