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Weekend Warriors

by Liz Robins

When you are spending time outdoors this summer running or hiking, swinging a tennis racquet and golf club or working to stay in shape for swimsuit season, you may push it a bit too hard.

Although playing sports or completing an intense workout has its rewards—the endorphin high and sense of accomplishment—muscle soreness isn’t one of them.

“Micro-tears in the muscle that will eventually lead to muscle rebuilding and greater strength can, in the short term, also cause inflammation and sensitize pain receptors,” explains Kimberly Reich, assistant professor of exercise in the School of Health Sciences at High Point University in High Point, North Carolina.

As with so many aspects of good health, prevention is key when it comes to avoiding exercise-induced muscle soreness. Try these expert tips to circumvent the pain so you can revel in the rewards of your workout unimpeded.

Start Small

“The best prevention of muscle soreness is previous similar exercise,” says Reich. This is referred to as the repeated-bout effect. “It turns out that even doing the exercise at a much lower intensity will decrease the level of soreness that one would experience with subsequent higher intensity exercise.” If you’re starting a new strength-training regimen, for example, reach for lighter weights and focus on learning the exercises the first time around. “The next time you do the workout with heavier weights, you won’t feel as sore as you would have if you hadn’t done the ‘practice’ session,” says Reich.

Spice up Your Diet With Ginger

Ginger has been shown to reduce pain, decrease inflammation and speed recovery when consumed regularly, according to Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, RD, author of The SuperFoodsRx Diet (Rodale) and nutrition advisor at Golden Door fitness resort and spa in Escondido, California. “A few studies have shown that consuming ginger (roasted or raw) in reasonable ‘culinary doses’—a little less than half a teaspoon daily for 11 days before an exercise challenge—had a significant effect in reducing muscle pain caused by rigorous exercise,” she explains.

To reap the benefits, Bazilian recommends sipping ginger tea and adding the revered root to fish marinades, smoothies, salad dressings, yogurt and ice cream. It’s also a tasty addition to sliced or baked apples. “And honey-ginger carrots are delish,” she adds. For a summer quencher that’s really good for you, squeeze grated ginger into a lemonade and tea mix.

Try Tart Cherries

Like ginger, tart cherries are associated with anti-inflammatory effects, reduced pain and faster recovery when consumed regularly leading up to exercise. “Recent studies suggest that cherries may have powerful pain-relief benefits for marathoners and athletes of all levels,” says Bazilian. Antioxidant compounds called anthocyanins, which give cherries their color and have anti-inflammatory properties, are thought to be responsible. For a week leading up to your next race or rigorous workout, try tart cherry juice or snack on the whole fruit in dried or frozen forms. Your muscles will thank you.

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