Maintaining an active lifestyle is one of the most important things you can do for your health. Study after study demonstrates that those who are active throughout life enjoy the highest quality of life. But, being active often means muscle and joint soreness that may interfere with your goal to live an active life. Fortunately, a number of natural solutions can help you recover more quickly and get back in the game.
Muscles are stressed during moderate to intense physical activity, which can lead to micro-tears in the muscle fibers. Your body is well-prepared to repair and adapt to these tiny tears. It initiates processes that cause muscle growth and equips the muscles to better handle the same physical activity next time.
Dietary protein plays a critical role in this repair and building process. Your body breaks down dietary protein into amino acids that the body uses to assemble new muscle tissue. Some of the most important amino acids for muscle repair are the branched chain amino acids (BCAAs): L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine. Your body can’t manufacture essential amino acids and must obtain them from diet. The key is you must supply your body with enough protein to obtain the amino acids it relies on to repair and build muscles efficiently.
Protein supplements are a fantastic way to ensure your body has the amino acids it depends on for muscle repair and growth following physical activity. Recently, there has been a move to plant protein options for multiple reasons, one of which is it is easier on the digestive system. Combining pea and rice protein creates a complete plant protein source that is medium digesting (providing a more sustained delivery of amino acids).
Another rich source of plant protein is found in the leaves of Moringa oleifera trees. It provides 9.4 grams of protein per 100 grams of leaves — compared to 2.7 g for rice and 5.4 g for peas. (1,2,3) It is also an excellent source of essential amino acids and BCAAs. (4) Combining Moringa, pea, and rice proteins makes a complete protein that provides the body the amino acids it needs for muscle repair and growth after activity.
Your joints also require a constant supply of building blocks to maintain joint health and function. One of the primary basic building blocks of joints is glucosamine—an amino sugar. Glucosamine is used by the body to build other chemicals that are vital to healthy tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and synovial fluid (the thick fluid that surrounds joints). Taking a product that combines BCAAs with glucosamine aids joint and muscle recovery after activity.
Beyond internal nutrients, external topicals containing targeted essential oils and ingredients can soothe sore areas after physical activity. Some of the key ingredients to look for in topical creams, rubs, or essential oil blends include:
- Arnica. This time-tested herbal and homeopathic solution effectively relieves minor aches and discomfort when applied topically. Clinical research demonstrates that regular application is soothing. (5)
- Methyl salicylate or wintergreen essential oil. Wintergreen essential oil is over 95% methyl salicylate (a compound similar to aspirin). This compound is warming to tissues and supports a normal inflammatory response.
- Menthol or peppermint essential oil. Peppermint, or one of its key bioactives menthol, is cooling to the skin (similar to applying ice). Minor discomforts are soothed as the temperature of the application site drops lower than surrounding tissue.
- Willow Bark. The bark of the willow tree contains salicin (another compound similar to aspirin). This ingredient has been employed in herbal medicine for centuries to relieve minor aches.
- Extracted from the cayenne pepper, capsicum is widely used in creams to manage pain. It creates localized heat and stimulates surface circulation at the application site.
- Camphor essential oil. Warming and with the ability to enhance the penetration of other substances, camphor essential oil is soothing to minor aches.
The greatest benefit from topicals is achieved when multiple essential oils or other natural ingredients are combined. Doing so creates a synergy and allows the varying ingredients to act on multiple pathways that lead to soothing relief.
Don’t let muscle and joint soreness prevent you from participating in your favorite activities. Supply the body with optimum protein levels through a plant-based protein supplement, take glucosamine and BCAAs, and massage away aches with natural topicals.