Are Your Muscles Sore and Joints Hurting? Here’s What You Should be Eating

When I first started cross country in high school I would go to sleep in a homemade pajama of Ben Gay slathered all over my sore legs. And then each morning at 5 am my sister would have to pry me out of bed for our newspaper route. As I threw one sore leg after the other off the bed I absolutely dreaded the thought of running, a necessary task since she made me go to the houses with the dogs that chased us and the sketchy places by the woods (I’m the youngest). If you too have tried Ben Gay, massage, ice packs or any other modality for trying to decrease muscle soreness and keep your joints moving, it’s time to fight exercise-induced inflammation through your diet.

Here’s what I’ll cover in this post (and as shared on Talk of Alabama this morning – see their website for more information):

  • The top two foods you need to decrease muscle soreness
  • Foods that keep your joints healthy

Talk of Alabama

Decreasing Muscle Soreness

When it comes to exercise, some inflammation is good and actually essential for muscle growth and repair. But, excess inflammation can lead to muscle cell damage and that feeling like you couldn’t possibly get off the couch for days. So, I recommend athletes include tart cherry juice into their regular nutrition regimen as a preventative measure. Research shows **tart cherry juice can help decrease exercise-induced muscle soreness and inflammation. Try it in a shake or check out my gelatin chews below.

Research from the University of Georgia found 2 grams of ginger, either fresh ginger or in spice form (they tested McCormick ginger), helps reduce muscle pain when consumed daily for 11 days prior to exercise testing. I have a few recipes below you might want to try. Also, check out Reed’s Ginger Brew (it is like ginger ale but made from real ginger with 17 grams per bottle!).

Keeping Your Joints Moving

Fatty fish including salmon, mackerel, herring, anchovies etc. contain long chain omega-3 fatty acids that have modest anti-inflammatory effects and have been shown to decrease cartilage breakdown (cartilage is like a sponge that cushions your joints so they can easily glide on top of one another) and inflammation in cell culture studies. In addition, research studies show these fatty acids can improve several symptoms associated with *rheumatoid arthritis and possibly even decrease the need for anti-inflammatory drugs. *Always talk to your physician if you have a disease such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Plus, there are two types of plant-based foods you should focus on. Foods rich in vitamin C including citrus, bell peppers, broccoli, strawberries, cauliflower, pineapple, kiwi. Vitamin C is necessary for repairing and maintaining cartilage and higher intakes are associated with less severe cartilage breakdown. In addition to vitamin C, yellow and orange fruits and vegetables contain an antioxidant that may improve bone formation and decrease bone breakdown. And finally, ginger is also effective for reducing joint pain though you have to consume it regularly over several weeks (500 mg ginger extract was used). 

Cherry Ginger Smoothie

8 oz. vanilla soymilk
1 scoop unflavored or vanilla whey protein (if using unflavored you may need to add a sweetener)
½ cup frozen tart cherries
2 tsp. (or more if desired) fresh cut ginger
Ice as desired

Add vanilla soymilk to blender followed by the rest of the ingredients in order. Blend until smooth.

Honey Ginger Salmon

4 salmon fillets (4-6 oz. each)
2 tsp. finely grated fresh ginger or 1 tsp. ginger spice
3 Tbsp. honey
2 tsp. olive oil
¼ cup soy sauce

Mix all ingredients except salmon in a bowl. Place marinade and salmon in large resealable plastic bag so that marinade coats salmon fillets. Refrigerate for 30 minutes or longer. Remove salmon fillets and grill 6 to 8 minutes per side or bake at 350°F for 15-20 minutes.

Fig Cherry Ginger Chews

13 dried figs
1/2 cup dried tart cherries
3 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

Place all ingredients in a food processor and mix throughly. Take small portions out and make small balls. If you want them even sweeter, roll finished balls in cane sugar or powdered coconut sugar.

Tart Cherry Gelatin

2 packets gelatin mix
2 cups tart cherry juice
3 tsp fresh ginger

Boil 1.5 cups tart cherry juice. While juice is boiling place remaining 1/2 tart cherry juice in a bowl and mix in gelatin packets. Let sit for at least one minute. When juice is finished boiling mix it into juice & gelatin mixture until throughly blended. Add 3 tsp. fresh grated ginger and 1 – 2 Tbsp. sugar if desired. Place mixture in an 8×8 pan and refrigerate for at least one hour. Remove from refrigerator and enjoy!

** TV segment, but not post, sponsored by the Cherry Marketing Institute

Gatorade’s Product Line – Confusing but Forging Forward

Written by: Sara Shipley, RD student, runner, nutrition writer and more

Gatorade fruit bites and pro chews? Yes, you read that right. PepsiCo’s brand is embarking on a major product expansion into a new market.

Recently, an article about Gatorade caught my eye, and here’s why. I find their product line a bit confusing. I know they offer an electrolyte-rich sports beverage to mass markets and serious athletes alike, but keeping up with the right drink to consume pre or post workout honestly gives me a headache. This article will shed light on the direction the brand is heading and how they are getting there.

At the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Florida, Gatorade has a lab and, well known sports figures including NBA star Dwayne Wade and Iman Shumpert are involved in the studies, which drive the scientist’s knowledge of an athlete’s needs for performance. The brand has set out to develop products that rival competition in other markets. ‘“One beverage can’t serve all your needs as an elite athlete,” says the brand’s chief, Sarah Robb O’Hagan. (Her official title is Gatorade president, North America, and global chief marketing officer, sports nutrition, for PepsiCo.) Gatorade’s goal is to go from a big fish in a $7 billion U.S. sports-drink industry to an even bigger fish in a $20 billion sports nutrition market.’

As the sports drink took a hit during the 2008 economy bust, Gatorade’s market share decreased from 80 to 74%. Compounded by competition in the performance fuel market (Jelly sport beans, energy bars and Honey Stinger waffles), professional and serious athletes were looking elsewhere for energy sources. Gatorade marketing strategists’ knew that in order to revive their brand, they would need to expand product offerings.

Examining athlete’s performance and nutrient absorption has been a major focus as Gatorade goes into the lab and tries to develop effective products. Lawrence Armstrong, professor of environmental and exercise physiology at the University of Connecticut’s human performance laboratory explained in the article: “Research says protein helps repair muscles after exercise. But simply chocking a bar full of protein won’t work. The body can handle only so much at a time. And even when the optimal level of a carbohydrate is determined, making large amounts of the supplement palatable in a drink requires further expertise. There are many, many factors that influence performance, including psychology, sleep, and environmental conditions.’’

As I mentioned, their product line seems convoluted. Gatorade executives agree. “I think it’s a very confusing brand,” says Tim Hoyle, director of research for PepsiCo.  Although the sports drink giant now offers a wider assortment of products, ‘Gatorade has its work cut out for it. It will need to persuade everyone from high school jocks to weekend tennis warriors that they should trade bananas for packaged carbohydrate chews, and peanut butter sandwiches for processed protein bites.’ Currently, three core product lines for G Series include ‘G’, ‘G Fit’, and ’G Pro’ and each offers pre, during and post workout products.  The ‘G’ line is targeted to ‘performance athletes such as high school teams or recreational adult league players- which according to the article make up nearly a quarter of the United States population.  The ‘G Fit’ is intended for the more moderately active population who exercises to stay healthy, but do not participate in competition. Finally, the ‘G Pro’ line is the list of products formally only available to pro athletes. Consumers are now able to purchase the bars and chews with precisely engineered ratios of carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and mineral for performance and recovery.

Armed with an assortment of new products, the brand faces another challenge. Executive Sarah Robb O’Hagan noticed the brand really wasn’t marketing to athletes. “The huge aha! for me was, ‘We’re an athletic performance brand, we’re selling in convenience and grocery stores, but we don’t even show up in a sporting goods store, in a cycling store, or in a place where an athlete actually goes to equip themselves to play sports.” Distribution will be instrumental in their success. Vice-President Brand Marketing Andrea Fairchild explains: “We are setting a different bar for how we are looking at retail’…instead of just stacking beverages high and selling them cheaply in grocery and convenience stores, the new strategy requires the company to rethink everything from advertising to in-store displays. Gatorade now is selling to GNC vitamin shops, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Whole Foods Market, and specialty sports stores. It’s about being where athletes shop and sweat.”

As an amateur runner, I have personally had great success with homemade pre- and post workout snacks, including peanut butter toast and Greek yogurt with oatmeal. However, I’m intrigued with the bite-sized fruit nut bars for long runs. Have you tried any of Gatorade’s new products? Do you think they can sustain their dominance in the market and grow as a sports nutrition resource? Share your comments!


Muscle Injuries in NFL Players Related to Low Vitamin D?

A new study presented at this month’s American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine conference suggests that low vitamin D levels may increase the likelihood of muscle injuries in athletes, specifically NFL players.

Vitamin D deficiency is rampant. Few foods contain this vitamin (fortified milk and other fortified products, fish – but you must eat the bones) and many of us aren’t getting the sunlight required to make vitamin D (not the best route anyway if you want to protect your skin). And, football players – even though they practice outside, are covered up in so much gear that little to no skin is exposed to UV rays from the sun.

In this study, 80% of the NFL football team studied had vitamin D insufficiency (they weren’t deficient per se, but their levels certainly weren’t optimal). Of the 89 NFL athletes on this team:

  • 27 were vitamin D deficient (< 20 ng/ml)
  • 45 had low levels (but not true deficiency; 20 – 31.9 ng/ml)
  • 17 players had normal vitamin D levels (> 32 ng/ml)
Among the players who were deficient in vitamin D, 16 suffered from a muscle injury. Though this study doesn’t show cause and effect but instead a relationship between vitamin D and muscle injuries, there are some clues from other studies about the role vitamin D plays in athletes:
  • skeletal muscle has a receptor for vitamin D (which in the body acts like a steroid hormone)
  • vitamin D deficiency has been tied to pain, specifically low back pain
  • vitamin D deficiency is tied to fat infiltration in muscle tissue (fatty muscle = less effective functioning of muscle tissue)
Athletes have a greater risk of developing a vitamin D deficiency if they:
  • live in the Northern half of the country (above Atlanta, GA)
  • play indoor sports or are covered in clothing outside
  • have darker skin
  • those who take in little to no vitamin D in their diet (fortified milk, fish with bones)
Signs & Symptoms of deficiency:
  • fatigue
  • muscle weakness or cramps
  • joint pain, lower back pain
  • constipation

If you are an athlete and want to perform at your best, it makes sense to get tested. Go to your primary care physician, campus health center or a local testing facility (Lapcorp, Quest, Ask for a 25(OH)D test and, get the results (don’t settle for them telling you that your levels are normal, low etc.). Ideally, for good health, your vitamin D should be 50 – 70 nmol/L or > 20 ng/ml (depending on the measure used).


Dairy for Athletes

If you took a look in my refrigerator, you’d see Friendship cottage cheese, Stonyfield Farms yogurt, organic milk, Cabot cheese, Laughing Cow light cheese and various other dairy products.  The four brands mentioned are among my all time favorite brands for both taste and nutrition value. Because I don’t eat chicken or turkey every day, I choose to get a good bit of the protein I need (and vitamins and minerals) from dairy foods. And, there’s no shortage of research telling me that I’m making a smart move.

Dairy products are jam packed with two of the best sources of protein for muscle, whey and casein, plus vitamins and minerals. Some are also loaded with probiotics, the healthy bacteria that keep your immune system running well and improve some symptoms of gastrointestinal upset (yogurt, kefir, Yakult, Bio-K are good bets). Studies tell me that cereal + milk is as effective as traditional sports drinks for recovery, chocolate milk is great for recovery and casein (cottage cheese is a great source) and whey (milk, protein powders) are fantastic for building muscle and decreasing body fat.

So why do so many people skimp on dairy? Some do so because they are worried about lactose. However, a recent NIH Consensus Development Conference on Lactose Intolerance and Health came to the following conclusions (after thoroughly looking through the literature):

  • Without milk and milk products, it’s tough to meet nutrient needs (such as calcium, vitamin D and potassium)
  • People with lactose intolerance can tolerate at least 12 grams of lactose (that’s one cup of milk)
  • Gradually reintroducing dairy to the diet can help people with lactose intolerance manage their symptoms better
  • If you are lactose intolerant, choose small doses and incorporate cheese (which is relatively low in lactose; especially hard cheese which has very little lactose) into your diet. You can also try lactose free milk.

If you want to build a strong body from the inside out, choose dairy. The protein will satiate your appetite and build muscle tissue. The calcium and vitamin D will build your bones and teeth, keep your immune system running strong, and help with nerve transmission and muscular contractions (calcium does this). Dairy is one of nature’s most perfect foods for athletes.