A Little Post-Workout Hack

It has been quite a while since I last posted here… unfortunately conventional medicine has taken over again. My final year has been busy thus far, and is set to get busier!

At the moment I am in Family Medicine – dealing with diseases of lifestyle such as diabetes and high blood pressure. This has once again stimulated my interest in diets and lifestyle. I acknowledge the inherent limitations in implementing low carbohydrate diets in poor communities, namely the cost of breads and maize being so attractive, but I cannot help but feel we continue to throw drugs at these conditions with little effort into actually changing the root problem. Of course, another limiting factor is the lack of education and motivation to change in people whose lives are prioritised around issues that they perceive to be more immediate in nature than their overall health. So needless to say, I have been feeling quite despondent in this block, questioning the effort I would be willing to put in in the future to change population health in this setting, and wondering whether my true specialty interest lies in dealing with elite athletes and enhancing their performance through nutrition and training techniques.

But until that day when I am able to choose my career path, I will continue to educate the motivated with tips and tricks that I have picked up in my research that may be able to hack into optimal health and performance. Soon I will be continuing with my summaries of the book “Good Calories, Bad Calories”, revealing the science behind the high-fat low-carb lifestyle, but just for today I thought I would share a recent biohack I have incorporated into my post-workout smoothie… Zingiber officinale (also known as GINGER!)

Ginger

Not surprisingly, the research on this topic is sparse, since no pharmaceutical company is going to fund a study that sees people going to a grocery store instead of a chemist. But of the few studies I managed to dig up, ginger has been shown to have an effect on delayed onset muscle soreness (commonly known as DOMS), improving exercise-induced pain and resulting in quicker recovery and ability to perform at multiple exercise sessions.

Ginger and its constituents, gingerols, shogaols, paradols, and zingerone, inhibit the activity of enzymes called cyclo-oxegynase 1 and 2 (COX) and block the activity of inflammatory compounds called leukotrienes, interleukins, and TNF alpha. The COX enzymes result in production of compounds called prostaglandins which cause the inflammatory response of pain, warmth, and increased blood flow; whereas the leukotrienes are usually responsible for bronchoconstriction, or the feeling of one’s airway being narrowed. In addition to these effects, ginger and its constituents have been shown to activate a particular receptor involved in the processing of central (i.e. brain) and peripheral (i.e. tissues) processing of noxious stimuli.

COX pathway

Thus, in summary, ginger is equivalent in action to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. ibuprofen, nurofen etc) which are so often used by athletes to either alleviate pain or to prevent pain prior to big races. The biggest problem with these drugs is the side effects, particularly on the stomach and kidneys. Repeated use of these drugs is associated with stomach ulcers and gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Furthermore, the acute use of these drugs coupled with dehydration (for example, taking them prior to a big race and not keeping up with your thirst) can lead to acute renal failure – every year at the Cape Argus and Two Oceans, athletes land up in hospital for this! The irony of it all is that these drugs are available for purchase over the counter, no questions asked!

So then, if we have a natural equivalent to NSAIDs in the form of ginger, then why not kick the drugs in favour of adding a stick of ginger to our weekly shopping list. The evidence that I have found illustrates that 2g of ginger daily reduces inflammation and pain following exercise. This is not an acute treatment; it is a lifestyle change. Unfortunately the effects on performance have not been adequately researched as the studies I found used inadequate measures of performance improvement; further studies are needed in this regard. But in my opinion and experience, less muscle pain the day after means that I am able to train at a higher intensity and duration from both a physical and psychological point of view.

I was so excited by this finding that I rushed out to buy ginger for the first time in my life. It has been great added to my post-workout smoothie: a scoop of Wazoogles superfood protein, a chuck of ginger, half a frozen banana, a dash of cinnamon, some ice and water… all into my NutriBullet and voila! Post-workout recovery magic ;D Stoked!

I always appreciate feedback so let me know if you enjoyed this post, if you found it useful, and if you have any workout hacks to improve performance! Have a happy day 🙂

 

References if you want to read the research I summarised above:

  1. Arciero, P., Miller, V., & Ward, E. Performance Enhancing Diets and the PRISE Protocol to Optimize Athletic Performance. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2015. DOI
  2. Hoseinzadeh, K., Daryanoosh, F., Baghdasar, P., & Alizadeh, H. Acute effects of ginger extract on biochemical and functional symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness. Med J Islam Repub Iran. 2015; 29: 261
  3. Wilson, P., Fitzgerald, J., Rhodes, G. et al. Effectiveness of Ginger Root (Zingiber officinale) on Running-Induced Muscle Soreness and Function: A Pilot Study. Intl Journal of Athletic Therapy and Training. 2015: 20 (6); 44-50
  4. Black, C., Herring, M., Hurley, D. et al. Ginger (Zingiber officinale) Reduces Muscle Pain Caused by Eccentric Exercise. The Journal of Pain. 2010:11(9); 894-903
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