There are a few ways to ease muscle soreness after a particularly tough workout. Maybe you’re a firm believer in the power of external solutions like an epsom salt soak or arnica gel; or maybe you just go for the gold and pop an Advil when your muscles ache. You may even prevent it beforehand by taking a preemptive pain reliever when you know you’re going to regret that hardcore bootcamp class your friend convinced you to do with her.
But what if there were an in-between solution? According to a recent study, ingesting saffron may actually help relieve soreness even better than anti-inflammatory medicine. Yes, saffron, the spice you probably recognize from savory Italian risotto or Spanish paella.
In the study, published in the March issue of the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, researchers found that those who took saffron supplements before and after working out had less muscle pain and increased muscle strength. In fact, the saffron alternatives were more effective than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like Advil, Aleeve and Naproxin.
Researchers studied 39 men around 18-years-old. Some took saffron supplements one week before and three days after strenuous exercise; another group took a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) called indomethacin three times a day; and a control group took placebo pills. The strenuous exercise was done on a leg press machine, with each subject pressing a weight of 80% of his maximum muscle capacity.
Three days after the heavy lifting, the group who took the saffron pills reported being pain-free; the group that took the NSAID had minor pain 24 hours later; and the placebo-takers were pretty sore for three days. The saffron pills and NSAID were both effective in preventing muscle swelling post-workout, but the saffron pills provided the biggest boost in muscle strength: 64%.
While more research needs to be done to determine if the result are as astounding in women as they are in men, take this as an excuse to experiment more with the rich spice. (Sprucing up your meals with new and interesting spices is also a smart way to avoid sugar and salt, so you’ll be improving your health either way!)