Love running, but hate the all-day aches and drains following your speed work or long runs? As runners we push ourselves to a physical limit…then immediately ask our bodies to sit all day in a desk chair, haul laptop bags up and down the subway stairs, sleep six hours a night, or maybe even run a household. We need items in our pockets that we can look to for reliable relief without a laundry list of side effects. Often runners can slip into a routine of a pre-run Tylenol, followed by a morning-after Advil or even a weekend Excedrin to make it through you weekend night out. Sounds reasonable, right? But the thing to consider is that long-term use of pain relief medications has been linked to some scary lifestyle side effects including increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and even strokes.
On a mission to find lasting relief with minimal side effects, it only made sense to look at what nature had to offer. Our list consists of centuries-old natural spice remedies targeting inflammation, body aches, and oxidants (the very reasons you hear so much about the amazing effects of antioxidants).
The Runner’s Cabinet:
This is the kale of the spice market. It’s a potent superfood with growing popularity in the commercial market. Turmeric is ginger’s hot foreign cousin, powered by the compound curcumin which gives it its orange coloring and insane anti-inflammatory abilities. Turmeric in your food is a great way to slowly introduce the compound to your system, but to get the full effect it should be consumed along-side black pepper. For a higher curcumin dosage, consider adding a turmeric supplement during peak training times.
It might be surprising to hear how effective this under-the-radar spicy of spices can be considering it’s likely been lurking in the back of your cabinet for months or years. Cayenne pepper – yes the super spicy powder your Dad likes on spaghetti – is a remedy for migraines, cramps, joint pain, and digestion. Studies have shown that cayenne is highly detoxifying. Use it in foods, sprinkle into drinks, or most effectively stir it into a glass of warm lemon water when you first wake up in the morning.
In my opinion the tastiest item on the list, ginger comes sold in root form at your local grocery store or bodega and can be chopped into smoothies, stir fries, boiled into tea, or added to marinades. Ginger root is an ancient oriental remedy for reducing nausea, muscle pain, and soreness. Its spicy-sweet flavor and crisp scent make it just as enjoyable to eat as to reap the benefits from consumption.
More than just a fresh flavor, peppermint cleanses the body, eliminates toxins, and yes it does help whiten teeth. For your run life, peppermint also eases cramps, gas, colds, and stimulates your system. Whether it’s in tea or as a fresh addition to your water, salad, or just to nibble on the leaves, this fast growing herb is an amazing natural cleanser.
Half a teaspoon twice a day can help your body resist surges in insulin and reduce inflammation. Although we’ve come to associate cinnamon with sweets, its naturally filled with metabolism ramping spice and has a cooling effect on the body’s central nervous system. Try putting a tablespoon right on top of your coffee grounds when you’re making your morning pot. The strainer will keep it from getting everywhere but let the flavorful goodness seep through. We also love it sprinkled on cereal, sweet potatoes, baked chicken, or just about…anything.
In a world controlled by over-the-counter drugs, I’ve found time and again that the best remedies for my own running (and life) aches and pains has come right out of my kitchen counter. Although there are dozens of potent spices, the list above is a standout of power houses deemed spectacular by both scientific research and personal preference. It’s not an easy transition, but the slow migration from prescription to plant has been more than I could have hoped for in speeding recovery without the strange, sometimes scary side effects of man-made remedies.