How we nourish our bodies affects both how we feel when we exercise and the results we see from that exercise. And while most of us have our pre- and post-workout fuel routines down pat (hey, protein!), you could be overlooking a powerful workout supplement hiding in your spice rack.
Turmeric, which continues to grow more and more popular in the wellness world, is becoming a go-to for gym junkies. For one thing, the curcumin in turmeric is a strong antioxidant. (Antioxidants help to neutralize harmful free radicals, repair damaged cells, and keep your immune system going strong.)
The thought behind coinciding your turmeric supplementation with your workouts is that its antioxidant power can support recovery by mediating workout-related inflammation. But there is one catch: When it comes to exercise, inflammation can actually be good. While chronic inflammation is linked to a variety of health issues, post-exercise inflammation is what’s responsible for your progress and results, says Albert Matheny, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab. When you damage your muscles and other tissues during exercise, your immune system responds to repair that damage and build your muscles back stronger and more efficient than they were before—so if you want to adapt and see results, you need some inflammation.
That said, while research on curcumin and exercise is still developing, there is some evidence for its potential benefits. For example, one European Journal of Clinical Physiology study found that supplementing with a high dose of curcumin (2.5 grams twice daily) reduced symptoms of post-workout delayed onset muscle soreness.
Curcumin can also come in handy when you just don’t have time to recover—say, if you’re competing in a sport two days in a row or need to make it through a race. One Journal of Sports Science & Medicine study suggests that curcumin may help minimize muscle damage between competitions when recovery periods are short.
Beyond soreness and recovery time, curcumin may also benefit active people with certain conditions. For instance, one study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that daily turmeric extract supplementation improved pain and mobility following physical activity in those with joint issues. (And it’s not the only study to come to such a conclusion.)
Want to give turmeric a try? Matheny likes to incorporate the spice into whole foods when possible (curried chicken and potatoes after leg day, anyone?), but suggests trying a curcumin supplement—about 1,000 milligrams once a day—after extra-tough workouts or when you need to recover quickly. After all, turmeric supplements often contain much higher concentrations of curcumin, plus black pepper, which significantly boosts curcumin’s absorption. Try plnt’s turmeric supplement, which contains 450 milligrams of turmeric (95 percent curcumin), along with five milligrams of black pepper.