If stiff and achy muscles after fitness workouts make exercise a literal pain, don’t be discouraged. The secret to postworkout recovery may lie in the sea…not the pharmacy. No, we’re not talking about soaking in sea salts (though that can help, too!) but about a novel way to repair muscle. It turns out that the New Zealand green-lipped mussel (Perna canaliculus) might be a great workout buddy…
Plenty of folks—athletes included—reach for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve muscle soreness after exercise. But they provide only temporary relief, and regular use of certain NSAIDs can hurt your heart and stomach. Likewise, ice packs and liniments can help the symptoms, but they also provide temporary relief.
A marine oil supplement blend derived from New Zealand green-lipped mussels does provide pain relief and has nutraceutical benefits. Brands include Lyprinol, sold overseas, and Omega XL, sold in America. Studies in animals and humans have shown that, like fish oil and other omega-3 supplements, this marine oil can reduce muscle pain caused by inflammation, including arthritis pain. In fact, a recent study showed that the marine oil supplement reduced postexercise muscle pain in men not accustomed to exercise.
The study, conducted by researchers from the department of kinesiology at the Indiana School of Public Health at Indiana University, took 32 men who didn’t exercise regularly and randomly assigned them to take either 1,200 mg per day of the marine oil supplement or placebo (an olive oil capsule). The men had not done any strength-training exercises for the 60 days prior to the study and had never before used a nutraceutical, such as an omega-3 supplement. They were instructed to not exercise except when instructed as part of the study. They began taking their supplement/placebo 26 days before performing muscle-damaging exercise (running downhill on a treadmill for 20 minutes) and continued the supplement/placebo regimen until four days after this exercise session.
Signs of muscle damage, inflammation, oxidative stress and fatigue were measured via blood tests, and pain, soreness and physical range-of-motion tests were taken before and at several points after the exercise session to see how the marine oil compared with placebo.
The results: The men who received the marine oil had less muscle soreness and pain, less loss of muscle strength and range of motion and less muscle fatigue than those taking placebo. Some of these effects became more noticeable with time after exercise. For example, you may have noticed that muscle soreness after newly beginning an exercise routine doesn’t set in immediately—it hits a day or two later and persists for another day or two before easing up. In this study, the average level of muscle soreness, rated on a scale of 0 to 10 (with 0 being no soreness) was about the same two days after exercise—4.6 in the marine oil group and 4.8 in the placebo group. But by day 4, the average pain rating dropped to 1.8 in the marine oil group but only to 3.0 in the placebo group. And while range of motion increased over the four days post-exercise in the marine-oil group, it decreased in the placebo group. Blood work also showed that the marine oil supplement helped prevent inflammation in muscle cells.
MORE OMEGA-3 CHOICES
The marine oil, fish oil and other supplements that contain anti-inflammatory compounds—namely long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—are known to counteract muscle inflammation, in part by inhibiting an enzyme called cyclooxygenase, which is exactly what NSAIDs such ibuprofen, aspirin, naproxen and celecoxib do.
What’s the difference between a good fish oil supplement and the marine oil? The study, which was sponsored by the manufacturer of Lyprinol and Omega XL, implied that the marine oil was superior to fish oil based on animal studies, but head-to-head human studies have not been done. The researchers based their claims on a laboratory study that showed that the fatty acids unique to the New Zealand green-lipped mussel strongly inhibit cyclooxygenase and do so more than fish oil. At best, you have more choices of PUFA-based nutraceuticals that can, among their many benefits, fight muscle pain and enhance exercise.
As with fish oil, side effects are minimal…some people may experience diarrhea, nausea and gas. Of course, if you have shellfish allergies, this supplement is not for you.