Watermelon for sore muscle relief

Image Credit: Kevin Botto / Flickr. This image has been modified.

Reduce Workout Soreness With Watermelon

Long-distance runners and cross-fit athletes alike know it well: Delayed-onset muscle soreness is the discomfort that starts the day after a particularly grueling workout, caused by micro-tears in the muscle that lead to inflammation.

The leading pharmaceutical interventions are over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen, provided people are offered reasonable guidance on the dangers of their use (See Anti-Inflammatory Life is a Bowl of Cherries), but there might be a much safer option. “The use of NSAIDs is associated with serious upper and lower gastrointestinal (GI) side-effects, including upset stomach, stomach ulcers, stomach and intestinal bleeding, and perforation.” Of all the NSAIDS, ibuprofen is probably safest (significantly safer than naproxen). Still, there’s a chance you could end up at your doctor’s office for a problem with side effects.

The most frequent problem caused by ibuprofen is related to the stomach. However, NSAID drugs can also cause damage to the small intestine. Ibuprofen can cause our guts to become leaky within hours and inflamed within days. Up until the mid-80’s, we thought the small intestine was relatively unaffected by these drugs. Now, we know they may disrupt our intestinal barrier function. There must be a better way to deal with muscle soreness.

Previously, I reviewed the role cherries may play in reducing muscle soreness (See Reducing Muscle Soreness with Berries), thought to be because of anti-inflammatory flavonoid nutrients. Interestingly, while the absorption of these phytonutrients can help with exercise, exercise may help with the absorption of these phytonutrients. If you look at each of the individual phytonutrients researchers examined, all of them were significantly better absorbed by the athletes compared to the sedentary controls. The thought is that elite training may modify the activity of the good bacteria in our gut, which then boosts bioavailability.

But back to muscle soreness. Is there any other fruit that may help? Researchers in Spain had a group of men engage in intense physical activity after drinking two cups of fresh blended watermelon or a watermelon-free placebo drink, and the next day, those that pre-loaded with watermelon were significantly less sore (around one on a scale of one to five compared to closer to two after placebo). The researchers conclude that “functional compounds in fruits and vegetables play a key role in the design of new natural and functional products (beverages, juices, energy bars, etc.) by the food industry instead of synthetic compounds from the pharmaceutical industry.” (See Watermelon for Sore Muscle Relief). But why design natural products when nature already designed the products we need in the produce aisle?

More on dietary tweaks to maximize athletic performance in:

My last watermelon video dealt with another kind of physical activity: Watermelon as Treatment for Erectile Dysfunction

In health,
Michael Greger, M.D.

PS: If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my free videos here and watch my live year-in-review presentations Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death, More Than an Apple a Day, From Table to Able, and Food as Medicine.


Michael Greger M.D., FACLM

Michael Greger, M.D. FACLM, is a physician, New York Times bestselling author, and internationally recognized professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, testified before Congress, appeared on The Dr. Oz Show and The Colbert Report, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial.

11 responses to “Reduce Workout Soreness With Watermelon

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    1. I wouldn’t drink the juice if you’re indeed allergic to watermelon. They seem too similar. Shoot for other foods that Dr. Greger mentions like beets, citrus, watercress, and nutritional yeast!

  1. Watermelon contains Glutathione, the master antioxidant of the body. The still red flesh closes to the rind is the best. Glutathione supports removal of toxins from the body, especially lactic and uric acids.
    Glutathione is a simple molecule of protein composed of Glycine, Cysteine and Glutamine. In plant based foods it is best found in Garlic, Asparagus, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale and watercress. (Raw whole milk and raw eggs are the best sources.) A diet with sufficient protein is essential. Non animal sources high in essential amino acids include un-denatured brewers yeast and whey protein. High carbohydrate consumption from starches and sugar create glycemic overload that overwhelms the body’s
    Glutathione. Complex long molecule carbs from fruit, vegetable and berries and especially honey do not spike the glycemic index and cause overload that subsequently causes insulin spikes and depletes Glutathione. (Honey is half sugar and should be taken sparingly but numerous times at intervals depending on intensity of exertion.

  2. I wonder, is the timing important when we should eat anti inflammatory foods to prevent muscle soreness? Before exercise? Directly after? Does it matter?

    Thanks you.

  3. I used to use a TwinLab product called AminoFuel which would alleviate all the pain. By loading up on aminos the day of the event, the repair would be completed by the next morning. Sadly, they stopped making it 5 years ago or so.

  4. What about white willow bark extract?

    “It turns out that aspirin not only increases the function of mitochondria, it also increases the number of mitochondria. Using a staining method called MitoTracker Green dye, the researchers discovered that aspirin increased the total concentration of mitochondria by two to three times. Since the most notable hallmark of aging is decreased numbers of mitochondria with decreased mitochondrial function, this data makes aspirin look like the best anti-aging substance that has ever come along.

    So should we all run out and start taking aspirin every day? I think there is a better way. It turns out that within a matter of less than 15 minutes, the liver converts aspirin to another substance called salicylic acid. So the researchers reasoned that the effects of aspirin might be from salicylic acid instead of from aspirin itself. So to test for that, they repeated the same experiments using salicylic acid instead of aspirin. And guess what? The results were the same! The salicylic acid did just as well as the aspirin. And salicylic acid does not have the side effect baggage that aspirin has. So how can we take advantage of this new information? It’s quite easy.

    Willow bark is an herb that contains the substance salicin. And when we eat willow bark, our livers convert the salicin to salicylic acid. So by taking willow bark, it is possible to get the same mitochondrial-stimulating effects that come from aspirin.” Shallenberger

    I’m taking 2 caps white willow bark per day in place of 81 mg aspirin. Wonder if the dose equiv to regular aspirin would work for soreness?

  5. Doctor can you talk about the GMO’s that Monsanto has put in their seeds. Have the GMO’s done any harm to the fruit and vegetable group or are we safe. I know Europe has banned all GMO’s into their countries, but like everything else (smoking, red meat, dairy and chicken) the fruit and vegetable industry are keeping us in the dark.

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