Watermelon for Sore Muscle Relief

Watermelon for Sore Muscle Relief
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Watermelon found to reduce muscle soreness after an intense workout—without the gut leakiness that occurs within hours of taking anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Delayed-onset muscle soreness is the discomfort that starts the day after a particularly grueling workout. Microtears in the muscle lead to inflammation, and so the leading pharmaceutical interventions are over-the-counter NSAIDS, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen—provided people are offered “a reasonable guidance on the dangers of their use.”

“The use of NSAIDs is associated with serious upper and lower gastrointestinal…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 may be about a one-in-a-hundred chance we’ll end up at our doctors with some problem—and up to about a one-in-500 chance we could end up in the hospital because of taking simple, over-the-counter ibuprofen.

And, that’s mostly for the stomach. NSAID drugs also can damage the small intestine. Within hours of taking ibuprofen, it can make our gut leaky, and, within days, inflame our bowels. Up until the mid-80s, we thought “the…small intestine was…relatively unaffected by [these drugs].” But now, we know they may “disrupt [our] intestinal barrier function.” There’s got to be a better way to deal with muscle soreness.

Previously, I reviewed the role cherries may play in reducing muscle soreness—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. Here’s the absorption of fruit phytonutrients in sedentary volunteers. Compare that to how much triathletes get from the same amount of fruit. If you look at each of the individual phytonutrients they looked at, they all were significantly better absorbed by the athletes. 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: any other fruit that may help? Watermelon. 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 preloaded with watermelon were significantly less sore—around one on a scale of one to five, compared to closer to two after placebo.

They conclude that “functional compound[s]…in fruits and vegetables [can] play a key role in the design of new natural…products…by the food industry, instead of synthetic compounds from [the] pharmaceutical industry. But, why design new natural products when nature already designed the products we need?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Mfrascella via flickr

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Delayed-onset muscle soreness is the discomfort that starts the day after a particularly grueling workout. Microtears in the muscle lead to inflammation, and so the leading pharmaceutical interventions are over-the-counter NSAIDS, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen—provided people are offered “a reasonable guidance on the dangers of their use.”

“The use of NSAIDs is associated with serious upper and lower gastrointestinal…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 may be about a one-in-a-hundred chance we’ll end up at our doctors with some problem—and up to about a one-in-500 chance we could end up in the hospital because of taking simple, over-the-counter ibuprofen.

And, that’s mostly for the stomach. NSAID drugs also can damage the small intestine. Within hours of taking ibuprofen, it can make our gut leaky, and, within days, inflame our bowels. Up until the mid-80s, we thought “the…small intestine was…relatively unaffected by [these drugs].” But now, we know they may “disrupt [our] intestinal barrier function.” There’s got to be a better way to deal with muscle soreness.

Previously, I reviewed the role cherries may play in reducing muscle soreness—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. Here’s the absorption of fruit phytonutrients in sedentary volunteers. Compare that to how much triathletes get from the same amount of fruit. If you look at each of the individual phytonutrients they looked at, they all were significantly better absorbed by the athletes. 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: any other fruit that may help? Watermelon. 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 preloaded with watermelon were significantly less sore—around one on a scale of one to five, compared to closer to two after placebo.

They conclude that “functional compound[s]…in fruits and vegetables [can] play a key role in the design of new natural…products…by the food industry, instead of synthetic compounds from [the] pharmaceutical industry. But, why design new natural products when nature already designed the products we need?

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Images thanks to Mfrascella via flickr

Doctor's Note

Here’s the previous video I mentioned: Reducing Muscle Soreness with Berries.

For more dietary tweaks to maximize athletic performance, see:

I also talked about the risks of ibuprofen in Anti-inflammatory Life is a Bowl of Cherries.

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

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

47 responses to “Watermelon for Sore Muscle Relief

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  1. Watermelon also acts a bit like air conditioning for your insides; cools me off and makes me much more comfortable in hot weather!

    1. I was sitting by a fire last night eating watermelon. …it made it possible to sit closer to the fire. Cooling me off as the fire was blazing away. It was quite interesting.

  2. I love watermelon but it makes my chest feel tight and my muscles achy if I have a good amount… I have a bit of an allergy towards it I guess :(

    1. Go see your doctor!
      If the mechanisms of the moderate citrulline causes circulatory related troubles, big enough to cause discomfort, you could be in big trouble.
      Especially if you see similar effects with arginine rich foods like nuts and soy protein.

      1. Soy products usually upset my stool quite badly so I avoid them.. I’ll book an appointment with my DR though. Hopefully they don’t fob me off. Cheers :]

        1. I currently have a bp of sometimes little under 60 – 100 @ 57 bpm 95kg/1.87. This after recent move to almost excusively vegan WFPB, fish or meat only once per week now and no other animal products. Had previously always been high up to 160-120 even when I was fat.

          If I take citrulline now and go to the gym, during exertation I’m fine but the moment I stop I’ll feel lightheaded sometimes won’t risk getting up.
          Won’t risk going in a sauna at the moment especially alone.

          There are effects from citrulline and they can highlight problems when blood gets redirected and they needen’t be just allergies. In any case if someone talks chest tightness advice should always be to have a dokter check you out. Wouldn’t you say so?

    2. Maybe try taking an ‘ayurvedic dosha type’ test…..lots of them online.
      Some body types (according to ayurveda) cannot handle the high level of cooling that occurs when a large amount of watermelon is consumed.

  3. I’m assuming this was thought of by the scientists doing the study on antioxidant absorption in the sedentary vs triathletes. But since it wasn’t mentioned in the video I thought I’d comment.

    There is another way of looking at the results. It might not be that physical activity HELPS absorption of antioxidants, but that because of the intense physical activity that triathletes participate in and therefore the increased oxidation and inflammation that naturally occurs is what is causing the increased uptake. Our bodies take from food what it needs. Maybe because of the higher need of antioxidants in triathletes… their bodies just compensated by pulling more from the food than the sedentary people’s.

    Just a thought…

    1. Triathletes also have a different diet than most sedentary people, often with higher levels of the complex carbs required for prolonged training. Many complex carb foods feed and markedly change the composition of the intestinal flora, as would the increased gut motility that comes with exercise.

    2. Great point. Less likely but still possible: The athletes are better able to absorb nutrients at baseline (e.g., due to metabolic and/or genetic factors) and thus are more capable of performing high intensity and/or prolonged physical activity. As in, people who are good at absorbing nutrients are more able to become athletes.

      It would be interesting to compare flavonoid absorption in sedentary folks to the absorption in the same individuals after physical activity, as well as absorption after several weeks on a regular exercise program.

  4. I just came across this. I haven’t read it yet but I guess It’s just the same as the paleo craze. Jeff Novick explain well the fact that science is not like newspaper tabloid. Science is all about building up knowledge years after years. But I’m curious which study they used to disprove everything we already know ! Maybe Dr Greger will make a video about that one day. Any thought anybody ?

    http://timedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/06/fat-cover.jpg

    1. Probably based the Siri-Tarino and Chowdhury meta-analyses of prospective studies of saturated fat (SFA) intake and CVD incidence. I think these metas say very little, as 1) most studies look at the Western dietary range (interdecile range 8.5-14%) rather than test the American Heart Association recommendation (< 7%) with any cohort, 2) many studies overcorrect for blood lipids, a primary benefit of reduced SFA diets, 3) dietary habits and statin use have changed during these prospective studies, and 4) all prospective studies with a single baseline measurement are subject to regression dilution. Fred Pollack has done an exhaustive review of Chowdhury in the McDougall Newsletter: part 1, part 2, part 3, supplement.

      Plenty of people still have heart attacks with cholesterol in the <200 mg/dl "desirable” range. My personal belief is that there’s enough noise in the data from non-SFA contributors to CVD risk (other animal food components, refined foods, inadequate fruit & vegetable intake, sedentary lifestyles), that reducing SFA intake alone will have effects most visible in the 3-8% range, the lower end of which drives cholesterol below 150 mg/dl. That range is seen only in traditional non-Western, or whole plant based diets, but the benefits are very visible in the trials by Ornish and Esselstyn. I expect the new, larger Esselstyn study due this year to perk some ears.

      It goes without saying that SFAs aren’t just suspect in CVD, but also in diabetes, dementia, MS, and other inflammatory disorders.

      1. They can make a study say what they want. And i believe that a lot, if not all the studies that show that butter, meat and animal products in general are good for us are funded by the meat and dairy assoc.

      2. I am a bit untrained, but I would think if a person eats a healthy plant based diet, low in saturated fat, but possibly higher in nuts, seeds and avocados as well as a lot of fruit as this video suggests, that a lot of exercise would not be so harmful. If extreme exercise is combined with a high saturated fat, high animal product as well as other processed junk diet, then the exercise is a lot more harmful. Here is a study which contradicts the idea that vigorous exercise always lowers longevity. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21618162 They found that Tour de France participants lived longer than the average person. Of course, this is a very grueling event. Extreme exercise is dangerous if one is on a Paleo diet, but not so if one is on a plant based diet. Paleo diets raise cholesterol and create plaque build up because of the high saturated fat content of this diet. Vigorous exercise under this circumstance is counter productive. Scott Jurek and the Durianrider eat no animal fat or saturated fat and suffer no ill effects from extreme exercise.

        1. Daniel what are we defining as “vigorous exercise?” A person can be a marathon runner and train very differently. Some train 130 miles per week, some 50 or as low as 30 miles per week. One of the last studies posted by someone here compared marathon runners with the health of their spouses. Are those runners finishing in 3 or 6 hours? There is huge difference in the amount of time and intensity of training for the two different times.

          I really don’t think we have to worry about exercising too much. Most of us do other things than train for a living.

          1. I bicycle about 18-24 miles 4 or 5 days a week, that is, when I work. On most of my days off, I bicycle about 30 miles. So I usually bicycle about 160-170 miles a week. Mind you, one mile on a bike is much easier than one mile running. Overall, it may be as hard as running, but a person can go a much longer distance for the same number of calories on a bike than when they run. I also walk about 6-9 miles week as well. My doctor was actually the one who suggested I exercise so much. It helped a lot with losing weight (100 pounds) as well as entirely maintaining this loss for 4 years now. Adding the plant based diet also helped as well to lose even more weight. I don’t know if this amount of exercise would be considered extreme.

            1. I don’t find it extreme unless you are pushing race-performance levels. I get a real kick out of generalize calorie-burning tables/charts that list cycling as X. Of course the better charts give a breakdown by avg speed. But the best thing is a powermeter (once absurdly expensive and now–even I has one.)

              You and I know there’s a HUGE difference in cycling output governed by terrain and speed. That we can go out and ride the same hill/mountain at least three different ways. One is stopping for photos/recovery mode, another is “keep it steady” mode. Then there’s race pace (which again varies by level of athlete).

              Same trouble with saying “X-hours” of exercise per week. At WHAT level of intensity? Maintenance? Endurance? Speed? Everybody has to work this stuff out for themselves. Serious cyclist engage a coach/trainer, which these days can be local or remote because we have power-meters and the internet upon which to share such files.

              When the weather breaks, I’ll be back in the saddle.

    2. Agreed. Similarly, I keep reading the claim that those with higher cholesterol levels have lower incidents of heart attacks and death from all causes and those with lower cholesterol levels higher heart attack rates and all cause mortality. But I never see a reference to the studies that show this. I’d love to know where this comes from. (Given the photos of people’s arterial plaque before a vegan diet and after, I find it hard to believe.) Paleo groups say the plaque is caused by sugar, refined grains and oil derived from seeds, not animal fats. They claim that people going on a vegan diet usually get rid of these other offending sources too, and that’s what causes the improvement, not the elimination of animal products. I’ve seen enough evidence over the years on this and similar sites to know that animal products cause us all sorts of problems. But it would be interesting to see evidence of this source factors teased apart just to have a better understanding of how they contribute, if at all.

      1. Cholesterol levels fall with age and sickness, so there’s the problem of “reverse causation” in studies that show very low cholesterol levels increase mortality. The most probative studies in my opinion either exclude the first few years of followup (to weed out the sick), or have very long followup. For example, the 18 year followup of the Whitehall study, which makes clear that:

        For a given age at death the longer the gap between cholesterol measurement and death the more predictive the cholesterol concentration, both for coronary heart disease and all cause mortality

          1. If I were to take a global snapshot of the population’s cholesterol, both the healthiest (on risk lowering plant based diets) and the sickest would have unusually low cholesterol. As the sick ones would have a high morbidity/mortality in the next few years, it might create the impression that low-cholesterol is a risk factor, whereas the causation is in the other direction (those with failing bodies produce less cholesterol). This problem of “reverse causation” is well understood in epidemiology, which is one reason you won’t find graphs like those linked in the peer-reviewed literature with claims that the healthiest cholesterol level is > 200 mg /dl.

            I really like the Whitehall study of British civil servants, as its one of very few that had the funding to follow its cohort from middle age through retirement, demonstrating that today’s habits determine the years and quality of life long down the road.

            1. Yes, I understood the part about sick people skewing the results. And that makes sense. I didn’t understand the statement: “For a given age at death the longer the gap between cholesterol measurement and death the more predictive the cholesterol concentration…” I can’t figure out what that statement means.

              1. This picture might help explain:

                http://i57.tinypic.com/2cyismf.gif

                The difference in cholesterol levels between those eventually who died of CVD and others was greatest in middle age. With age, both groups cholesterol levels fell, and the cholesterol difference became less marked. You’ll note a similar pattern in the decreasing slopes (with age) in figure 1 of this paper. At every age, lower cholesterol is better, but there’s a 12-fold difference in risk (for differing cholesterol levels) among those in their 40s, but a less than 2-fold difference for those in their 80s. Cholesterol is only the second largest risk-factor for CVD events: the number one risk factor remains age.

    3. There is a huge media blitz behind Nina Teicholz’s new book which is only the most recent and most egregious turn in a warped “game” of telephone begun by Uffe Ravskov in Finland in 2000 and given a disproportionate amount of publicity by Gary Taubes. They are all counting on the fact that most people don’t check the primary references.

      It’s a complete misrepresentation of both the science and the scientists. Revisionist history that would be subject to libel if Ancel Keys were still alive. And the media is so hungry for eyeballs, they’ll publish anything these days throwing fact-checking out the window.

      Plant Positive took on this twisting of the facts at

      http://www.plantpositive.com

      And now he has been joined by others exposing this FUDtastic rewriting of nutritional research history.

      My favorite is low-carb college professor Evelyn Kocur aka CarbSane at

      http://carbsanity.blogspot.com

      as well as Seth at The Science of Nutrition blog

      http://thescienceofnutrition.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/fat-in-the-diet-and-mortality-from-heart-disease-a-plagiaristic-note/

  5. So Dr. Greger, hypothetically would Watermelon (and Cherries perhaps) help with Patellar Tendinitis? Thank you as always for everything you do! Based on your advice I’m eating 5 oz Arugula 2 hours before cycling, as well as drinking coffee about an hour before, and then citrus after. And seeing great results!

  6. 1,000 or 2.500 count bottle of ibuprofen is standard equipment on the bike training camp table. Take a handful once you’ve eaten, works darn good. But watermelon, mmm tasty and no gastro issues.

    Just a seed-spitting contest. patooey!

    Presently looking at this (naproxen research) for overuse injury in the thoracic area. First time I’ve had real NSAID level issues since going WFPB in March. Pretty good I thinks.

  7. This sounds great (and I’m a big believer in a WFPB anti-inflammatory diet for just about everyone, athletes and those with autoimmune disease included), but I’d like to know how much Ibuprofen reduces post-exercise soreness on that 0-5 scale used to quantify the benefit from watermelon.

    That said, I just ate a big bowl of watermelon and now feel strangely compelled to go exercise. I also reserve low-dose Ibuprofen for flu-related myalgias (a tiny bottle lasts years!) and I urge my patients to stop all NSAIDs. The cardiovascular, renal, liver, and gut side effects make me wonder how these drugs were ever approved.

  8. Any advice on possible stomach ulcer or thrombocytopenia? I’m waiting for results for sample and blood test. Symptoms are vomiting blood, constant nausea, swollen abdomen, that’s it. On a vegan diet, stopped smoking 2-3 months ago, no dramatic weight gain/loss. Any advice would be appreciated.

    1. The only video on thrombocytopenia I found in the archives is http://nutritionfacts.org/video/erythritol-may-be-a-sweet-antioxidant/. I would think it be prudent to follow up with your medical provider. Make sure there isn’t an underlying process going on. Have you had an endoscopy? If you have a thorough workup and no apparent source.. Maybe at that point investigating a probiotic. Dr. Greger touches upon the use of probiotics in http://nutritionfacts.org/video/preventing-and-treating-diarrhea-with-probiotics/… Hope this resolves soon for you!

  9. Dr. Gregor;
    When you are blending the watermelon are you including the pits?
    I did read somewhere that a great percentage of the nutrients are found in the seeds.

  10. Hi, Dave. The compound in watermelon that is believed to be responsible for the muscle effects cited in the video is the amino acid citrulline, which is found in the flesh and, interestingly, also the rind of watermelon. I did not find any information about the citrulline content of watermelon seeds, although they are a rich source of other nutrients, including protein, calcium, magnesium, and zinc. If you have a high-speed blender, you could put pieces of watermelon in it, rind, seeds and all, and really increase the nutrient content of your beverage. I hope that helps!

  11. Hi
    I’d like to ask is it beneficial to do a watermelon fast once in a while? Eating only watermelon for 1-2 days. Will it have some benefits like water only fast?

    Thank you

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