Ginger for muscle pain relief

The Zingiber officinale plant, more commonly known as Ginger, has been frequently used in Non-Western medicine to treat a variety of ailments such as pain, inflammation, nausea and vomiting, and even cancer prevention. An interesting trend is the growing popularity of the use of Ginger as a supplement among athletes, specifically those in endurance, that prompted several studies to examine its effectiveness in alleviating the physiological consequences of prolonged and intense exercise.

You may have heard that Ginger can be used as an analgesic (pain reliever), ergogenic aid (performance enhancer), or even as a reliever for exercise-induced nausea and bronchoconstriction. This almost sounds like the miracle supplement for endurance athletes…but, let’s first see what the science says before we jump to conclusions!

An article from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reviewed numerous studies that examined the various effects of Ginger on exercise-induced pain and other associated symptoms. Here is a quick summary of the evidence:

 

  • Seven studies have shown that Ginger acts similar to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) in reducing muscle pain from intense and prolonged exercise, if taken for a minimum of 5 days;
  • Although Ginger inhibits the release of proinflammatory cytokines, more research is needed to prove its effects on reducing inflammation;
  • Nine studies have found no significant data to support the effectiveness of Ginger on enhancing performance, specifically on “body composition, metabolic rate, oxygen consumption, isometric force generation, or perceived exertion”;
  • It’s biologically plausible that Ginger can reduce exercise-induced nausea, but needs further investigation due to limited published data;
  • Some evidence has shown Ginger can be used as treatment for exercise-induced bronchoconstriction, but more clinical trials are needed for its effectiveness and safety.1

 

Based on this information, you may decide for yourself if Ginger would be a beneficial addition to your training regimen. If you do, there are a few things to keep in mind. Ginger supplement comes in many different forms such as raw ground, heat- treated, powder, oil, or extract. But science has yet to prove if one is more effective than the other. Among the numerous studies conducted, the evidence suggests that taking 2 grams per day of Ginger for one to two weeks may modestly reduce muscle pain and soreness from prolonged exercise (i.e., running)1. However, a single use (i.e., one-time or one-day) of Ginger has not shown any significant effects2. This demonstrates that Ginger would need several days to show its full effectiveness. The duration of supplementation has been the differentiator of results among the studies.

 

Ginger is generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). But, should you be concerned of chronic Ginger supplement use? Well, clinical trials have shown that side effects are typically mild, including heartburn. However, be careful when considering taking high doses (6 grams) because it’s been shown to be a gastrointestinal irritant. This is a good example of when more is not always better. If you have any medical conditions, be sure to consult your doctor for its possible interaction with disease and treatment. For example, Ginger could potentially increase the risk of bleeding and may interact with certain anticoagulant medications1. As with any supplement you may choose to take, it is always important to listen to your body, pay attention to any possible side effects, and keep intake in moderation.

 

Author:

Zen Huynh, B.S. Nutrition Sciences

Fuelixir Content Creator

References:

  1. Wilson, P. B. (2015). Ginger (zingiber officinale) as an analgesic and ergogenic aid in sport: A systemic review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Volume 29(10), 2980-2995. doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000001098
  2. Black, C. D., & O’Connor, P. J. (2008). Acute effects of dietary ginger on quadriceps muscle pain during moderate-intensity cycling exercise. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, (18), 653-664. doi: 10.1123/ijsnem.18.6.653
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