Are your muscles encapsulated by rubber bands? Maybe you could touch your toes the day before, but you simply can’t reach them today?
We’re not talking about soreness (even though they can often go hand in hand), we’re talking about stiff muscles filled with tension.
This unpleasant sensation is one that most human bodies will experience throughout our lifetimes. Oftentimes, stiffness may be normal — due to changing weather patterns, perhaps a hard workout the day before, or maybe you need to stretch more — yet there are times when stiffness can disrupt your life in negative ways.
If this is the case, then it may be time to address this issue.
A great way to intervene and help reduce stiffness is through both increased flexibility via stretching and, surprisingly enough, with plant-based foods!
Muscle stiffness has been linked to a variety of causes, but specifically, bodily inflammation, generalized anxiety disorder, and even fibromyalgia. While there are many treatments to consider when dealing with muscle stiffness — especially in conjunction with any of these conditions — switching up your diet to high antioxidant, anti-inflammatory-fighting, and nutrient-rich plant-based diet is a great start!
On top of that, certain plant-based foods can also help increase flexibility such as oranges, grape juice, avocados, blueberries, water, turmeric, and ginger. These foods are filled with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory properties, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fat, which decrease inflammation in the body, increase your ability to be limber, and reduce muscle stiffness.
Let’s take a look at everything muscle stiffness related and how a plant-based diet can help you heal!
Common Causes of Stiff Muscles
Stiff muscles may sound like a non-urgent issue, but it’s a completely different story when you’re actually suffering from this unpleasant symptom. This is especially true for those that are routinely active. In fact, chronic stiff muscles can negatively affect your day to day life and may eventually begin to wear on your psychological health as well.
But, what’s causing your stiff muscles?
Unfortunately, this isn’t the simplest question to answer. First and foremost, if you suffer from regular muscle stiffness, then you should plan a visit with your doctor. Why? Chronic muscle stiffness can be a sign of a more urgent medical condition including arthritis, inflammation, chronic pain, — such as fibromyalgia — or dystonia — “muscle spasticity and rigidity.” You may also want to visit an athletic trainer or chiropractor as muscle stiffness can also be caused by overexertion, tendinopathy, exercise, and muscle knots. On top of that, muscle stiffness may also stem from an underlying psychological issue such as generalized anxiety disorder and depression.
Stretching and Muscle Health
If you and your doc have ruled out the serious conditions that cause muscle stiffness, then it may simply come down to lack of stretching and flexibility.
When you think of stretching, your mind may automatically go to avid exercisers and yogis, yet stretching is an important part of general health. Plus, it doesn’t matter if you run a marathon twice a year or simply go for a walk with your dog around your neighborhood, stretching should be an integral part of your weekly activity regimen.
Stretching increases flexibility, improves the body’s range of motion and posture, and, most importantly, increases the blood flow to your muscles. By increasing the blood flow to your muscles, you improve circulation which can not only “shorten recovery time,” but it has also been shown to help “reduce muscle soreness” and stiffness. When it comes to improving muscle stiffness caused by psychological issues, stretching is crucial. Two of the most recognized benefits of stretching are reduced anxiety and stress. By reducing these psychological muscle-stiffness triggers, you are reducing overall muscle tension, which can help you increase breathe and embrace mindfulness for a state of calm.
Reducing Muscle Stiffness with Plant-Based Foods
Plant-based foods are truly miracle workers when it comes to boosting health and reducing pain in your body. When it comes to increasing the health of your muscles by reducing stiffness, you’ll want to find foods that have natural muscle relaxing agents, as well as plant-based foods that are high in protein. In particular, foods that are high in anti-inflammatory agents and antioxidants are crucial.
For instance, omega-3 fatty acids are fast becoming an important supplement for muscle recovery due to their inflammation-fighting properties. In a study published in the FASEB Journal in February 2019, researchers discovered that omega-3 fatty acid was “effective at reducing muscle loss due to disuse.” This may be due to the fact that omega-3 fatty acids help fight inflammation — which can cause muscle tension — by creating resolvins. These resolvins “fight inflammation by inhibiting the production and regulating the movement of inflammatory chemicals.”
Plant-based foods are generally resplendent with anti-inflammatory properties making a largely plant-based diet beneficial for those suffering from muscle stiffness or muscle tension.
Best Plant-Based Foods to Reduce Stiffness
When looking to integrate plant-based foods that reduce muscle stiffness or tension, look for foods rich in anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidants, vitamin C, and water. As mentioned above, these agents will fight muscle tension from multiple angles — reducing inflammation, boosting immune health and energy, and keeping the body hydrated. On top of that, try integrating foods that are imbued with natural muscle-relaxing agents. Generally, these foods just so happen to also be rich in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties as well!
1. Cherries + Tart Cherry Juice (Antioxidants + Anti-inflammatory)
Raw Cherry Chocolate Tart/One Green Planet
Cherries — in particular tart cherry juice — is quickly becoming an important addition to a plant-based, inflammation-fighting, and pain-reducing diet. This is due to the fact that cherries are rich in both “antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds.” When choosing a cherry juice make sure it doesn’t have any added sugars. This is especially important as added sugars are known to increase bodily inflammation, exactly what you’re trying to reduce! Cherries are a wonderful ingredient to incorporate into your diet as well! Try them out in this Raw Cherry Chocolate Tart, these Cherry Hemp Oat Bars, or this Creamy Buckwheat Porridge with Cherry Currant Jam.
2. Blueberries (Antioxidants + Polyphenols)
Blueberry Chia Pudding/One Green Planet
It’s impossible to talk about antioxidants without mentioning the antioxidant superpower blueberries! Not only are they an excellent source of antioxidants, but they are also rich in polyphenols — plant-based compounds believed to “boost digestion and brain health, as well as protect against heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and even certain cancers.” In a small study, it was found that blueberries had the ability to decrease inflammatory markers, especially in relation to exercise performance. In line with the study’s findings, in order to increase muscle health and decrease muscle stiffness or tension, blueberries may be an integral part of your diet to fight inflammation.
Mix your blueberries with a bit of chia-based protein in order to really give your muscles some love such as in this Blueberry Chia Muffin recipe or in this Blueberry Chia Pudding recipe.
3. Almonds + Cashews + Spinach (Magnesium)
Cashew Coconut Granola/One Green Planet
You’ve most likely heard about antioxidants, polyphenols, and protein being great for muscles, but you probably haven’t heard too much about magnesium. When it comes to muscles, magnesium is essential for “proper muscle contraction.” Consuming proper amounts of magnesium through your diet can decrease muscle cramps, tension, and stiffness and promote muscle health. Luckily, magnesium is very common in plant-based foods including almonds, cashews, and spinach. Try making your own delicious almond butter — such as this Homemade Almond Butter — cashew-based granola — such as this Cashew Coconut Granola — and or integrating a big spinach salad into your daily diet — such as this Sweet Potato and Spinach Salad With Almond Dijon Vinaigrette.
4. Cinnamon (Curcumin)
Cinnamon Vanilla Milkshake/One Green Planet
You may know curcumin as the powerful anti-inflammatory agent found in turmeric. While turmeric is an excellent source of anti-inflammatory curcumin, you can also find it more user-friendly spices including ginger and cinnamon. Cinnamon is a wonderful and easy-to-implement spice. It can help curb sugar-cravings — if you’re trying to reduce sugar intake — and will aid in reducing inflammation and relaxing muscles. Add a dash of cinnamon to your favorite oatmeal recipe — such as this Cinnamon Roll Steel Cut Oatmeal — make a protein-rich cinnamon-based treat — such as these Chickpea Cinnamon Rolls — or cool down on a hot summer day with this Cinnamon Vanilla Milkshake.
5. Chili Peppers (Capsaicin)
Mexican Green Chili With Tofu/One Green Planet
If you love the heat of chili peppers and you’re looking to treat muscle stiffness, then you’ll love this last inflammation-fighter on the list! Capsaicin is a naturally occurring component that lives within the “pith or fleshy part of chili peppers.” Capsaicin has been shown to positively affect and reduce nerve pain and may potentially have the same effect in treating muscle soreness leading to stiffness and tension. Plus, chili peppers are super fun to cook with! Try your hand at a chili recipe such as this Healthy Chili, this Mexican Green Chili With Tofu, or this One-Pot Spicy Chili.
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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