Can ginger help reduce muscle damage post-exercise?


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Image: © iStockPhoto / Elenathewise
Image: © iStockPhoto / Elenathewise

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Ginger supplements may accelerate recovery of muscle post-exercise, says a new study, but it may not be suitable for all sports. 

Data published in Phytotherapy Research​indicated that a four gram dose of ginger for five days pre-exercise was more effective than two grams for accelerating recovery of muscle strength following muscle damage.

“It appears that this ginger supplementation protocol delayed muscle damage but did not prevent it,” ​wrote the researchers, led by James Smoliga from High Point University in North Carolina.


The rhizome of the ginger plant (Zingiber officinale​) is a rich source of antioxidants, including gingerols, shogaols, zingerones and other ketone derivatives. It has been reported to possess anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-proliferative activities.

Because of this anti-inflammatory potential the researchers investigated if ginger supplements could reduce or prevent muscle damage and soreness after exercise.

Previous studies have focused on using 2 gram doses of ginger, but the results have been inconsistent, explained the researchers in background information in their paper.

Smoliga and his co-workers decided to use four grams per day, and randomly assigned 20 non-weight trained men and women to five days of ‘loading’ with either ginger or placebo prior to an exercise protocol that would induce muscle damage.

The results showed that one repetition maximum lift was decreased in both groups 24 hours after the exercise protocol, but this was significantly improved in the ginger group at 48 hours. On the other hand, it was only improved at 72 and 96 hours post-exercise in the placebo group.

“Thus, it appears that ginger accelerated the initial improvement in muscle strength but did not influence strength 72 and 96 h after the exercise bout,” ​wrote the researchers. “Indications as to why the ginger group did not continue to improve may be due to the initial potency or bioavailability of necessary constituents no longer being available, given that supplementation had ceased during the recovery period.”

Different horses for different courses…

“Accelerated recovery in muscle strength could be useful for athletes competing in events where multiple bouts of maximal exercise must be performed in a short period of time (e.g. a qualifying round of competition preceding a final round by 48 h),” ​said the researchers. “However, post-exercise was actually impaired following ginger supplementation, and therefore, athletes who rely on flexibility (e.g. gymnasts) may be negatively impacted by ginger.

“Ultimately, athletic performance represents the complex interaction of multiple factors, and therefore, future studies examining ginger and other nutraceutical compounds as ergogenic aids should attempt to incorporate more holistic measures of athletic performance whenever possible (e.g. sprinting times, agility tests, and sport-specific movements). Indeed, recent evidence suggests that 6 weeks of 1.5 g of ginger per day may attenuate exercise-associated inflammatory markers in male distance runners.”

Recent evidence suggests that 6 weeks of 1.5 g of ginger per day may attenuate exercise-associated inflammatory markers in male distance runners.


“Although there remain many unknowns, the results of this study, combined with multiple others, makes it clear that ginger does indeed have an influence on basic measures of muscle function in relation to exercise, and further studies in this area are needed,” ​they added.

“Future studies should examine the dose–response relationship of ginger on muscle function, evaluate the effects on trained individuals, and seek to further differentiate the effects of pre- and post-muscle damage ginger supplementation,” ​they concluded.

Source: Phytotherapy Research
Volume 29, Issue 6, pages 887–893, doi: 10.1002/ptr.5328
“The Effects of Pre-Exercise Ginger Supplementation on Muscle Damage and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness”
Authors: M.D. Matsumura, G.S. Zavorsky, J.M. Smoliga

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