Can Turmeric Help With Workout Recovery? Plus, Recipes That May Reduce Muscle Soreness

You’ll never think of curry the same way. 

If you've been hearing a lot about turmeric, it's probably because the warm, earthy, bright yellow spice is one of the most researched. You can find it in ground form in the spice section of most grocery stores, and increasingly, you can also find fresh turmeric root in the produce section.

Traditionally, you'll see turmeric used in curries—it's what's partially responsible for their bright yellow hue—but as of late, fueled by news of its many health benefits, turmeric has made its way into smoothies and lattes (aka golden milk, which is basically turmeric and other spices heated with warm milk), as well as in soups, fried rice, and roasted vegetable dishes. You can even add it to salads, tuna, and a long list of other savory options—and there are plenty of reasons to do so. One of our favorite easy Easter dinner ideas is salmon roasted with turmeric-spiced compound butter.

Health Benefits of Turmeric

As any nutritionist or registered dietitian will tell you, turmeric is one of the healthiest spices to add to your diet. It has myriad health benefits, including anti-inflammatory properties, antioxidative properties, and more.

Turmeric is a strong antioxidant

"Turmeric is a powerful antioxidant and great for reduction of inflammation, which may speak to its benefit for helping with heart disease," says Vanessa Rissetto MS, RD, CDN, the co-founder of Culina Health. "And it's believed to be able to have some neurological benefits, such as warding off Alzheimer's and decreasing depression. Also, because of its high antioxidative properties, it's thought to help prevent cancer."

Turmeric can reduce workout-related inflammation

Those same anti-inflammatory properties that make turmeric such a powerhouse when it comes to fighting heart disease, also help reduce inflammation and pain post-workout. "Curcumin—the active form of turmeric—is known for its inflammation-fighting properties, and as a potent antioxidant, turmeric can help alleviate post-workout inflammation," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. "Although inflammation is the body's natural healing process, reducing it slightly can help with pain and stiffness in joints."

Turmeric is great for your joints and muscles

Rizzo goes on to note that research suggests that curcumin can also promote joint health in those who suffer from arthritis. "All athletes undergo normal wear and tear in the joints, and curcumin might help curb that process," she adds. Lastly, curcumin may reduce muscle soreness. "A 2017 study found that athletes who supplemented with curcumin had less overall muscle soreness than those who didn't."

More specifically, the curcumin in turmeric can impact one of the inflammatory pathways that occur with delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS. "This is the characteristic soreness that happens a few days after intense training," says Samantha McKinney, RD, a corporate program manager at Life Time. As for timing, according to Rissetto, there isn't definitive data on when turmeric should be consumed in relation to a workout, or if you should have more or less depending on the type of workout you're doing (such as strength vs. cardio).

What to Eat After a Workout: Turmeric Recipes

Most of the research on turmeric uses supplemental forms of curcumin, so the doses are much higher than the normal consumption of turmeric in recipes. "For example, the doses in research on the brain and joint health may be 500 to 2,000 milligrams, while there are only about 200 milligrams in one teaspoon of turmeric," says Rizzo.

If you're looking for anti-inflammatory workout-related benefits, she suggests eating about half to one tablespoon of turmeric per day. "Also, keep in mind that turmeric is better absorbed with certain nutrients, like black pepper or fats," she adds. "To get the most from it, pair it with oils or other healthy fats and add a dash of black pepper."

While there isn't research to show if it matters whether you have turmeric before or after your workout, adding it to your post-workout nosh seems like a reasonable way to go. After all, there are many benefits to working out on an empty stomach, and having turmeric before a run or stretching session doesn't sound appealing to most. "Having protein with a small amount of carbohydrate helps with muscle recovery and protein sparing," says Rissetto. A go-to she recommends are turkey roll-ups with some sprinkles of turmeric, and a side of blueberries, which are also believed to aid in muscle recovery.

Keep reading for more dishes with turmeric that would be ideal to eat after a workout.

Mango turmeric smoothie on a white surface
Caitlin Bensel

Mango-Turmeric Smoothie

Since smoothies may already be a part of your pre- or post-workout routine, it shouldn't be too hard to find a space for this turmeric-packed beverage in your diet. This smoothie also calls for a pinch of black pepper, so Rizzo would definitely approve.

Get the recipe.

ferozeea/Getty Images

Instant Pot Coconut Curry

Packed schedule? This flavorful chicken dish made with a bunch of pantry staples is ready in about 35 minutes and is a great family dinner to throw together on a busy weeknight. You can use turmeric in place of cumin, or sprinkle some alongside it if you want a really flavorful meal.

Get the recipe.

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