Essential oils began gaining in popularity alongside an upward trend in holistic healthcare during the last few decades. But what exactly makes an essential oil, and how can they benefit you during post-workout recovery?
An essential oil is the chemical compound extracted from a plant that holds the “essence” or the scent of the plant. Once the essential oil is extracted, the result is a concentrated substance that can be used in a variety of ways to support your health, traditionally called aromatherapy. The fragrant essence used in aromatherapy typically has some kind of healing property, including antibacterial, calming, anti-inflammatory, and immunity support. Many of these benefits are especially helpful for post-workout recovery.
Benefits in Your Post-Workout Recovery
So how can essential oils help you during post-workout recovery? Let’s take a look at several aspects of recovery, and which oils are the best fit.
Strenuous workouts that push the limits of what your muscles typically perform in a day have several health benefits, including building and toning muscle groups. The physical activity causes small tears throughout the muscle, which then becomes inflamed. While this process is common for building muscle, the resulting inflammation can be quite uncomfortable. Scientific and anecdotal evidence has found success with the following essential oils in reducing inflammation: Lavender, Eucalyptus, Ginger, and Thyme.
Pain following a workout is common, either from inflammation as described above, or an injury. Using essential oils for mild post-workout pain and discomfort, rather than over the counter medication, is a safer solution with far less harmful side effects. A 2016 meta-analysis found aromatherapy to be effective in treating pain in a variety of studies that included essential oils of Lavender, Eucalyptus, Ginger, and Citrus/Orange.
Another aspect to workout recovery is improving circulation, as increased blood flow provides necessary oxygen, nutrients, and immunity cells to areas that are inflamed or damaged from the workout. Essential oils that stimulate and improve circulation are Lavender, Ginger, Cypress, Black Pepper, and Peppermint.
Getting to Know Your Oils
You might have noticed several essential oils were listed in more than one category above. This is a helpful element to essential oils, that each of them possess a wide variety of properties to support your health. Three essential oils that can be helpful for multiple aspects of post-workout recovery are Lavender, Eucalyptus, and Ginger. If you are new to essential oils, experimenting with these first will give you the widest range of benefit, without requiring as much upfront time and cost. As you get more comfortable with the application methods, trying new oils and combinations can be fun and useful.
This is a popular essential oil for aromatherapy due to its recognizable scent and calming effects, and is a chemical compound found in the leafy Lavender plant. A 2018 study found that Lavender essential oil reduced inflammation by limiting nitric oxide and histamine responses associated with edema and swelling. The study found this was true both through topical applications and oral consumption.
The essential oil obtained from the leaves of the Eucalyptus plant have a much more potent smell than some other essential oils, but the antioxidant and analgesic effects are still significant. The chemical composition is similar to the Lavender plant and has been shown in studies to reduce swelling by limiting the prostaglandins responsible for the swelling.
The Ginger root is commonly used in aromatherapy, as well as food supplements. The essential oil is not actually found in the root, but in a stem of the plant called a rhizome. This compound is often used for nausea and digestive health, but it also supports cardiovascular health and circulation, which is important for post-workout recovery.
Applying Essential Oils Effectively
Essential oil application is either through topical treatment, inhalation, or oral consumption. For muscle soreness and recovery, topical treatment is an effective way to target the area that is most in need of healing. Many health stores and pharmacies will sell ready-made products, but you can also create your own product. When creating your own, you will need to buy the concentrated oil blend, and use droplets sparingly to create your finished product. Remember, a little goes a long way.
One application method is to use a carrier oil for topical use. A carrier oil is naturally derived from a nut or seed, and has little or no scent. This allows for dilution of the concentrated essential oil, making it safe to massage into the sore muscle group. Good carrier oils include olive, coconut, avocado, grapeseed, sunflower, and jojoba oil. Animal based oils like shortening or butter are not ideal as carrier oils. Again, if homemade oils are not appealing to you, many companies have curated products that are ready to use.
Another popular method is a bath additive. Warm baths are a useful tool to aid in workout recovery, and essential oils can be a relaxing addition that will absorb through the skin. This method also allows for inhalation of the essential oils through the steam that the bath creates. Individual recipes for bath salts can be found online, but typically contain some blend of baking soda, epsom or sea salt, and a few drops of essential oils. Blend together in a bowl and store in a sealed glass jar. While bath salts and bath bombs are easy to find in a variety of retail stores, it is important to read the ingredient list to make sure the product contains essential oil extract (rather than synthetic fragrance) and all natural ingredients.
For a lighter application method, you can also create an essential oil spray to use directly on the sore muscle groups. After you have decided which essential oil scent, or combination of scents you prefer, you can mix a few drops of the concentrate into purified or distilled water. Glass spray bottles are ideal, as plastic can erode over time. The ratio is up to you, but a few drops go a long way. Essential oil sprays and mists, as well as homemade recipes, are easy to find online and in health stores.
It is important to note that any treatment of pain or injuries should include a healthcare professional. Beyond that, adding essential oils to your post-workout recovery is a natural method to decrease pain and inflammation, while increasing circulation and overall well-being. It can also become an elevating and relaxing part of your workout regimen.