Sore muscles are the bane of any athlete's existence, and the wide variety of methods touted to speed up recovery time is constantly being added to through research and innovation, as well as folklore, word of mouth and guessing.
Sulfur is rapidly establishing itself as a new ally in protection against muscle damage. Recently, there has been a buzz about the properties of sulfur products, many people swearing by the anti-inflammatory, anti-cramping and pain relieving benefits of sulfur compounds.
A group of researchers from Spain decided to find out if there was any truth behind the sulfur hype, and recruited a bunch of well trained endurance athletes to participate in a trial. The athletes were split into two groups and supplemented with either sulfated mineral water, or a placebo, for a three week period. After this, they were asked to run for two hours at 70% of their maximal output, a level of exercise that would cause an appreciable level of muscle damage in the athletes.
Both groups were then subjected to a 30 day break to wash out the effect of the previous experiment, and the treatments reversed, so the group that originally received the sulfated mineral water now received the placebo, and vice versa, and the exercise test repeated.
Before and after each two-hour run, blood was taken from the athletes and measured for various biological parameters associated with muscle damage.
While there was an increase in the levels of reactive sulfur species, as is often seen where antioxidant levels are low, inflammatory white blood cells, and creatine phosphokinase, which is a marker of muscle damage, were all increased immediately after, and for two days post-exercise. Additionally, levels of antioxidant product, catalase, were higher immediately after exercise in the sulfur groups, as was haemoglobin and red blood cell level.
This well constructed study that used the athletes as their own control group, has uncovered some pretty strong evidence that sulfur can minimise muscle damage and speed recovery. It will be interesting to see if sulfur compounds start turning up in post-workout formulas.
Sulfur rich foods, like eggs, meat, cruciferous vegetables, and onions and garlic before a training session could improve your recovery - just keep in mind that muscle soreness stinks a lot more than onion breath!
Soria M, González-Haro C, Esteva S, Escanero JF, Pina JR. Effect of sulphurous mineral water in haematological and biochemical markers of muscle damage after an endurance exercise in well-trained athletes. J Sports Sci. 2014 Feb 6.