Intense, post-workout pain can make it difficult to move — much less maintain your normal exercise routine. Drug remedies, like COX-2 inhibitors bring their own set of risks (e.g., the now withdrawn Vioxx). Fortunately, new research is pointing to natural — and even delicious alternatives, like ginger!

A study published in The Journal of Pain examined the impact of ginger intake on muscle soreness. A group of 54 young volunteers, both male and female, were given a daily dose of either ginger (1.4 teaspoons) or a placebo for one week prior to a bout of heavy weight lifting (bicep curls). When surveyed the next day, the ginger eaters reported 24% less pain compared to the control group. Interestingly, the benefit was the same when the ginger was eaten raw or cooked. So regardless of whether you prefer your ginger juiced, sautéed or even pickled, you’ll still speed your muscle recovery.

Previous lab studies have shown that polyphenols in ginger (with such exotic names as gingerol, zingerone and shogaol) help to inhibit inflammatory COX enzymes. Other research suggests that compounds in cruciferous vegetables (e.g., cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts) may act in the same way. Tempted to simply pop a pill? Tufts researchers found that commercially available glucosamine supplements contain too little of the compound to do much good — while antioxidant supplements may actually block some exercise benefits. To get yourself safely and naturally back in the game, rely on a well-balanced, plant-based diet and don’t forget stretching, which could reduce soreness by as much as 23%.

Bonus: While ginger root has long been a staple in folk remedies, emerging research is starting to document other possible therapeutic effects, such as the potential to reduce morning sickness.

Published June 1, 2011