Working out 5 to 6 days a week opens a large window of opportunity for us to be sidelined with a host of aches, pains, and bodily annoyances that threaten to slow us down.
Thanks to sports medicine physician Jordan Metzl’s The Athlete’s Book of Home Remedies, we devout exercisers now have a bible of doctor-approved tips, tricks, and solutions at our fingertips, covering everything from the very serious (breaks and tears) to the bothersome (shin splints and sunburn).
What starts off innocently as your skin rubbing on something else—be it more skin, your jogging shorts, or your sports bra—can quickly become more sinister. A little friction can make skin become inflamed and may even cause bleeding.
Try these strategies to deal with it:
Keep it clean: If your chafing is bad enough that the area’s bleeding or on the verge of bleeding, clean it with hydrogen peroxide, then apply antibiotic ointment and cover it with sterile gauze and athletic tape or bandages.
Wear tights: Athletic tights and spandex cycling shorts stretch and cause no friction against the skin.
Roll on relief: Most sports stores carry sticks of roll-on lubricant that you can rub on before activities that may lead to raw skin.
2. Chapped Lips
Athletes training in dry, cold weather or intense sunshine can develop chapped lips. The skin on the lips is very thin, so there’s nothing to protect them from the elements.
Stay hydrated:. You could be dehydrated. Make sure you’re drinking enough fluids that your urine is clear or the color of light straw.
Mind your nutrition: Taking an omega-3 supplement (or eating more fatty fish like salmon) is a good idea because chapped lips can be caused by a lack of unsaturated fatty acids.
Buy the right balm: A waxy lip balm can cover your lips and help prevent chapping, but if they’re already chapped, forget it. You need moisture. Petroleum jelly is very effective. Also look for lip balms that have only natural ingredients like olive oil, almond oil, beeswax, and shea butter.
And in a pinch…If you have nothing else handy, rub your finger alongside your nose, and then rub it on your lips. Your finger will pick up a little of the natural oil on your skin, which is the kind of oil the lips are looking for anyway.
3. Heat Exhaustion
The combination of heat, heavy perspiration, and inadequate hydration takes away your body’s ability to properly cool itself, and your internal temperature starts to rise.
The symptoms resemble the onset of shock: You feel weak, dizzy, nauseated, or worried. You could have a headache and/or a fast heartbeat.
Get out of the heat, fast: This is the obvious answer, but people often ignore it. You need shade or air-conditioning. Once you feel better, know that returning to the sun (even hours later) could spur a relapse.
Drink cool fluids: Drinking cold water and sports drinks not only works well for fast hydration, but also will help lower your internal temperature. (Try one of these sassy water recipes to help keep you hydrated.)
Get wet: Cold water on the skin is a big help. Cold water on the skin in front of a fan is even better. Spray it on, drizzle it over your head and neck, or wipe yourself down with cold, wet towels.
Check your weight: If you train in hot weather, weigh yourself before and after a workout to see how much water weight you’ve lost. Then replenish. The next day, weigh yourself again before the workout—and every day thereafter. If your weight doesn’t return to your original number or drops further, you may be slowly dehydrating yourself. Again, clear or pale straw—colored urine is your goal.
Keep your shirt on: You pick up more radiant heat exposure with your shirt off. Once you perspire, a shirt can act as a cooling device when the wind blows on the wet material.
Avoid alcohol: A good summer workout, or even a long round of golf in the sun, may make you feel that it’s time for a beer afterward. Watch it. Alcohol dehydrates you and can make even mild heat exhaustion worse. Hydrate first, celebrate later.
Wait a week: If you do get heat exhaustion, try to stay out of extreme heat for the next week. You’re especially vulnerable to a relapse during that time.
Wait a week (Part 2): If you train in normal temperatures and know you have a big athletic event coming up in hot weather, give your body time to acclimate to it. Train in that weather for at least a week beforehand.
4. Swimmer’s Ear
Swimmer’s ear begins as an itchy ear. Left untreated, it can turn into a full-blown infection, which is excruciating.
Go OTC: Most drugstores carry eardrops that help dry up swimmer’s ear. If ear itchiness is your only symptom, this might be enough to ward off an infection. Use drops each time your ear gets wet.
Leave your earwax alone: Earwax serves several purposes, including harboring friendly bacteria. Wax also coats the ear canal and protects it from moisture. Rubbing a cotton swab in your ear is a surefire recipe for swimmer’s ear.
Try drops: Tilt your head to the side, pull your ear up and back to open up the canal, and use an eye-dropper to apply drops of one of the following: rubbing alcohol; a solution of equal parts rubbing alcohol and white vinegar; or, for preventive protection before swimming, mineral oil, baby oil, or lanolin. Once you put the drops in, turn your head to the other side and let them drain out naturally.
Plug ’em: Wax or silicone earplugs found at any drugstore can keep the water out whenever you swim or shower.
Every athlete has bruises. But there are ways to treat them and help them disappear faster.
Ice, then heat: Apply ice for 15 minutes several times a day during the first 2 days. After that, use heat to help dilate the blood vessels and improve circulation in the area, which will help the body remove the blood in the bruise. Elevating the bruise above the level of your heart at any time can also help.
Watch for side effects: Aspirin, NSAIDs, antidepressants, and asthma medications can thin the blood and make you bruise easily.
Get more C: Vitamin C helps build protective collagen around blood vessels in the skin. Up your intake of citrus fruits, leafy green vegetables, and bell peppers.
And more K: Vitamin K helps erase bruising by helping blood to clot. Rub some vitamin K cream (available at drugstores) on a bruise a few times a day to help it clear faster.
Try arnica: Arnica (available at most drugstores) is a homeopathic remedy that has been shown to prevent and minimize bruising. A topical gel, it helps dilate capillaries under the skin, which allows blood to move out of the injured area. (See natural pain relievers for more science-backed natural solutions.)
6. Foot Odor
Your feet have more sweat glands per square inch of skin than any other part of your body—an average of 250,000 of them. So you can imagine what’s going on after a good workout.
Your feet being encased in shoes and socks allows the bacteria proliferating on your skin to produce an evil substance called isovaleric acid that makes your feet reek.
Wash, dry, and powder: Wash feet thoroughly, especially between the toes, every day. Dry them well and apply a foot odor powder or cornstarch. And don’t forget to apply the powder inside your shoes as well.
Use two pairs: Alternating days that you wear different pairs of the same make and model of shoe allows each pair time to dry out.
Up your zinc intake: Foot odor is one of many symptoms of zinc deficiency. Replenish your zinc level with oysters, nuts, peas, eggs, whole grains, and pumpkin seeds.