Morning Workout Drinks, Muscle-Cream Danger and More


Q: Can a sports drink like Gatorade A.M. boost my morning workout?

A: Gatorade A.M. doesn't do anything that regular Gatorade won't, except maybe taste better. It's the same formula spruced up with flavors like Tropical-Mango and Orange-Strawberry, which seem more appropriate to wake up to than something like Cool Blue (a standard Gatorade flavor). Taste aside, there is some benefit to downing a sports drink before hitting the gym in the morning, says Liz Applegate, PhD, director of sports nutrition at the University of California, Davis. A sports drink can replenish some of the fluids you lose while asleep, and its carbohydrates will lift your energy. Of course, there are other options for a preworkout boost, Applegate says—a glass of water and a banana or a bowl of cereal. But skip the high-fiber cereals: We love them for their heart-healthiness, but too much fiber before a workout can cause gas or cramping.

Q: I recently heard you can overdose on those muscle-soothing creams that ease aches and pains. How safe are they, really?

A: "Over the counter" doesn't mean "safe under any circumstances." Just because products are sold without a prescription and are used topically doesn't mean they can't hurt you. After all, your body can absorb almost anything you rub on your skin. The creams, gels, ointments, and adhesive patches sold to soothe sore muscles and joints do contain active ingredients, such as methyl salicylate, a compound similar to aspirin, and they can be overused. In fact, heavy, repeated application can cause toxic levels of the active drugs to build up in your bloodstream, leading to anything from internal bleeding to heart and neurological problems, says Karlis Ullis, MD, medical director of the Sports Medicine, Anti-Aging and Preventive Medical Group in Santa Monica, California. That's what happened to 17-year-old runner Arielle Newman of New York, who died from a heart problem linked to an accidental overdose of methyl salicylate, the active ingredient in sports creams like Ben-Gay and Icy Hot.

How to smartly, safely use muscle-soothing creams? Don't apply them and take aspirin (or other salicylate products, like the herb white willow bark) at the same time. Rub a small amount only on limited areas of your body when your skin is cool and dry, not when you're exercising; moisture and heat can increase absorption, as can covering the creams with bandages or tight clothing. Use the products for no more than five days, and no more than twice a day. And consider relieving soreness in other ways, too: Try stretching, ice packs, or gentle massage.

Q: My friend says stress is causing my eye to twitch. Is she right?

A: Stress can do all sorts of weird things to your body, and an eye twitch is one of them. Being stressed, short on sleep, or too loaded on caffeine can overexcite the tiny muscles that control blinking—and they respond to such stimuli faster than any other muscles in your body. Try calming the twitch with light rubbing or slow, circular massage. A hot compress can also help by stimulating blood flow. If the twitching is a regular occurrence, you might need more magnesium, which is essential for muscle relaxation. You can safely boost your magnesium intake with a 200- to 400-milligram supplement (talk to your doctor first), or do it the tasty way by eating more foods like almonds, spinach, tofu, and sunflower seeds.