There is an emerging market for gels applied through the skin to deliver electrolytes and other useful compounds directly to the muscles.
The manufacturers of these gels claim they can decrease recovery times, alleviate soreness after exercise, and even enable athletes to push harder and longer before fatiguing.
These gels often contain substances like sodium bicarbonate or carnosine which supposedly work by lowering the acidity of the blood and muscles. This acidity is what causes the sensation of pain or cramping in the muscles which forces athletes to stop exercising.
Lots of famous sportspeople are on the record in support of these gels, most notably Lance Armstrong whose investment company has a stake in one of the leading brands, but do they really work?
Some of the research into the effects of these gels show a high degree of individual variability, meaning some people get good results and others don’t.
This probably explains why you get very different opinions on the products, with some athletes claiming they work wonders while others report they are just gimmicks with little effect.
The performance gains also appear to be more pronounced in people with a more modest training background, while more serious athletes might not benefit as much.
Very Little Scientific Research
Ultimately there has been very little scientific research into these products as of yet, and the studies that have taken place were mostly funded by the manufacturers themselves.
The evidence that they can reduce muscle soreness after exercise does seem to be more substantial than the performance enhancement aspects.
Good hydration certainly promotes recovery in the muscles, and some research even suggests touch can play a powerful role in alleviating pain. So just the process of rubbing the gel into the muscles may have some sort of benefit to the nervous system.
So while it’s unclear exactly how they work and how effective they are, a hydration rub could be an effective recovery tool to add to your kit bag.