“Coach, I’m still sore from that Open workout. What the hell?”
So, what can you do to reduce that delayed onset muscle soreness? First, let me explain what you’re feeling. That soreness is caused by inflammation due to microtears between your muscles and their surrounding tissues. It’s not uncommon, and our programming intentionally adds volume/intensity weekly so your body is exposed to new stimuli allowing for a compensation period which results in muscle growth and/or fat loss.
Soreness is most typically brought on by “eccentric” movements, or when a muscle forcefully contracts while lengthening, like when lowering a deadlift, or sinking into the bottom of a squat or pushup. These damaged muscles release chemicals that trigger inflammation, which awakens your pain receptors.
Now, let me tell you some easy things you can consume/do to counter that soreness.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are widely accepted as having a positive effect on inflammation; but, research is mixed on its effectiveness at reducing soreness, per se. Proper dosage is also a sticking point for researchers, but the wide majority of evidence says that a higher dose of fatty acids has the greatest effect; “higher” meaning more than 3g daily. So, take it to reduce inflammation caused by our American diets, but don’t necessarily expect it to help reduce soreness.
Curcumin is a buzz-supplement for the reduction of muscle soreness, and there’s growing research supporting its effectiveness. 2.5g twice daily has repeatedly been shown to decrease muscle soreness and actually offset some of the performance deficits caused by exercise-induced muscle damage. You’ll likely find curcumin bottled with turmeric, which also has anti-inflammatory properties. Make sure you take both with black pepper extract as neither are absorbed well without it.
Magnesium Sulfate / Epsom Salt Bath
Epsom salt baths are shown to have a significant effect on perceived pain, and cause a dramatic drop in blood lactate levels. Magnesium is a muscle relaxer, and as it’s absorbed thru your skin via a warm bath, it flushes lactic acid from your skeletal muscles. As a side benefit, magnesium helps convert tryptophan to serotonin, which balances mood. So, if you’re low in magnesium, you might also suffer from sadness or moodiness. One caveat… I wouldn’t recommend Epsom salt baths post-workout. Save these for at least a couple hours later.
Ice baths definitely reduce “perceptions” of exercise-induced fatigue and soreness, especially when you plan to workout again later that same day; but, ice baths aren’t recommended as a long-term strategy for managing inflammation and muscle soreness. Repeated use of ice baths may actually hamper muscular adaptions to exercise. So, if you use them, do so sparingly, for a short duration, and not at excessively cold temperatures.
Research on Vitamin C’s ability to reduce muscle soreness is mixed, but I’ve seen enough research saying that taking a minimum of 1,000mg pre- and post-workout can’t hurt with regard to muscle soreness, so I say try it out for yourself. Vitamin C is dirt cheap, after all, and you can even supplement your Vitamin C intake by adding an orange into your post-workout nutrition.
While research is mixed on the effectiveness of vitamins on muscle soreness, research seems to be pretty conclusive about the positive effect that polyphenols can have. They’re the nutrients found in blueberries, cherries, and pomegranates. A daily dose of 1 or 2 tablespoons (1/2 oz) of pomegranate juice concentrate or cherry juice can result in reduced markers of muscle soreness. 96 hours post-workout, your cortisol levels (the “stress hormone”) will be markedly lower.
Taurine & BCAA’s
Earlier, I mentioned that fish oil shows a significant reduction in inflammation but none really in muscle soreness. Well, taurine and branched-chain amino acids are the exact opposite. Research on these two show a significant reduction in muscle soreness but none really in inflammation.
“A review of nutritional intervention on delayed onset muscle soreness. Part I.” Kim, J., Kim, L.
“Effect of high dose vitamin C supplementation on muscle soreness, damage, function, and oxidative stress to eccentric exercise.” Bryer S., Goldfarb A.
“Does combined antioxidant vitamin supplementation blunt repeated bout effect?” He F., Hockemeyer J., Sedlock D.
“Supplementation with a polyphenolic blend improves post-exercise strength recovery and muscle soreness.” Herrlinger, K., Chirouzes, D., Ceddia M.
“The effects of polyphenol supplementation on muscular strength, power, and soreness following eccentric exercise.” Machin, D.
“Cryotherapy and Exercise Recovery: Part 1.” Cressey, E.
“The acute effects of flotation restricted environmental stimulation technique on recovery from maximal eccentric exercise.” Morgan, P.
“Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).” Nicol, L., Rowlands, D.
“Curcumin effects on inflammation and performance recovery following eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.” Davis, J., Murphy, E.