We’ve all been there – a tough workout, heavier weights, or a fitness event that leaves you with sore muscles for days. Movements are stiff and awkward, even sitting down in a chair is hard to control. Muscle tenderness strikes anywhere between eight and 24 hours after exercise. It’s called DOMS – Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Although science can’t pinpoint the exact cause, most experts would agree that the pain is associated with micro tears in the muscle fibre causing mild inflammation.
Experiencing some degree of soreness after exercise is normal, but there are a few simple steps and nutrition strategies that can help ease the pain.
A long black on leg day may help ease post-workout pain, according to a 2013 study in the Journal Strength Conditioning and Research. Muscle damage causes inflammation, which leads to the release of a pain-promoting compound called adenosine. However, caffeine blocks the effects of adenosine by binding to its receptors resulting in less pain in the days following. Grab a cup an hour before your workout for the best results, however, watch your intake if sleep or hydration levels are affected.
To speed up recovery after your session, it’s important to fuel up with the right mix of nutrients. Ideally you want to eat or drink something within 60 to 90 minutes of finishing a workout when the body’s recovery processes are most effective. Since exercise depletes the glycogen levels within your muscles, topping up these stores while getting adequate protein is essential for muscle growth and repair. Dairy foods, such as milk, are one of the best foods to consume post workout as they contain the ideal ratio of fast digesting carbohydrates and protein while helping you rehydrate. If dairy doesn’t agree with you, other good options include raw salmon sushi rolls, poached eggs on toast, or a protein-rich smoothie with milk, Greek yoghurt and fruit.
Want to ease the pain after a long run? Drink cherry juice. In a 2010 study, runners who drank cherry juice for seven days prior to and during a long distance event, experienced less muscle pain than those drinking a placebo. Muscle pain is most likely due to oxidative stress, triggering the body’s inflammatory response, causing aches and pains. Consuming foods rich in anthocyanins – a potent antioxidant found in tart cherry juice is thought to mitigate this response by reducing inflammation and free radicals produced during exercise.
It’s well known that fatty fish like salmon boosts brain and heart health, but recent research shows it also does an active body good. A 2014 review found that consuming 3 g of omega-3 fatty acids can reduce DOMS after exercise. Making sure you get your 3 grams of omega-3 fats can be achieved by eating a serving of oily fish (tuna, salmon or sardines) roughly three times a week. These foods contain fatty acids, such as EPA and DHA, which are known to quell inflammation. Don’t like fish? Omega-3 fatty acids are also found in walnuts, flaxseed, chia seeds and enriched eggs.
Taurine is an amino acid, one of the many building blocks of protein. While most amino acids are used for muscle repair, this one functions slightly differently acting primarily as an antioxidant. Although the exact mechanism is not understood, a 2014 study showed ingestion of 50mg of taurine daily led to a significant reduction in DOMS for those undertaking resistance training. Fish such as mackerel and salmon, as well as red meat like lamb, are rich sources of taurine.