Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is the technical term for the jiggly, aches and pains you feel after an intense workout. If you are like me and just getting back into your exercise regime this is a familiar experience.

The exact cause of muscle soreness is not known but there are several hypothesized theories such as lactic acid build up, muscle spasm, connective tissue damage, inflammation and enzyme efflux. While one theory has yet to be proven in my opinion, integration of two or more theories is  the most likely to explanation.

Delayed muscle soreness is an inconvenience for anyone workingout out but for professional athletes it means a reduction in athletic performance. Another issue is the body naturally compensates resulting in unaccustomed stress on the ligaments and tendons increasing the risk of injury.

Currently I am using my muscle tenderness as a motivation to keep going. For me, feeling “the burn” is a constant reminder that what I am doing is causing change. While some soreness is okay, I ensure it is not to a level that impacts my next workout or risks injury.

Lifestyle and supplemental therapies do exist to help alleviate the severity of muscle fatigue with evidence to support restoring maximal function ASAP and reducing the risk of injury.

At times this pain can be intense so here are my life hacks to combat the fatigue to ensure I make tomorrows workout.

water-drink-glass-drinking 1) Hydration: First and foremost!  This is the most important thing you can do for your body. Loss of even a small percent of body weight through sweating can result in dehydration. Symptoms include fatigue, headaches and diminished mental acuity. When rehydrating it is important to consider the amount of sodium lost through sweating. Adding in sodium to a replacement solution may be beneficial depending on the level of activity endured. One study suggests 150% of fluid losses must be consumed to allow for complete fluid restoration (Burke 1997).

2) Protein: Another basic principle of fitness is you ned adequate protein in maintain muscle mass and function. Availability of protein particularly post exercise enhances muscle protein synthesis.  In comparing athletes who consumed placebo (0g carb, 0g protein, 0g fat), vs. control (8h carb,0g protein,3g fat) vs. protein supplement (8g carb, 10g protein, 3g fat) they found the protein group had fewer medical visits, less muscle soreness, and interestingly less infections.  The authors concluded that muscle soreness immediately post exercise and is a therapeutic approach for the prevention of health problems in exercising populations (Flakily 2003).

3) Contrast Showers: Contrast showers involve alternating hot and cold temperature application to cause alternating vasoconstriction and vasodilation. During contrast therapy each alteration of temperature generally lasts for 30-120 seconds and is repeated 2-5 times. This treatment stimulates the metabolism of the tissues it is applied to. It stimulates circulation (increases oxygen absorption, increases CO2 excretion), increases lactic acid removal, reduces inflammation & swelling, relieves stiffness & pain, increased ROM, all leading to a reducing in muscle fatigue & tension (Wilcock et al., 2006).

If water was not so critical to health, our bodies would not be made up of so much of it. If heat was not vitally important to survival, our bodies wouldn’t spend so much energy maintaining a narrow thermic range.

coffee-cup-working-happy5) Caffeine: For all you coffee lovers out there like me, we are in luck. Finally a study to support the addiction so many of us suffer with. Caffeine ingestion immediately before a resistance training not only enhances performance but there are further beneficial effects of sustained caffeine ingestion in the days after the exercise! Days later individuals in a 2013 study reported decreased soreness and allowed the participants to increase the number of training sessions in a given time period (Hurley et al. 2013).

6) Magnesium: Suboptimal magnesium (Mg) levels is quite common in North American and certain exercise appears to aggravate the consequences of this depletion (Mooren et al, 2005). In particular exercise that promotes fatty acid mobilization aka lipolysis (long endurance type trainings) causes a decrease in plasma Mg (Rayssiguier et al. 1990). Animal experiments show that Mg deficiency reduces physical performance and reduces the efficiency of energy metabolism which can contribute to muscle soreness and recovery (Navas, 1996).  If physiological doses are administered for one month  and positive effects are seen this provides evidence that a deficiency may have existed.

7) Acupuncture: Competitive athletes, are faced with the challenge of pushing their minds and bodies to the limit. When athletes consistently work at higher and higher intensities, their performance becomes hindered due to the accumulation of lactic acid in the muscles. Acupuncture is an effective strategy to reduced lactic acid levels so athletes can complete at their best, and offers a faster, quicker recovery.  Evidence from a 2011 study on elite basketball athletes showed acupuncture reduced HRmax, VO2max, and blood lactic acid levels in athletes at 30 and 60 minutes post exercise (Lin et al. 2011). The researchers conclude that these results suggest that acupuncture can enhance the recovery process after aggressive exercise (Lin et al. 2011). One possible explanation is that acupuncture increases circulation which promotes flushing of the lactic acid thereby reducing recovery times for athletes.

healthy-fruits-morning-kitchen4) Vitamin C: Traditionally we think of vitamin C being used during colds & flus but it turns out this antioxidant can do a lot more.  An investigation into whether or not vitamin C supplementation before exercise could reduce muscle soreness proved effective (Bryer et al. 2006). This benefit is attributed to the antioxidant effects of vitamin C. As an antioxidant it effectively reduces oxidation damage and reduces inflammation that occurs during exercise and contributes to muscle fatigue and post exercise soreness. If you are considering supplementing with vitamin C talk to your Doctor for a recommended dose. Consuming too high of vitamin C may result in diarrhea.

8) Proteolytic Enzymes: the use of proteolytic enzymes in sport recovery is controversial. Although outdated, studies do exist which demonstrate administration of various proteolytic enzymes decreasing the amount of swelling and pain associated with soft-tissue injuries. Some studies also show accelerated recovery (Trickett 1964). The benefits of proteolytic enzymes in DOMS are still yet to be proven in a randomized clinical trail. The mechanism of action of proteolytic enzyme is hypothesized to be that they aim in degrading fibrin deposits, improve drainage of debris and allow more oxygen and nutrients to reach the site. If this is in fact the case there may be benefits to post exercise recovery.

9) Branched Chain Amino Acids:  BCAA – leucine, isoleucine and valine- are found in muscle proteins. BCAA are broken down in muscle during exercise. BCAA supplementation before exercise improves muscle recovery by decreasing the release of essential amino acid from exercising muscle. Evidence also exists to show BCAA supplementation just prior to exercise increases protein synthesis in skeletal muscle (Simomura et al. 2010). BCAA supplementation not only attenuates muscle soreness but also increases function specifically when consumes before exercise and 3 days after exercise (Jackman et al., 2010).

10) Taurine: Unlike the BCAA discussed above, Taurine is a nonessential amino acid because our bodies can produce it from methionine via cysteine with the help of vitamin B6.  Taurine is present exclusively in animal products especially meat and fish. It has a lot of functions throughout the body which are anti-inflammatory and antioxidative.   Ra et. al (2013) divided 36 untrained male volunteers into four groups (BCAA vs. placebo vs. BCAA + Taurine vs. Taurine). Blood biochemical markers as well as subjective experience of DOMS was significantly reduced in the BCAA + Taurine group. The authors concluded supplemental taurine in combination with BCAA would be a useful way to attenuate DOMA and muscle damage caused by high intensity exercise (Ra et al., 2013).

pexels-photo-4610011) Sleep: Last but not least, good-quality sleep is restorative, and an important element in helping our body regenerate and repair. During sleep your body increases production of growth hormone (GH). Just by the name of this hormone you know its something you want. Everyone “ideal” sleep duration is unique but to be safe aim for 8-9 hours a night. Studies show that if you stay awake when you normally sleep there is no surge in growth hormone (Davidson et al. 1991). The good news is, once sleep is restored after periods of deprivation extra hormone is released. Just because your body can catch up does not mean you should make a habit out of late nights. Doing so will result in increased soreness and less muscle gains.

My thoughts on anti-inflammatory drugs:

In the past non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen were one of the few treatments for muscle pain. Personally, I use natural therapies when possible as evidence shows the use these over-the-counter pain killers to reduce muscle growth and causes damage to the liver with long term use (Trapped et al 2002).


Join me, if you are looking to take your performance to the next level and are not willing to allow muscle soreness to get in your way.  I help result focused individuals to optimize their fitness and health goals. Medically trained and naturally focused. I am your needed push in the right direction. 


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