Most people have experienced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) after a workout. DOMS typically occurs 1 or 2 days after vigorous exercise that’s different from your normal routine – new movements, greater intensity or longer duration. DOMS is still a bit of a mystery, but this week’s blog will shed some light on its causes and what can be done to prevent it.
There is no clear explanation for what causes DOMS, but most experts agree that it’s a combination of multiple factors – lactic acid build-up, minor connective tissue damage (a normal part of any workout), muscle spasm, inflammatory responses, free radicals and nitric oxides. Most of these factors are by-products of normal metabolism and activity. However, when they go beyond the level of what your body is used to dealing with, they can cause pain and inflammation.
There are very few medical studies out there that conclusively show a good way to prevent DOMS – some things you just have to live with. However, a few supplements show some promising results.
Caffeine taken one hour before exercise and then 24 hours after exercise has been shown to reduce the intensity of DOMS. The reason why is unclear. The studies used 5 mg/kg body weight – about 350 mg for a 150 pound person, that’s the equivalent of 1-2 cups of coffee each morning.
Two to three grams of omega-3 fatty acids per day has also successfully reduced the pain from DOMS. They work by decreasing the overall inflammation in the body. Read labels carefully – the amount of omega-3 fatty acids is far less than the total fish oil listed as the serving size for most supplements. I’ve talked about this in great detail in past blogs – look in the November 2019 archive if you want to read more.
Studies have also shown polyphenols to be beneficial. Polyphenols are the potent antioxidants found in dark berries – cherry juice or pomegranate juice. The studies used 250-500 ml twice daily. Cherry juice concentrate is also helpful for many people in relieving some of the pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.
Finally, the amino acid taurine and the branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, valine) have been shown to effectively reduce the pain from DOMS. They not only help prevent fatigue during a workout, but they also support muscle repair following the workout. I have also found this to be quite helpful during my marathon training.
An adequate overall nutrition plan will typically include the components discussed above – pre and post nutrition is extremely important for anybody who works out regularly. It supports normal muscle energy metabolism and repair – reducing many of the factors that contribute to DOMS. Furthermore – and I can’t stress this enough – an overall healthy diet that is anti-inflammatory in nature is also extremely effective in modulating your body’s response to any damage or irritation that occurs during a workout.
Studies have also examined many of the common things that people do for DOMS – ice baths, stretching, drinking extra water, Epsom salt baths and massage. The conclusion was that any benefit was not clinically meaningful. However, many athletes anecdotally report relief and none of these things are harmful.