DOs and DON’Ts of Soothing Sore Muscles After Exercise
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Muscle soreness following a vigorous workout is sometimes managed by stretching, practicing yoga, soaking in a hot bath and simply suffering through. But who wants to suffer?
Luckily, there’s a remedy for delayed onset muscle soreness – aka DOMS. A new study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research compared the effects of massage versus exercise to relieve DOMS and found exercise to be just as effective in relieving post workout aches and pains. Who knew the “hair of the dog” could be so effective?
The study concluded:
“Active exercise using elastic resistance provides similar acute relief of muscle soreness as compared with massage … use(ing) either active warm-up or massage to reduce daily onset muscle soreness acutely, e.g. before competition or strenuous work, but should be aware that the effect is temporary; i.e. the greatest effects occur during the first 20 minutes after treatment and diminish within an hour.”
Why Does Exercise Sometimes Cause Muscle Soreness? (HINT: It‘s NOT Lactic Acid!)
Stemming from a century-old frog experiment, people once thought muscle soreness was caused by lactic acid buildup, But while the “burn” experienced during exertion is lactic acid, your body flushes it out within an hour.
Your muscles produce lactic acid from glucose, so it’s a muscle fuel, not a waste product. It’s absorbed by your mitochondria, and the more fit you are, the better your muscles are at using it. The larger your muscles become, the more mitochondria you have to power your “lactic acid furnace.” Mitochondrial mass – and athletic performance – is further increased by high-intensity, burst-type training.
DOMS is caused by microscopic tears in muscle fibers, releasing chemical irritants that trigger inflammation. Downward movements like squats or pushups that force your muscles to contract while lengthening – “eccentric contractions” – seem to cause the most soreness.
Other theories about DOMS target changes in osmotic pressure, muscle spasms or differences in how muscle cells regulate calcium, but they’re a physiological process naturally resulting in increased strength and stamina.
ONE Treatment to Absolutely Avoid
Relying on over-the-counter analgesics is not advised. They may not even provide much relief. Taking ibuprofen before a workout to reduce muscle soreness is linked to intestinal leakage and systemic inflammation. Long-term use may lead to intestinal permeability, allowing bacteria and digestive enzymes into your bloodstream, and reduces key nutrient absorption, particularly after exercise.
Aspirin isn’t proven to reduce muscle damage or soreness, either, and the coating might actually interfere with any benefit.
While you can’t prevent all muscle soreness, there are natural approaches. My top five are:
- Optimizing your diet
- Exercising correctly
- Rest and recovery
- Cryotherapy (ice), heat, or alternating applications
- EFT, earthing and acceleration training
The Care and Feeding of Your Muscles
First priority: Eat fresh, organic, nutritionally dense foods. This gives your body the building blocks to forming strong, resilient, inflammation-resistant tissues. Obviously, eating right helps in many other ways! Check out our complete nutrition plan, providing excellent and extensive dietary information.
Fitness nutrition for energy and endurance hinges on three important factors:
- Consuming a diet high in good fats (50 to 70 percent), moderate in protein, low in carbohydrates, and very low in sugar. (This means ditching your sports drinks, energy drinks and most energy bars).
- Getting adequate essential amino acids, especially leucine.
- Appropriate timing of meals, or intermittent fasting. Exercising in a fasting state can boost muscle growth. The easiest way to accomplish this: Exercise immediately upon arising, followed by a fast-assimilating protein recovery meal 30 minutes afterward.
Fructose consumption two hours before or after high-intensity interval exercise decimates your body’s ability to produce human growth hormone (HGH), central to tissue repair. If your levels are low, muscle soreness will be greater. Carbohydrate loading is counterproductive to gaining muscle tone, losing fat and boosting performance.
Amino Acids: The Building Blocks of Muscle
Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle. Leucine is a powerful muscle builder. However, amino acid isolates of leucine should be avoided because in its free form, it’s been shown to contribute to insulin resistance and may lead to muscle wasting. It’s far better to get leucine from whole foods. The best source is a high quality whey protein.
Carnosine (consisting of the two amino acids beta-alanine and histidine) is an antioxidant that helps reduce muscle soreness from high-intensity anaerobic muscle performance by buffering acids in your muscle tissue to reduce inflammation.
Most studies find that beta-alanine is better than carnosine to increase athletic performance, since beta-alanine appears to be the rate-limiting amino acid in the formation of carnosine. As your muscles accumulate hydrogen ions, their pH falls, making them more acidic. The theory is that improving your carnosine levels counteracts the detrimental effect of hydrogen ions, enabling you to sustain high-intensity muscle contractions longer.
Nutritional Support for Exercise Induced Aches and Pains
Nutritional factors can help prevent and resolve DOMS:
- Ginger: Long known as a medicinal and natural pain reliever, studies show both raw and heat-treated ginger reduces muscular pain by about 24 percent.
- Curcumin: Besides giving turmeric its vibrant yellow-orange color, curcumin effectively relieves pain, increases mobility and reduces inflammation.
- Omega-3 fats: Beneficial fats are highly anti-inflammatory and heart-beneficial. My favorite is krill oil, with unparalleled ability to quell pain and inflammation.
- Sulfur/MSM: MSM, which is 34 percent sulfur, is famous for its joint health benefits, improving metabolism and reducing inflammation. MSM also appears to improve cell wall permeability, helping to deliver other active ingredients. Sulfur plays a critical role in detoxification and is the primary component in your body’s most important native antioxidant — glutathione.
- Astaxanthin: This natural-occurring supernutrient is a powerful antioxidant boasting numerous health benefits, including DOMS and faster recovery time. It even increases your body’s ability to metabolize fat! In a 2007 study, mice given astaxanthin showed heightened body fat reduction when given astaxanthin with exercise, compared to exercise alone.
- Cherries: Cherries are a proven anti-inflammatory, besides reducing your uric acid level. Science shows they help with maladies like arthritis and gout, as well as general muscle soreness. One study involving a group of long distance runners found tart cherry juice to significantly reduce post-exertion pain.
- Arnica: Homeopathic arnica was demonstrated to reduce muscle soreness among marathon runners in a 2007 study.
Does Stretching Really Help?
While many think stretching feels good, science says passive, static stretching, which most people do, has no benefit. But the active form – dynamic stretching, like lunges, squats, or arm circles – could help prevent soreness and helps improve your power, speed, agility, endurance, flexibility and strength.
My favorite type of dynamic stretching is Active Isolated Stretching or AIS, in which you hold each stretch for just two seconds. AIS works with your natural physiology to improve circulation and increase muscle joint elasticity.
Overdoing it can cause extreme soreness, burnout and even injury. Don’t jump the gun after a major strength training session. Allow ample time for your muscles to fully recover before training them again – up to 7 days. I agree with Dr. Jeff Spencer’s strategy of “starting slow and finishing strong.”
Cold Water Immersion and Hot Baths
Cryotherapy or cold-water immersion helps reduce pain and inflammation and increases recovery time – significantly more than rest. But it will shock your body somewhat, so ensure the water is not too cold, and don’t stay in it too long.
A cold pack also works, especially within 48 hours. Alternating heat and cold is another method to increase circulation and reduce inflammation. And bathing in a warm tub of water to which you’ve added 200 to 400 grams of Epsom salt, for 10 to 20 minutes, is an excellent treatment and a great source of supplemental sulfur that can absorb through your skin.
EFT, Earthing, and Acceleration Training
A simple technique called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) can effectively reduce pain quickly, with high rates of success. And it’s free! This simple technique can be learned by nearly anyone. To learn the technique, please visit my EFT guide.
Along similar lines, a pilot study[v] found that grounding yourself to the earth, or “Earthing,” might help relieve DOMS. When walking barefoot on beach sand, close to or in the water and on dewy grass, free electrons in the ground transfer into your body through the soles of your feet. These free electrons are some of the most potent antioxidants known to man. Experiments have shown Earthing can decrease pain and inflammation, improve sleep and make your blood less viscous – good news for your heart.
And acceleration training or Whole Body Vibrational Training (WBVT) can significantly accelerate tissue healing. It involves standing on a vibrating plate to work ALL your muscles and nerves simultaneously. It stimulates your white muscle fibers to kick-start your pituitary gland into making more HGH.
WBVT – “mechanical massage” – can improve circulation, increase range of motion, improve balance, decrease pain and speed recovery from injuries. The most effective device may be the Power Plate.