Have you ever woken up the day after a workout and thought, “Man, I’m sore” only to wake up the following day thinking, “Holy cow, I’m really sore”? If so, you were likely experiencing DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. DOMS typically peaks between 24 and 48 hours after a hard workout, and is the main cause of reduced performance in subsequent workouts.
While researchers are still trying to figure out exactly what causes DOMS, one theory is that it’s the result of microtrauma in the muscle, and subsequent release of inflammatory chemicals as the muscles begin to repair themselves.
Here are some nutrition strategies you can use to limit DOMS:
As if we all needed another reason to drink our caffeinated beverages, here’s a good one athletes will surely appreciate: 5 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight (or about 2.27 mg per pound of body weight) has been shown to reduce DOMS in both men and women.
One 8-ounce cup of home brewed coffee has about 95 mg of caffeine, so a 150 pound person would need about 3.6 cups, or 29 ounces, starting an hour before and 24-48 hours afterwards to have this effect. Note that most coffee shops brew coffee with more caffeine than the average home brew.
You may be saying to yourself “wow, that’s a lot of coffee!” and you’re right, it is. If you’re not a coffee/caffeine drinker, this probably won’t be something you’ll want to try! For the rest of you seasoned coffee drinkers, this may help alleviate some of that pain.
Side note: Will caffeine dehydrate you? No it won't - here's why.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
These essential fatty acids cannot be made in the body, and therefore, must be consumed in the diet. They’re known for their anti-inflammatory benefits, which may be why 1.8-3 grams of omega-3s may reduce DOMS after exercise.
If you’re currently taking an omega-3 supplement, try taking it immediately after your workout to see if you notice any benefits. And if you are taking a supplement for this reason, make sure it has 1.8-3 grams of EPA and DHA combined, as some will have other oils in them as “fillers”. And perhaps most importantly, ditch your essential fatty acid supplement if it contains omega-6 oils – they are pro-inflammatory and may end up blunting the omega-3 anti-inflammatory effect.
Taurine is an amino acid, and is commonly found in meats and fish. When consumed alone or in combination with branched chain amino acids (BCAAs – leucine, isoleucine, and valine), it has been shown to reduce DOMS after high intensity strength exercises. While researchers are unsure of exactly how, it may be due to taurine’s antioxidant effects.
Found abundantly in plant foods, polyphenols are known for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory capacity. The effect of polyphenols on reducing DOMS may depend on the specific exercise, dose amount, and/or timing of consumption.
While there isn’t enough evidence to make specific recommendations, blueberries, pomegranates, cherries, dark chocolate, red wine*, black and green tea, a variety of seasonings (e.g. cloves, oregano, rosemary, thyme) are rich in polyphenols and are all part of a healthy diet.
*While wine is ok in moderation, don’t start drinking it if you don’t already. You can get plenty of polyphenols in other darkly colored fruits and veggies.
Regardless of whether you choose to focus on these specific nutrients for minimizing DOMS, getting enough calories from fat, protein and carbohydrate to support daily activities and exercise is an important part of recovery.
Speak with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to get specific personalized recommendations on each of these. Progressing slowly in your training is also important for preventing soreness. Next time, I’ll have a recipe for you that features some of these DOMS-reducing nutrients.
Kim, Jooyoung, and Joohyung Lee. "A review of nutritional intervention on delayed onset muscle soreness. Part I." Journal of exercise rehabilitation 10.6 (2014): 349-356.