Updated: Jan 27
Can Nutrition Help with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)?
We all know that feeling - waking up after a hard leg session and feeling like you can’t walk. Even standing up is hard. That’s when you know you have DOMS.
What are DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness, more commonly known as DOMS, is something we all experience when training to various degrees. It can be really sore and can also affect subsequent training sessions.
DOMS refers to the pain and stiffness felt in muscles several hours to days after unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. The soreness is felt most strongly 24 to 72 hours after the exercise which is why it’s known as delayed onset muscle soreness, rather than acute.
This is caused by inflammation which occurs when immune cells are recruited into the muscles. And while inflammation leads to soreness, it also contributes to muscle protein synthesis. In other words, a little bit of pain or DOMS is to be expected when getting stronger and progressing in the gym.
However, what we don’t want are for DOMS to be so debilitating that they affect your subsequent sessions.
You need to focus on nailing the basics right first. This means consistently eating a nutrient dense diet, managing stress and getting adequate good, quality sleep. Applying other protocols won’t do much good if you’re not getting the basics right to start with.
The Role of Protein
While there is still some ambiguity in the research about the role of protein in reducing symptoms of DOMS, we know that DOMS is the result of micro-tears to muscle tissue, and protein is a key macronutrient when muscle recovery post-exercise is concerned. This is because the amino acids in protein not only stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
Leucine is what’s known as a branched chain amino acid (BCAA) and is one of the most important amino acids for muscle growth and recovery. Leucine is found in high amounts in many animal foods such as whole eggs, fish, chicken, turkey, red meat and dairy products such as Greek yoghurt and whey protein.
Consuming at least 25g of a high quality source of protein mentioned above is key to help your muscles recover. It is best to consume this within 30 minutes to 2 hours after finishing your session. If you’re training fasted, you should aim to consume this within 30-60 minutes of finishing your session.
Consider Fish Oil Supplementation
Fish oils may also be beneficial to consume post exercise. A study by Tartibian et al. (2009) concluded that there was a reduction in perceived pain, swelling of the thigh and increased range of motion 48 hours post exercise when omega-3 fish oil supplements were consumed.
A study by Corder et al. (2016) found that 7 days of 3000 mg/day supplementation of omega 3 fatty acids reduced the delayed onset muscle soreness and stiffness, and protected against the loss of joint range of motion that is caused by strenuous eccentric exercise.
Fish oils play a major effect in managing the inflammation pathways in our bodies so they may play an important role in managing inflammation. This is because omega-3 fats are known to inhibit the inflammatory COX-2 pathway.
Tart Cherry Juice Supplementation
Tart cherries are rich in antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components. A 2010 randomized, double blind, placebo controlled trial in marathon runners found that consuming tart cherry juice for 7 days prior to and during a strenuous running event can minimize post-run muscle pain aka DOMS.
A study by Connolly et al. (2006) found that consumption 350mls of tart cherry juice, twice a day, for eight days, decreased some of the symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage. For example, strength loss in the coming days in the group who did not consume the cherry juice was 22% on average, compared to 4% in the group who did consume the cherry juice. This means that cherry juice might help mitigate some of the effects of DOMS such as decreased strength.
It’s well established that caffeine ingestion either in the form of a beverage such as coffee or as a supplement can increase performance and strength and decrease time to fatigue. Another benefit of coffee may be a decrease in muscle soreness post-training.
A study by Hurley et al. (2013) found that caffeine ingestion resulted in significantly lower levels of soreness on day 2 and day 3 compared with placebo.