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Are your muscles sore during or after working out? If you are new to exercise, soreness can be alarming and affect your enthusiasm to stay on course. But there is no need to worry because soreness decreases as your muscles get used to the new physical stress being placed upon them. Muscle soreness is a normal process that takes place when muscles are required to work harder than they’re used to or challenged in different ways. Pain, on the other hand, is not normal and may be a sign that you are injuring yourself or overtraining.

Types of Soreness

Muscle soreness can be a typical experience if you just started working out. But it can, also, happen if you train hard during your workouts. There are two types of muscle soreness, acute and delayed onset muscle soreness.

  • Acute Muscle Soreness: Muscle soreness that takes place during or immediately after exercise. Acute muscle soreness feels like a burning pain, which resolves itself soon after stopping the exercise. It’s caused by muscle fatigue and a buildup of lactic acid and H+ in the muscles. Yet, it can also take place due to dehydration or electrolyte imbalance. 
  • Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS): This type of soreness takes place between 24 to 72 hours after exercise. DOMS is more of a lasting dull, aching pain that comes along with stiffness or tenderness. This is caused by exercise consisting of eccentric (lengthening) contractions of the muscle, which create micro-tears in muscle fibers. This is a natural process to prevent damage, recover and rebuild muscle. You can experience DOMS when you change your routine or train intensely.

People are generally more concerned with DOMS since it’s longer lasting. Rest assure that DOMS is part of the adaptation process leading to changes in body composition, stamina, and strength. Now you know that soreness is a necessary part of the recovery process, you need to learn how to manage in order to stay on track. Let’s delve into the things that you can to do to alleviate sore muscles.

Supplements for Sore Muscles

The following is a list of natural supplements that can aid in dealing with DOMS. You should take supplements that help your muscles recover instead of taking NSAIDS (learn more below).

Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs): These amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) enhance muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth, prevent muscle wasting, and provide energy. Research has shown that BCAAs decrease muscle damage during a workout, attenuate exercise-induced muscle damage, and reduce DOMS following training.

L-citrulline: This is a non-essential amino acid. Research shows that L-citrulline improves exercise performance by removing ammonia and reduces post-exercise perceived exertion (RPE) and muscle soreness.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids: They are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, as well as their essential role in hormone synthesis and bone repair. Research shows that supplementing with 3000 mg of DHA/EPA omega-3 minimizes post-exercise muscle soreness.

Dairy Protein: Dairy protein has beneficial amino acids and sulfur-containing compounds. Studies have shown that whey protein has a positive impact on essential biomarkers (myoglobin and creatine kinase), helping reduce fatigue, DOMS, and the risk of injuries. In the same fashion, milk protein supplementation following exercise attenuates strength decline during the pro-inflammatory phase, as well as muscle soreness.

Curcumin: A compound with powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties found in turmeric that has been shown to reduce pain associated with DOMS and speed up recovery after exercise.

Caffeine: This natural stimulant found in tea, coffee, and cacao is known for arousing the brain and central nervous system, keeping your mind and body alert and energized. Caffeine has shown to have a positive effect on performance but current research shows that caffeine supplementation (6 mg per kg of body weight) is able to facilitate recovery of muscle power and attenuate DOMS. Caffeine, also, increases postexercise serum glucose and lactate concentrations.

Antioxidant Vitamins: Vitamin C and vitamin E are two of the main antioxidant vitamins, which combat oxidative stress. Research shows that 4-day supplementation with 2000 mg/d of vitamin C and 1400 U/d of vitamin E effectively attenuates exercise-induced tissue damage, DOMS, inflammatory responses, and decreases the rate of lipid peroxidation (oxidative degradation of lipids involved in free radical chain reactions damaging cells) that happens during exercise. 

Magnesium: This mineral is important for energy creation, protein formation, gene repair, contraction and relaxation of muscles, nervous system regulation, and biochemical reactions involving enzymes. Research shows that magnesium supplementation helps decrease muscle soreness and perceived exertion post-exercise.

Probiotics: The role of healthy bacteria on digestion, immune function, protein absorption, and inflammation have been studied for a while. It is now known that modifications in the gut microbiota composition can contribute to physical performance and post-exercise recovery.  Research shows that probiotic supplementation in combination with protein reduces muscle damage, improves recovery, and maintains physical performance post-exercise

Glutamine: This amino acid is well-known for enhancing athletic performance and increasing growth hormoneResearch shows that glutamine accelerates carb intake post-workout, speeds recovery, and attenuates DOMS effects and muscle damage.


When aching, feeling in pain, or having a fever, most people take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). They work like corticosteroids, which reduce pain and inflammation but don’t have as many side effects. The most common NSAIDs are Aspirin (Bayer®, St. Joseph®, Anacin®, Ascriptin®, Bufferin®, Excedrin®), Ibuprofen (Motrin®, Advil®), and Naproxen sodium (Aleve®). Yet, you should avoid their regular consumption of NSAIDs because they are just not that healthy for you. Using them once in a while it’s fine but you shouldn’t use NSAIDs for more than three days for fever and 10 days for pain. Some of the side-effects associated with NSAIDs include an increased chance of heart attack or stroke, heart problems, and gastrointestinal problems (gas, feeling bloated, heartburn, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, constipation).

The problem with NSAIDs is that they block the production of chemicals that cause inflammation. You may think that’s great because you have probably heard that inflammation is not good for the body. It’s all about the kind of inflammation that you are dealing with. Inflammation is the immune system’s defense mechanism against harmful stimuli (such as pathogens, viruses, damaged cells, or toxic compounds) and a healing response during injury or infection. During this process, the release of white blood cells helps restore homeostasis. This acute inflammation is vital to a healthy body.

Topicals for DOMS

CBD: Cannabidiol (CBD) is the second most prevalent of the active ingredients of cannabis (marijuana). It’s derived directly from the hemp plant, which is a cousin of the marijuana plant. CBD is used to address seizures, anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. Research shows that CBD has a significant influence on muscle soreness associated with exercise-induced muscle damage and DOMS when consumed immediately after strenuous exercise.

Arnica:  This herb that grows in Europe and the U.S. Arnica gels and ointments are often used as a skin treatment for bruises, aches, pains, and arthritis symptoms (pain and swelling in the knees and hands). Research shows that arnica provides pain relief and decreases tenderness associated with DOMS.

Things to Do For Muscle Soreness

Stretching: Research shows that pre‐exercise stretching and post‐exercise stretching reduces soreness one day after exercise (post‐exercise stretching appears to be more effective than pre‐exercise stretching).

Massage: This ancient practice has been used for multiple purposes. Research shows that massage is effective in reducing swelling and alleviating DOMS by approximately 30%.

Foam Rolling: Foam Rolling is a great recovery tool that has shown to attenuate muscle soreness while improving vertical jump height, muscle activation, and passive and dynamic range of motion.

Cold Therapy: Cold therapy (cold water immersion, cryotherapy) has numerous benefits, helping decrease pain and inflammation. Research shows that cold therapy helps lower soreness and accelerate recovery kinetics.

Heat Therapy: Hyperthermia or heat therapy (using warm damp towels, heating pads, warm baths) is the use of heat for pain relief and health. Research shows that applying heat immediately after exercising (not after 24 hrs) decreases muscle damage and reduces delayed onset muscle soreness.

Warm-Up & Cool-Down: Warm-ups before exercising and cool-downs post-exercise have been encouraged for years. Warm-ups increase blood flow to your muscles and cardiovascular system, prepping your body and preventing injury. Cooling downs keep blood flowing after your workout and allow for a gradual recovery of pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure to prevent sudden drops. Research shows that warm-ups and cool-downs are effective in controlling the muscle soreness and loss of muscle performance at 48 hours post-exercise but the combination of a warm-up and cool-down provide even superior results.

Compression: Compression garments have shown to reduce the amount and severity of the histological muscle damage post-exercise and DOMS.

Light Exercise: More exercise may feel counterproductive but light exercise (walking, swimming, or working with bands) after a hard session can help DOMS. Research shows that active exercise using elastic resistance reduces the intensity of soreness. It provides similar acute relief of muscle soreness as compared with that using massage.

Epsom salt: Also called magnesium sulfate has been used for constipation, insomnia, and pain. Research shows that Epsom salt can be beneficial for reducing perceived muscle pain and post-exercise disability.

What to Eat for Sore Muscles

As you know what you consume has a direct effect on your health, performance, and your mood. The following is a list of foods that can help you ameliorate the effects of training.

Protein-Rich Foods: As you learned branched-chain amino acids are great for DOMS. You can find valine in red meats, dairy products (kefir and milk), mushrooms, and peanuts. You can find leucine in animal sources (cheese, red meat, poultry, gelatin, collagen) and in plant-based sources (spirulina, quinoa, sunflower seeds, pistachios, corn, wheat germ, brown rice). Foods with isoleucine are beef, tuna, cod, haddock, yogurt, oats, lentils, spirulina, sunflower, sesame seeds, and seaweed. Learn all about Protein: Roles, Benefits, & Best Sources

Anti-Inflammatory Foods: Foods that decrease inflammation can provide relief from muscle soreness. Some anti-inflammatory foods are wild salmon, mushrooms, sauerkraut, bone broth, greens (kale, broccoli), seaweed (dulse),  fruits (blueberries, watermelon, pineapple, cherry juice), species & herbs (turmeric, ginger, garlic). Specific studies have shown that certain anti-inflammatory foods (watermelon,  cherry juice, pineapple, ginger) can reduce inflammation, recovery rate, DOMS, and increase total antioxidative capacity.

Foods Rich in Antioxidant Vitamins: As you learned above, Vitamins C & E are great for DOMS. Consume foods high in vitamin C (Kakadu plums, acerola cherries, rose hips, chili peppers, guavas, sweet yellow peppers, blackcurrants, thyme, parsley, mustard spinach, kale, kiwis, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, lemons, lychees, papayas, strawberries, and oranges) and foods high in vitamin E (Wheat germ oil, sunflower seeds and oil, almonds, hazelnut oil, Mamey Sapote, almonds oil, hazelnuts, Abalone, pine nuts, goose meat, peanuts, salmon, avocado, rainbow trout).

Magnesium-Rich Foods: Since magnesium has a positive impact on inflammation and DOMS, eating magnesium-rich foods is advisable. Consume foods like dark chocolate, avocados, nuts, legumes (lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas), seeds (hemp, flax, pumpkin, chia seeds), whole grains (wheat, oats, barley, buckwheat, quinoa), fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, halibut), bananas, and leafy greens, (kale, spinach, collard greens, turnip greens, mustard greens). 

Probiotic-Rich Foods: Probiotics are helpful to sore muscles. Probiotic-rich foods are fermented vegetables, kefir, kimchi, kombucha, tempeh, miso, sauerkraut, pickles, and traditional buttermilk are a great addition to your diet to keep your body performing at its best.

Muscle soreness is normal and, most times, part of the process in order to lose body fat, gain muscle and strength, and get fitter. Now that you learned the supplements to take, the topical pain relief products to apply, the foods to eat, and all the things to do for DOMS, you can stay on track and achieve your fitness goals.

To a Healthier Fitter You,

Adriana Albritton

The Fitness Wellness Mentor

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