When you exercise, you’re essentially breaking down muscle tissue in order to build it back up stronger. This process, called muscle hypertrophy, is what leads to improved strength, endurance, and overall fitness. However, it also means that you’re likely to experience some degree of muscle soreness after a workout.
The technical term for this post-workout soreness is delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). It typically sets in 24-72 hours after exercise and can last for several days. DOMS is caused by microscopic tears in the muscle fibres, which trigger inflammation and pain signals.
While DOMS is a natural part of the muscle-building process, it can be uncomfortable and make it difficult to perform daily activities or subsequent workouts. That’s why finding ways to reduce muscle soreness and recover faster is so important.
By taking steps to alleviate DOMS, you can improve your overall workout experience and achieve your fitness goals more effectively. Whether you’re a seasoned athlete or just starting out, there are plenty of strategies you can use to minimise post-workout pain and get back to feeling your best.
What is a Sore Muscle?
Sometimes, one may have to pay a high price for a high-spirited workout routine. That price is nothing but muscle soreness. It can turn out to be an unsettling task. We all might like sore muscles as they prove one has put in some intense job at the gym. However, sore muscles are not just limited to this. It’s a sudden shock given to the muscles.
Tiny tears in the muscle fibres are the primary reason for the soreness after a workout. These tears are the beginning of inflammatory responses in the body. When the muscles try to heal themselves, it hurts. Ouch!
This kind of soreness happens when you have either worked vigorously or done an unfamiliar exercise. It happens to most of us and is 100% normal, but do not take it lightly.
Imagine yourself at the gym doing some serious deadlift on the first day of training, and the day-2, you are in nagging pain and can’t move as you have always done.
“Remember, never let soreness get so bitter that you are forced to change your daily routine.”
One more crucial thing to note here is that there are several types of muscle soreness.
● Typical mild muscle soreness (also referred to as immediate muscle soreness or acute muscle soreness)
● Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
Let’s see what those are.
1. Typical mild muscle soreness
This kind of muscle soreness is usually experienced the day after a good amount of workouts. It is often described as a mild exercise-related burning pain; the buildup of lactic acid in muscles is the main reason for typical mild muscle soreness. The excess of lactic acid causes micro muscle trauma at the muscle fibre level leaving the body in immediate muscle pain.
There is one good thing about this type of soreness. As this is mild, muscle function does not get impaired because of it. Usually, it stays up to three days for a beginner and a day for a professional athlete. This soreness is taken as a good sign as it triggers the muscles for adaptation. In short, it prepares the muscles for the upcoming growth.
When your body stops experiencing this soreness, it proves that your body has successfully adapted to the training module.
Hence, if you’re in this phase of muscle soreness, keep calm and get along.
It will not take much time to vanish.
2. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)
This type of post-workout muscle pain is experienced after a heavy dose of a workout. Generally, it develops if your training program includes some unconventional components such as downhill running, landing drills, and plyometric exercises.
In most cases, it is experienced after two days after the workout (and not a day after). This severe muscle pain happens when you either undertake an exercise program for the first time or work on a body part more than usual.
DOMS can last up to 2 days for an advanced level athlete and up to a week for a beginner.
It is a fact that most gym-goers consider DOMS as a sign of a productive workout; however, there is an ongoing debate among researchers about the actual sources of DOMS.
One theory suggests that DOMS is mainly caused by muscle strains that result in stiffness and pain in muscles. It has its origin in microscopic tears in your muscle fibres and the surrounding tissues when you are training. Inflammatory responses with intramuscular fluid occur in the body in this type of soreness that shifts the electrolyte. It is prevalent that biochemical markers like creatine kinase and lactic dehydrogenase are produced in the body of those who are suffering from DOMS. It is pretty standard with disturbance in muscle fibre.
Another theory states that it is caused by muscle micro-damage. It is nothing but distortions in muscle structure.
Whatever be the cause of this pain, DOMS is easy to predict. An athlete can see it ahead of an intensive, newly started training program.
Unlike acute muscle soreness, muscle function is impaired with DOMS resulting in muscle swelling, altered muscle firing patterns and troublesome pain.
The exciting thing with high-level professional athletes is more likely to deal efficiently with DOMS. On the other hand, most of us cannot rout DOMS.
But don’t lose hope. There is a solution to control DOMS.
Then what is the solution to control DOMS if we cannot eliminate it?
Firstly, there are multiple ways you can identify the pain you are in is nothing but DOMS.
The Symptoms of DOMS
- The one suffering from DOMS will always complain about a dull muscle 24 to 48 hours post-workout.
- A DOMS sufferer also experiences muscle stiffness and tenderness.
- You may experience a short-term loss of muscle strength.
- Muscle groups tend to swell during DOMS.
What is the solution to control DOMS if we cannot eliminate it?
Here are some of the best answers to this frequently asked question.
To know how to minimise muscle pain after a workout, learn how to warm up.
It is the best and the easiest way to learn how to relieve sore muscles after a workout. Unfortunately, this is also one of the most ignored steps to stay away from muscle soreness.
“Never skip the warm-up before a workout. I repeat, never skip the warm-up before a workout”.
Now, you might think about what kind of warm-up we are talking about. Is aerobics kind of warm-up or simply stretching? I would answer that in a layman’s term, I would say that it should be lively. That should depend on that exercise you will be doing that day. For instance, let’s say you will work on your upper body. You can perform some healthy movements like arm swings, shoulder rotations, push-ups, and a few aerobic activities.
Apart from this, there are several more ways to prevent muscle soreness.
I have listed down a few more for you.
2. Foam Roll
I am aware that it hurts like hell. But remember, “IT MAKES A BIG DIFFERENCE.”
Many fitness experts recommend this as the primary technique to get rid of post-workout soreness. It gives way more relief than simply stretching by causing stimulation in tissues, triggering fluid movements, eventually improving muscles’ flexibility and lessening the recovery time.
3. Take cold baths whenever possible
You may feel little this is a terrible idea; however, it is scientifically said that plunging your spring body in cold water will help you lessen soreness and inflammation for a couple of days.
It also makes your journey to recovery less painful.
“The cold water works as an anaesthetic and numbs the injured muscles.”
4. Plenty of good night sleep
If you manage to get 8 hours of sleep per night, you have more chances to avoid post-workout complications like muscle soreness. According to the experts, a good amount of rest is vital for both mental and physical recovery.
Well, and if your daily routine permits you to take an afternoon nap for a couple of hours, do that. You are lucky. I would strongly recommend going for a 20-minute power nap two hours after your workout. That will help restore the sore muscles, decrease the sensation of the soreness and recover as well.
5. Stay Hydrated
It is especially for those who are more focused on drinking water before the workout and forget to do the same post-workout and others who drink water only when they feel the thirst. It is not a good practice. A wise person is always aware of the benefits of proper hydration.
Staying hydrated not only helps you prevent muscle damage, muscle fatigue and other muscle-related complications but also lessens the risks of sports-related injuries, tears, and ruptures. Be it a pre-workout phase or a post-workout time, drinking plenty of water is very important.
6. Get Some HEAT
When you apply a hot water bottle or a heating pad to the affected area, you get relief. A study says that a form of heat suppresses the pain signals that go to the brain, enhancing the flow of nutrients and oxygen to the sore areas.
7. Focus on your Protein intake
A fitness enthusiast knows the importance of ideal protein intake towards muscle repairing. When you suffer from sore muscles and severe body pain, start taking your protein intake from natural resources such as Greek Yoghourt, meat, eggs and cottage cheese. A good amount of protein intake reduces the muscle recovery time and helps to relax your body in the time of extreme muscle soreness.
Remember to grab a protein snack before you go to bed and let the protein do the job. The amino acids in protein help bulk up your brawn and repair muscles over some time.
Never lose your focus on protein intake. Pre and post-workout protein intake are equally important.
8. Treat yourself to a massage
Massages are good, especially after an intense dose of workout. A Massage is a significant muscle-pain buster as it helps release cytokines and other compounds that cause inflammation in the body.
It also stimulates the mitochondria in the injured muscles and promotes cell functioning and repair.
In a nutshell, massage not only feels good but also improves the blood circulation to the sore tissues.
9. Pour yourself a CHERRY JUICE
Tart Cherry juice is significantly rich in antioxidant compounds and anthocyanins that help decrease muscle pain and discomfort.
A study showed that the high-level runners that were given two bottles of tart cherry juice per day for a week before the race experienced less pain and discomfort after the race than the others.
It is scientifically proven that tart cherry juice is also well equipped with anti-inflammatory properties that speed up the recovery period.
10. Secure yourself with anti-inflammatory food
The primary reason behind muscle soreness is inflammation. And inflammation does not come alone; it carries pain. In these times, the body keeps trying to rebuild the tissues in the ‘wounded’ areas. Anti-inflammatory foods, naturally, are of great importance to get rid of muscle soreness very quickly. We can easily get such foods, and they are truly fit for this job.
Here is the list of some natural muscle recovery foods.
Turmeric is undoubtedly one of the most famous natural muscle recovery foods among fitness enthusiasts. It is an anti-inflammatory spice that blocks the active molecules that play a crucial role in the inflammation process.
Ginger is another powerful anti-inflammatory spice that helps ease digestion-related issues and strongly battles against various inflammatory diseases such as hepatitis, gastritis, and esophagitis.
Thus, when you feel pain due to muscle soreness, grab a ginger tea. It will be a significant relief!
With all that is said, we now know that working hard in the gym can sometimes lead to some severe pain.
A few supplements (apart from those natural supplements listed above) help you handle muscle soreness and avoid the harassing pain.
11. Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
When it comes to muscle building and preventing muscle breakdown, the amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine are very important. That explains the reason they are present in relatively every post-workout supplement.
We all work out to build stronger and bigger muscles, aren’t we?
However, the process is not that easy. It can damage the protein that creates muscles in the body, and you end up in struggle doing even the most uncomplicated activity like scratching your head.
BCCAs are good at reducing post-workout muscle pain. They are considered one of the best recovery agents and lessens the recovery time required between workouts.
Five grams are standard serving sizes and are accepted mostly. One can consume at any time of the day. Be it a pre-workout period, intra-workout period or post-workout period, BCCAs are compatible.
12. Fish Oil
Fatty acids like omega-3 play an essential role in reducing inflammation. Fatty acids are significantly rich in DHA and EPA. Polyunsaturated fatty acids come with excellent anti-inflammation properties that prevent diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.
Fatty fish such as sardine, tuna, mackerel, anchovy and salmon are great natural sources of fatty acids.
With fish oil supplements, people have experienced less muscle pain and swelling.
It is mainly due to the fish oil’s power to build up cell membranes and prevent oxidative tension in muscles with an intense workout.
As recommended by the American Heart Association, 1 gram of fish oil is good to support cardiovascular health. If you wish to deal with DOMS, try two grams (EPA and DHA combined) a day.
13. L- Carnitine L- Tartrate
L- Carnitine has emerged as one of the best supplements for exercise-related recovery. It is commonly referred to as a fat-burning agent.
L- Carnitine takes care of optimising the post-workout tissue restoration process. It helps to reduce ammonia accumulation and enhances the blood flow during and after the workout.
A study was conducted to measure the effects of L- Carnitine on the bodies of a few professional level athletes. A notable drop in the accumulation of markers of post-workout strain was observed along with lesser tissue damage and muscle soreness when they were given 2 grams of L- Carnitine per day for three weeks.
Many follow-up studies have confirmed these readings, and it is recommended for middle-aged men and women to get rid of muscle soreness, muscle damage followed by an extreme workout spell.
The Bottom Line is
If you wish to trigger natural enhancement in sore muscle recovery time, warm-up before your workout, drink plenty of water and fluids and be well-rested always.
In fact, reducing muscle soreness and recovering faster after a workout is crucial to improving athletic performance and overall well-being. By incorporating a combination of proper nutrition, hydration, stretching, and rest, you can effectively minimise the discomfort that often comes with physical activity.
Remember to listen to your body and give it the necessary time to recover, as pushing yourself too hard can lead to injury and setbacks. With a consistent routine that prioritises recovery, you can achieve your fitness goals and feel your best. So, stay active, stay healthy, and don’t forget to recover!
What’s the fastest way to recover from sore muscles?
To help relieve muscle soreness, try:
1. Gentle stretching.
2. Muscle massage.
4. Ice to help reduce inflammation.
5. Heat to help increase blood flow to your muscles. …
6. Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicine, such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen (brand name: Advil).
How can I reduce muscle soreness?
How to relieve sore muscles after a workout
Get moving. Believe it or not, one of the best ways to reduce muscle soreness is to get them moving. …
Be sure to warm up. …
Progress slowly into a new exercise program. …
Soak in a salt bath. …
Take a pain reliever. …
Make time for recovery. …
Try a split-day routine.
What is the best way to recover muscles?
6 Tips for Improving Muscle Recovery
Hydrate consistently. In order to build the proteins that make up muscle tissue, your body needs plenty of water. …
Eat the right kinds of food. …
Listen to your body. …
Try active recovery exercises. …
Massage sore muscles with foam rollers. …
Get enough sleep.
What drinks help sore muscles?
Drink at least 16 ounces of water or healthy drinks, such as coconut water, green or black tea, and chocolate milk. Or you can choose a low-sugar sports drink. These drinks contain electrolytes, such as potassium and sodium, that can prevent and relieve muscle cramping.
What foods help with muscle soreness?
6 foods that help with muscle soreness and recovery
WHOLEGRAIN BREAD. That’s right, don’t ditch the carbs.
RICOTTA OR COTTAGE CHEESE. Another great toast topper, these spreadable cheeses provide a source of calcium.