Tracy McCartney is a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist and trains clients from beginner to Elite level. She is a writer for national magazines, newspapers and websites and is also a public speaker on nutrition and sport.
Feeling sore the day after a killer workout? Muscle soreness and inflammation is an unavoidable consequence of training hard: it shows that you have pushed your body to its limit, encouraging it to rebuild and strengthen. Muscle soreness, also known as DOMS (Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness), is just as common amongst beginners as experienced athletes. The severity depends on how often and how intense your sessions are, and if your body is used to performing that specific exercise. The types of exercise that most commonly lead to DOMS are running, jumping, walking downhill, and strength training.
Muscle soreness is triggered by high force eccentric (muscular contractions from starting a new exercise) or training harder than usual. Your muscles lengthen under high load or impact, whilst also trying to contract or shorten, leading to the painful DOMS. As the body attempts to repair microscopic muscle damage, pain will be felt in the affected areas. DOMS is typically felt 24-48 hours after exercise and will peak between 24 and 72 hours. Some people are more prone to DOMS and muscle damage than others and will suffer symptoms for longer than 5 days. Symptoms include a dull achy pain, reduced range of movement, stiffness and swelling in the joints and muscles. Despite DOMS being an unavoidable part of high intensity training of any sort, you must be aware of when your symptoms might point to a more serious problem. If your DOMS become debilitating or you notice your urine colour has darkened dramatically, visit your GP who will be able to advise you on the next steps.
How do I recover from DOMs?
The most effective way of easing muscle pain is giving your body time to recover. Engage in some gentle exercise on rest days such as walking. This can help alleviate symptoms, and keep sore muscles supple and mobile, rather than sedentary and stiff. Other treatments such as massage, hot and cold treatments, and oral anti-inflammatory pain relief may also help to ease the tenderness. One of the simplest ways of reduce pain is to keep your hydration levels high. Muscles are 70% water and therefore even mild dehydration can make your DOMS worse. It is worth noting that although these methods may relieve symptoms, underlying muscle damage will not be repaired, and therefore you should be cautious when undertaking additional exercise during recovery.
Preventing Inflammation and Soreness
Want to know how to avoid DOMS? Taking it slow: refrain from shocking your body with a whole new training programme. Instead ease yourself into your new regime, planning in sufficient rest periods between sessions. It is impossible to avoid muscle soreness altogether, but warming up adequately and stretching once the body is warm will help reduce pain after exercise. Perhaps you are strength training? Try to split your days into alternate muscle groups to ensure your muscles are fully rested between workouts. For example, train the upper body on Mondays and the lower body on Tuesdays.
As previously mentioned, hydration plays a key role in avoiding soreness, as does good nutrition. A well-nourished body will work better, recover more quickly, and be less likely to become injured. Prevention of DOMS through eating a range of healthy foods in the correct amounts will ensure bones, muscles, joints, and other soft tissues are in tip top condition, and able to withstand the rigours of physical activity. As a general rule of thumb, make sure your diet consists of around 50% carbohydrates, 30% protein, and 20% fat (depending on type of sport undertaken) to help successfully fuel and repair your body.
Can supplements help?
Supplements can also play a role in ensuring your body works at its optimum level. Using products such as ‘Performance Cherry’, which is packed full of nutrients, can help your body to repair more quickly. Tart cherry juice has been used by endurance athletes for many years due to its recovery-boosting effects. The best way to accelerate muscle recovery after exercise is to prevent muscle damage from occurring during exercise. One of the best ways to prevent muscle damage during exercise is to consume the right nutrients before exercise. Being high in antioxidants and essential vitamins, tart cherry juice has the perfect balance of nutrients the body needs pre workout. It works to effectively reduce oxidative stress, which damages cellular proteins and membranes leading to systemic inflammation and injury. Therefore, sufferers of fatigue, muscle damage, and slow recovery will benefit from taking tart cherry juice on a regular basis. Tart Cherry Juice is also rich in melatonin, which is a hormone that helps regulate sleep cycles. During recovery from training, a good night’s sleep will speed up muscle and joint repair processes within your body, making this the juice of choice for endurance and strength training athletes.
As a preventative method for DOMS, tart cherry juice concentrates should be taken for 5-7 days before a hard training session or event. For the best results it is best to consume cherry juice on a regular basis to ensure speedy muscle repair and recovery. DOMS can be painful, and if not properly prepared for can have a negative effect on sports performance. But by trying preventative techniques such as slowly progressing through a training plan, drinking plenty of water, and taking tart cherry juice on a regular basis, you can keep DOMS at bay and ensure you achieve your fitness goals.
For more top tips on recovery and muscle soreness, have a look at our Elite hub.