You lace up your shoes and finally go out for that run, and it feels great! Even the next day you feel refreshed? But two days later, you feel like you got hit by a truck! What’s going on?
It’s delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and it can throw those new to working out for a curveball. But it doesn’t just affect gym newbies. This mysterious soreness can happen if you switch up your workout, or push yourself extra hard. After experiencing it a few times, you’ll probably be able to “feel it coming.” Here I’ll talk about 1) What DOMS really is, 2) The best ways to prevent severe cases in the first place, and 3) How to deal with the intense soreness after you’ve got it!
Isn’t DOMS just lactic acid build-up?
Regular soreness one experience when building muscle is due to the lactic acid build-up in the cells. It’s actually a big misconception that DOMS is just an “extra” lactic acid build-up. The current consensus in research is inconclusive on the exact mechanism, but we do know a few reasons why it happens.
What DOMS is NOT:
- Breakdown of muscles
- Growth of muscles
- Lactic acid build-up
It might be correlated with the above, but it is not caused by, or synonymous with the above. Lactic acid is always triggered when you work your muscles and tend to be proportional to how hard you’ve worked, so we aren’t clear on its role in DOMS.
What science does know: DOMS is correlated with the increase in cellular waste that comes with an increase in cellular metabolism. Hydrogen ions (the things that create an acidic environment) and free radical oxygen (the things that increase telomere degradation) are the primary by-products. These cellular waste products could contribute to DOMS by damaging the sarcolemma in your hard-working muscles.
Preventing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
As I said, working for a muscle group extra hard, changing your routine up, or just getting back into the gym can cause a disproportionate increase in cellular metabolism, triggering DOMS. Progressing reasonable to let your body get used to different workouts can be a worthwhile practice of patience. A good rule of thumb? Aim to increase your activity level by no more than 10% each week.
That said, there are some ways you can stretch that 10% and set yourself up with a lower risk of DOMS.
- Warm-up the body for 10 minutes with a walk or other light cardio to prime the circulatory system to deal with the demands of a vigorous workout
- Stretch the worked muscles thoroughly after the workout, while they are still warmed up
- Protein fast after to fuel the muscles’ recovery of their “regular” soreness
- Adequate hydration before, during, and after the workout
Pain Relief for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
You did your best to progress your training slow, and you even jogged around the block to warm up. How can you deal with DOMS when it is upon you?
A lot of the common protocol in alleviating soreness from DOMS is the same as regular soreness, namely,
- foam rolling
- sports massage
- OTC pain aids
- contrast bathing (alternating warm and cold baths or compresses)
- RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation)
But, based on some scientific studies teasing out the best treatments of DOMS specifically, we have a few other tricks-of-the-trade.
- Circulation: getting blood pumping throughout your body will help. Go for a walk or bike while you take a day off the gym. Compression clothing also aids circulations
- Anthocyanins: These antioxidants have been shown to reduce the cytokines related to inflammation, as well as reduce actual soreness.</a> Find them in purple foods like blueberries, red onions, red grapes, and eggplants! Check out the study here!
- Curcumin: where there’s inflammation, this turmeric extract will help. Curcumin nixes inflammation by acting on NF-kB the “mother” of all inflammation processes. If you take the whole or powdered form, remember to add black pepper to aid absorption.
- Omega-3s: You’re already taking them, right? These famed fatty acids trigger resolven which reduces pro-inflammatory factors. Try algae, flax, or cod liver oil!