When you start a new exercise program or are exercising at a high intensity, muscle soreness is to be expected. Taking post-workout supplements, such as branched-chain amino acids, for soreness may help reduce pain after your workout.
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Supplements for Sore Muscles
- Muscle soreness
- Stiffness in adjacent joints
- Muscle tenderness
The cause of DOMS is not fully understood. Researchers once thought it was due to the buildup of lactic acid in the muscles, but studies have found that lactic acid levels return to normal shortly after a workout. That means it's unlikely to be the cause of delayed-onset muscle soreness. Another theory is that the soreness is caused by the micro-damage done to the muscle during a tough training session; however, this has not been conclusively proven.
Supplements for sore muscles may help speed up your recovery, but most of the ingredients in these supplements can be found in food. The University of California, San Diego Health recommends analyzing your diet before starting a supplement regimen.
Before taking any supplement, consult your doctor and do your research on both the supplement and the manufacturer. Most supplements are not regulated by the FDA, so it is your responsibility to make healthy choices.
Amino Acids Supplementation
Branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids can be found in foods such as red meat, fish, eggs, dairy and whey protein. You can also purchase them as a supplement to take during or immediately after a workout.
According to the University of New Hampshire, BCAAs decrease muscle damage during a workout, which in turn reduces post-workout muscle soreness. They also increase protein synthesis and muscle growth, prevent muscle wasting and provide an alternate source of energy which reduces fatigue during a workout.
Another amino acid that may help reduce muscle soreness is L-citrulline. L-citrulline is a non-essential amino acid found in watermelon. In a small study of 21 male runners published in the June 2017 edition of Food & Nutrition Research, researchers found that runners who drank watermelon juice supplemented with L-citrulline experienced less muscle soreness 24 to 72 hours after running a half marathon compared to runners who received a placebo.
In addition, L-citrulline may also improve muscle endurance during a workout by removing ammonia produced during exercise from the body which helps to reduce fatigue.
Read more: Amino Acids Before a Workout
Vitamins and Exercise
Antioxidant vitamins, such as vitamins C and E, may help to reduce post-workout muscle soreness. In a small study published in the July 2018 edition of the International Journal of Medical Sciences, researchers found that short-term high-doses of vitamin C and E reduced tissue damage and inflammation after a match. The study included 18 elite taekwondo athletes who were given either the vitamins or a placebo.
While the study shows the benefits of the short-term intake of antioxidant vitamins, the researchers also note that some evidence is starting to suggest that long-term supplementation may actually slow or decrease your muscle's adaptations from exercise, such as their ability to use oxygen.
It is also important to note that while vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin, which means that excess vitamin C is easily flushed from your body. Vitamin E, on the other hand, is a fat-soluble vitamin. Although it is generally safe, high doses can create toxicity in the body, advises the University of Rochester Medical Center. Symptoms of toxicity include:
- Blurred vision
- Weakness and fatigue
Other Supplements to Consider
Omega-3 fatty acids are known for their anti-inflammatory properties. This may help reduce inflammation caused by a tough workout and therefore reduce soreness. Their effect on exercise performance is not clear, notes the University of Western States.
Not all supplements need to be in the form of pills and powders. For example, tart cherry juice may help to decrease delayed-onset muscle soreness, notes Tufts University. The juice acts in a similar manner to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication and blocks the production of compounds that cause inflammation. Additional studies are needed to determine the best dosage to see results.
Caffeine is not just for getting going in the morning and improving your performance during a workout. It may also reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness. A small study published in the November 2013 edition of the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research showed that subjects who consumed caffeine perceived less soreness on the second and third day following a resistance training workout.
Other Tips for Reducing Soreness
Supplements alone won't prevent post-workout soreness. Be sure to take steps to speed your recovery and keep painful muscles from sidelining you from future workouts. While water and food aren't considered supplements, hydrating and fueling your body after a tough workout is critical to your recovery. You'll need to drink more fluid than you sweated out during your workout, notes the Mayo Clinic. Sip water throughout the day and avoid alcohol, which can further dehydrate you.
Eat a snack after your workout that contains both protein and healthy carbs. This will restore your body's energy and give your muscles the building blocks they need to grow and repair. However, be sure to watch your calorie intake, especially if you are trying to lose weight.
Rest is an important part of every training plan. Be sure to get enough sleep to allow your body time to recover. While you don't want to work a muscle group hard day after day, sitting on the couch won't help reduce muscle soreness. Keep moving with a light workout such as a walk or an easy yoga session.
Sitting in a hot tub or sauna after a workout may soothe sore muscles. It also increases circulation, advises the American Council on Exercise. Cold treatment may not feel as comforting, but it can be an effective method for recovery. Ice baths, cryogenic chambers and ice packs can cool your core temperature after a workout, reduce inflammation and promote muscle healing.
- University of New Hampshire: "What are BCAAs?"
- Food & Nutrition Research: "Biochemical, Physiological, and Performance Response of a Functional Watermelon Juice Enriched in L-Citrulline During a Half-Marathon Race"
- University of California, San Diego Health: "Supplemental Information: Building a Body of Evidence"
- Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research: "The Effect of Caffeine Ingestion on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness"
- University of Western States: "Omega-3 Fatty Acid Supplementation: Helpful for Exercise?"
- Tufts University, Ask Tufts Experts: "Q. Is It True That Sour Cherries or Sour Cherry Juices Are Effective for Pain Relief? How Much Should I Consume If So?"
- International Journal of Medical Sciences: "Short-Term High-Dose Vitamin C and E Supplementation Attenuates Muscle Damage and Inflammatory Responses to Repeated Taekwondo Competitions: A Randomized Placebo-Controlled Trial"
- University of Rochester Medical Center: "Vitamin E"
- Mayo Clinic: "The Best Ways to Bounce Back After a Tough Workout"
- University of Delaware: "DOMS: Why do your muscles hurt days after exercise?"
- American Council on Exercise: "Top Strategies for Optimal Recovery Between Workouts"