Can Nutrition Reduce the Impact of DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness – commonly known as DOMS – is something commonly experienced by both strength and endurance athletes, particularly intensity, volume or frequency of training has been significantly increased. Some soreness post-training is to be expected; it’s a sign that your muscles are adapting to the stimulus of the session. A certain amount of inflammation is a normal part of the muscle adaptation process which, as part of a tailored progressive training plan, is involved in performance improvements. DOMS kicks in 8-24 hours later, when you experience swelling, tenderness and reduced muscle strength. While the actual cause of DOMS is still debated within research, DOMS symptoms are thought to be the result of the previously mentioned inflammatory response; a cascade of immune cells is released to clear damaged tissue and start the repair process of the microscopic tears in muscle fibres. This process forms a necessary part of the training adaption process. Symptoms usually peak between 24 and 48 hours and subside within 96 hours.
So, should you try to reduce DOMS or accept it as part of the process which makes you a better athlete?
During the ‘off-season’ when you are more likely to be undertaking sessions that are designed to help improve performance for the season ahead, it is potentially best to allow the full damage and repair cycle to take place; this may mean experiencing DOMS to some extent. To get stronger, muscles need to be stressed until they start to break down and in response to this damage they are repaired and built back up stronger than before.
Once you move into the competitive season, you may find that following some strategies to reduce DOMS can be worthwhile if they speed up recovery time, thus enabling you to perform better during subsequent training sessions. This would also apply to multi-day endurance events, where an optimal recovery process is critical to performance.
But how can adapting your nutrition mitigate these effects to reduce the impact on performance?
Inflammation is a natural way for the body to heal, so you need to be careful to not completely stop the process. But there are ways to deal with inflammatory factors to preserve the integrity of your muscles and minimise negative impacts on performance. Specific research into DOMS is lacking, so while it can’t be said that nutrition will prevent DOMS, it is possible to adopt some nutrition strategies that could potentially reduce soreness.
The most obvious nutrition strategy to support with muscle repair is related to protein consumption. Protein is a key nutrient for growth, maintenance, and repair of muscle tissue, making it especially important for post-workout muscle re-synthesis. Consuming protein regularly throughout the day is also important. Aim to consume about 20g of quality protein after exercise to help maximally stimulate protein synthesis. But remember, your body is in recovery for around 24hours following exercise, so every meal and snack is important.
Good sources of protein to include in your diet are lean meat, fish, eggs, cottage cheese and nuts, beans and lentils and meat alternatives for vegetarian athletes.
In addition to this, foods that can support with managing inflammation in the body also have a role in the alleviation of DOMS. Antioxidants, found in a range of fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, apples, broccoli and spinach, have a well-researched role in anti-inflammatory processes in the body. Research has suggested antioxidants reduce muscle and cell damage through the removal of reactive oxygen species and therefore have the potential to support with DOMS recovery. Another key nutrient which may have a positive impact on DOMS recovery is omega-3. Some research has indicated that consuming 2-3g of omega-3 after a workout may reduce IL-6 and CRP inflammatory markers, and consequently reducing the impact of DOMS. Common dietary sources of omega-3 include oily fish, walnuts, chia seeds and flax seeds.
Kim, J., & Lee, J. (2014). A review of nutritional intervention on delayed onset muscle soreness. Part I. Journal of exercise rehabilitation, 10(6), 349-356.
Nieman, D. C., Stear, S. J., Castell, L. M., & Burke, L. M. (2010). A–Z of nutritional supplements: dietary supplements, sports nutrition foods and ergogenic aids for health and performance: part 15. British journal of sports medicine, 44(16), 1202-1205.