This article was written by specialist dietitian – Elle Kelly
Whether you’ve recently started working out, are a regular at the gym, or even an elite athlete, you will probably be familiar with Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness – better known as DOMS. This article will explore how your nutrition can improve and even reduce the likelihood of developing DOMS.
What are DOMS?
DOMS refers to the pain and stiffness experienced between 24 to 48 hours following a session that was perhaps different to your normal style of training or more intense. This is often why those who are new to training, are more susceptible to feeling sore after sessions. DOMS can last a varying amount of time, with most experiencing the symptoms of DOMS for three days to a week.
Although there is no major consequence to having DOMS, other than discomfort and looking a bit funny waddling around the office, they can impact your training and lifestyle as they can limit your ability to perform in your next session and doing your day-to-day tasks.
Lots of nutritional strategies and supplements have been found to reduce the risk of having DOMS and the length of time that DOMS last for.
What nutrients and supplements can reduce DOMS
Because DOMS occurs as a result of muscle fibres tearing, protein is a key nutrient required for minimising this effect, as protein supports the growth and repair of muscle tissue following exercise (1).
The body is in a constant state of muscle protein breakdown and repair, meaning muscle and tissues are constantly being renewed. However, the rate of this breakdown increases during and after exercise. So, protein is a very important nutrient after exercise as it is needed to prevent the excess breakdown and promote the repair of muscle tissue.
Studies have also shown that the ingestion of protein prior to a workout can improve muscle protein repair too (2). This is because by consuming protein prior to exercising, it can help to limit the extent of muscle breakdown.
#2: Omega-3 fatty acids
DOMS are thought to be associated with inflammation of an area within the muscle. Whilst inflammation can lead to soreness, it is also required for muscle protein growth and repair, so a little discomfort is to be expected every now and then when you are progressing in your training.
This is not to say that unless you have DOMS after every session you’re not progressing, as this may just mean that your sports recovery is on point! Muscle soreness is also not a reliable indicator of an effective workout.
Omega-3 fatty acids help to regulate inflammation in the body and studies have shown that they can improve DOMS.
One study found that 3000mg of omega-3 supplements per day reduced muscle stiffness (3), and another study found that when omega-3 fatty acids were consumed post-exercise, it resulted in reduced pain in the 48 hours following exercise (4).
There are 3 main categories of omega-3’s ; ALA, EPA and DHA.
ALA is the most common type of omega-3 that we consume as it is found in plant-based foods like walnuts and chia seeds as well as olive oil.
ALA needs to be converted into EPA or DHA in the body in order for it to be used for the benefits associated with omega-3’s, like improving cholesterol levels, enhancing brain function and reducing inflammation. Our body is not very efficient at this process unfortunately, which means only a very small amount of EPA or DHA is gained through this conversion.
This is why it is encouraged to consume oily fish in our diets at least once per week, as oily fish is rich in EPA and DHA omega-3 fatty acids.
FIsh can be expensive, and a lot of people don’t eat it due to taste or dietary preferences, so supplements can be a good alternative.
Caffeine is more commonly known for improving focus and decreasing fatigue in the sports world, but evidence does show that having caffeine after exercise can improve recovery in both recreational and elite athletes.
It is thought that the reason for this is that caffeine can block adenosine receptors in the body. Adenosine is involved in pain signalling, and by blocking the action of adenosine, caffeine can reduce DOMS as it reduces the perception of pain (5, 6).
A recent study found that 6mg of caffeine per kg of body weight post-exercise can reduce DOMS in both male and female athletes (7). Similar results were seen in an older study where 5 mg of caffeine per kg of body weight taken 1 hour before exercise and within the 24 hours after exercise significantly reduced DOMS on day 2 and 3 days in comparison to the group who did not take any caffeine (8).
You can take caffeine in tablet form, or get it through pre-workouts, coffee, energy drinks and small amounts are found naturally in some foods like dark chocolate. Caffeine tolerance varies among people, and also within drinks like coffee, so it is important to be aware of your own preferences when it comes to caffeine.
The most important thing to consider…
Not eating enough to meet your energy requirements overall and or training too much without adequate rest can increase the likelihood of DOMS developing, but poor recovery nutrition can also influence this (9).
To support recovery from your sessions, focus on:
- Protein for the growth and repair of muscles
- Carbohydrates to refuel
- Fluids to rehydrate
- Micronutrients to renourish
Inadequate nutrition, especially if training intensely, can lead to fatigue, and slow recovery, which can result in increased muscle soreness and consequently, reduced performance in following training sessions and suboptimal muscle tissue growth aka ‘gains’ (5).
The final word..
No single nutrient or supplement will promote optimal recovery unless your overall nutrition is right in the first place.
Fuelling sufficiently, staying hydrated, resting enough, and managing sleep and stress are of utmost importance. If any of these factors are out of place, the addition of specific foods or supplements is probably not going to be effective.
- Poole, C., Wilborn, C., Taylor, L., & Kerksick, C. (2010). The role of post-exercise nutrient administration on muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis. Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 9(3), 354.
- Dideriksen, K., Reitelseder, S., & Holm, L. (2013). Influence of amino acids, dietary protein, and physical activity on muscle mass development in humans. Nutrients, 5(3), 852-876.
- Corder, K. E., Newsham, K. R., McDaniel, J. L., Ezekiel, U. R., & Weiss, E. P. (2016). Effects of short-term docosahexaenoic acid supplementation on markers of inflammation after eccentric strength exercise in women. Journal of sports science & medicine, 15(1), 176.
- Tartibian, B., Maleki, B. H., & Abbasi, A. (2011). Omega-3 fatty acids supplementation attenuates inflammatory markers after eccentric exercise in untrained men. Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine, 21(2), 131-137.
- Kim, J., & Lee, J. (2014). A review of nutritional intervention on delayed onset muscle soreness. Part I. Journal of exercise rehabilitation, 10(6), 349.
- Baratloo, A., Rouhipour, A., Forouzanfar, M. M., Safari, S., Amiri, M., & Negida, A. (2016). The role of caffeine in pain management: a brief literature review. Anesthesiology and pain medicine, 6(3).
- Chen, H. Y., Chen, Y. C., Tung, K., Chao, H. H., & Wang, H. S. (2019). Effects of caffeine and sex on muscle performance and delayed-onset muscle soreness after exercise-induced muscle damage: a double-blind randomized trial. Journal of applied physiology (Bethesda, Md. : 1985), 127(3), 798–805. https://doi.org/10.1152/japplphysiol.01108.2018
- Hurley, C. F., Hatfield, D. L., & Riebe, D. A. (2013). The effect of caffeine ingestion on delayed onset muscle soreness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 27(11), 3101-3109.
- Logue et al. (2018) ‘Low energy availability in athletes: A review of prevalence, dietary patterns, physiological health and sports performance’, Sports Medicine, 48(1), pp. 73-96.
How nutrition can support DOMS? was last modified: November 21st, 2022 by