Your Complete Guide To The Best Foods For Sore Muscles

Anyone who is serious about their training will know that consistency is key to having success and achieving your goals. The more regularly you work out, the quicker your muscles will grow and get stronger, reducing the amount of time it will take to see results.

Unfortunately, no matter how dedicated you are, there are some things that are beyond our control, which can make it difficult to keep up with our workout schedule.

One of the most common is pain that occurs after a workout, which makes it hard to be physically able to complete your next session.

With recent advances in things like nutrition and supplements though, more and more ways are being found to help ease your pain and ensure nothing keeps you from hitting the gym and achieving your goals.

These range from complicated workout routines to simple things like the foods you eat.

With that in mind, in today’s article, I am going to take you through the best foods for sore muscles. I will give you a detailed guide on what to eat and when to do so, to prevent symptoms and combat them when they arise, to try and make sure you never have to miss another workout again.

What Is Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)?

Delayed onset muscle soreness, commonly referred to as DOMS, is a pain that occurs in a muscle  after you have trained it.

You won’t feel delayed onset muscle soreness during the workout, and it will normally start to kick in the next day, although it can sometimes occur two or three days later.

A study by the American College of Sports Medicine found that the most common time frame in which for symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness to occur was typically between 12 to 24 hours after a workout has ended.

The pain experienced during DOMS tends to peak around one to three days after the conclusion of your workout and will then gradually begin to ease up after that.

Both the length and severity of the pain are also determined by how long it has been since you last trained the muscle, with bigger gaps causing more severe cases of DOMS.

What Causes Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness?

Delayed onset muscle soreness occurs when high intensity exercises cause tiny, microscopic tears in the fibres of your muscles. In order to try and repair these tears, your body responds by increasing inflammation in the area, in an attempt to protect the damaged tissue.

Unfortunately, what this also does is increases tension in the region, leading to the pain and lack of mobility that are trademark symptoms people experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness will go through.

Symptoms Of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

The most common symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness are painful muscles that feel tender, especially when you touch them, as well as a significantly reduced range of motion, which is caused by both the pain you experience when moving them, as well as stiffness induced by inflammation.

In some cases, the inflammation can be so severe that it leads to swelling in the affected muscles. Some people also report instances of the muscle going into spasm, causing extreme pain and virtually zero mobility.

In each of these instances, both the pain and longevity of the symptoms are usually significantly increased from what is experienced during regular bouts of delayed onset muscle soreness.

In rare cases, lifters dealing with DOMS have also reported muscular fatigue or a short term loss of strength in a muscle, which extends far beyond when the normal symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness have subsided.

How Does Food Impact Muscle Soreness?

Recent studies have produced evidence which suggests that the long-term consumption of foods rich in certain antioxidants, as well as ongoing supplementation strategies that make use of the likes of creatine, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, and vitamin D3 can help with DOMS.

Depending on the antioxidant you consume, they can reduce the symptoms of exercise induced muscle damage, improve muscle function, and prevent the occurrence of delayed onset muscle soreness altogether.

Can You Really Overcome Muscle Soreness With Food?

The evidence suggests that consuming a high dose of an antioxidant, either through food or from supplements, really can reduce muscle soreness.

Studies showed that consuming these antioxidants between 6 and 72 hours after a workout dramatically increased the healing process, therefore reducing or removing the associated pains that cause delayed onset muscle soreness.  

The study did also show that no benefits on recovery were achieved if the food or supplement was consumed 96 hours or more after the completion of the workout though.

Best Foods For Muscle Soreness

Now that you know a little more about how foods and supplements can help you deal with delayed onset muscle soreness, we will look a little closer at some of the best foods for muscle soreness overall.

This should help you plan what to add to your diet, based on your own tastes and preferences, as well as give you a little more in depth information on how each of the options actually works.

Tart Cherry Juice

Tart cherry juice is a natural, unsweetened juice obtained from different types of sour red cherries, most often the Montmorency cherry.

Rich in minerals like calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc, and antioxidants and phenolics such as anthocyanins, it is a great option for reducing inflammation.

Other benefits of consuming tart cherry juice on a regular basis include regulating blood pressure and blood glucose levels, preventing strokes, reliving the symptoms of arthritis and other chronic diseases, reducing oxidative damage, and improving quality of sleep and muscular recovery.

Evidence from recent studies shows that the positive effects of tart cherry juice are more likely to be experienced when supplementation begins at least a few days before the muscle is damaged and continues until some days after, with it being taken for a minimum period of 8 to 10 consecutive days.

The same research also states that for max benefits to be achieved, a user must ensure they take enough to consume a total phenolic content of at least 1000 mg per day. The level of reduction in soreness achieved will also vary, based on what muscle has been used and how much it has been damaged.

Watermelon & Watermelon Juice

Watermelon and watermelon juice are rich in a number of vitamins and minerals, which includes copper, potassium, and vitamins a, b5, and c, as well as the amino acid l-citrulline. All of these make it great for your health and will help to enhance muscular repair and recovery.

What makes watermelon so uniquely beneficial though is that it contains a greater amount of the antioxidant lycopene than any other fresh fruit and vegetable. Lycopene has been proven to be incredibly beneficial for helping the cells throughout the body to repair and recover at an optimal rate.

This will not only help your muscles to repair faster, reducing the likelihood and severity of delayed onset muscle soreness, but will also offer additional health benefits.

These benefits include improving the health of your skin, teeth, and bones, regulating your blood pressure, decreasing the risk of cancer and heart disease, and improving your vision.

A study of seven athletes found that those who were supplied with 500 mL of natural watermelon juice or enriched watermelon juice experienced significantly shorter recovery times, less muscular soreness, and a faster return to their resting heartrate than those given the placebo.

Fatty Fish

Fatty fish are fish such as anchovies, black cod, bluefin tuna, cobia, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, striped bass, and whitefish.

They are incredibly beneficial as they are perhaps the best natural source of omega 3 fatty acids available.

Beyond their health benefits for the metabolism of fats, omega 3 fatty acids are beneficial as they are precursors to the hormone like compounds prostaglandins. These help to alter the membrane of a muscle cell and increase its fluidity, receptor function, and the production of cytokines.

These effects start to work during a workout, as they limit the amount of damage that occurs in the first place. Their nutrient quality then helps to boost the repair of the damage that has taken place.

This not only makes them a great way to combat delayed onset muscle soreness, but also allows them to help build the muscle back bigger and stronger than before, while improving its range of motion.

A recent study showed that subjects taking a 1.8 gram daily dose of an omega-3 supplement displayed lower markers of muscle soreness compared to the placebo group almost immediately after exercise. These effects then persisted for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours.

Pomegranate & Pomegranate Juice

Pomegranate is one of the most potent antioxidant fruits available. Loaded with things like alkaloids, anthocyanins, ellagitannins, flavonoids, punicic acid, and various other organic compounds and acids, it has numerous anti-inflammatory, antihypertensive, and antiatherogenic qualities.

Almost all of these compounds help to keep the cells and muscles throughout the body healthy and protect them from damage. The protection offered helps to prevent the damage from taking place in the first place, while the reduction of inflammatory markers in the blood speeds up recovery.

This combination makes pomegranates a great option for preventing delayed onset muscle soreness from setting in and minimalizing its effect and getting rid of it as quickly as possible if it does occur.

A study found that those who consumed pomegranate juice in the period from 48 hours before a training session right up until its conclusion noted significantly enhanced recovery and a reduction in delayed onset muscle soreness, compared to the placebo group.

Supplementation with pomegranate juice also has the potential to reduce the force of oxidative stress on the muscle fibres by enhancing antioxidant responses. This was shown to be particularly true in the 48 hours immediately following an intensive weightlifting training session. 

Beetroot Juice

Beetroot is a rich source of the antioxidants betalains and polyphenols.

These have been proven to protect cells from oxidative stress, limiting the amount of damage muscle fibres receive during a workout.

Beets are also abundant in nitrates, which are converted into nitric oxide in our blood. This nitric oxide dilates our blood vessels, which improves blood flow to the muscles, helping them to repair much faster.

By combining these two effects, drinking beetroot juice significantly reduces the likelihood of delayed onset muscle soreness occurring, and lowers the severity in the event that it does.

Research has shown that acute beetroot juice supplementation notably reduced muscular soreness and the falloff in performance that occurs when performing lengthy strenuous physical exercise sessions.

Participants in three groups consumed a dose of 250 ml either immediately after a workout, 24 hours after, and 48 hours following completion of exercise. All noted improvements, however, those that consumed it closest to the event saw the greatest rewards.

Other benefits of drinking beetroot juice include lowering blood pressure and limiting the likelihood or progression of conditions like heart disease and cancer.

Foods & Drinks To Avoid

While we have looked at the benefits of adding certain foods to your diet to help combat delayed onset muscle soreness, there are also foods out there that will actively make the symptoms worse.

With that in mind, we will now look at foods and drinks to avoid if you are hoping to minimise the impact DOMS has on your life and training. This will help you to build the perfect diet plan and get the most out of the supplements we have already looked at above.

Sugar

As the muscle pain you experience during delayed onset muscle soreness is caused by inflammation, it is important to significantly limit the inflammatory foods you consume, especially on the days when you work out, if you are going to see an improvement in your pain and mobility levels.

Sugar is an incredibly inflammatory substance, and its consumption even in small doses from natural sources can cause problems for our system if we aren’t careful. It is often thought to be one of the main contributing factors for people who experience particularly bad cases of DOMS. 

A 2017 study of over 12,000 people found that those who consumed more sugar, either by adding pure sugar to tea, coffee, or cereal, or consuming sugary foods and drinks, like candy and soda, had much higher levels of inflammatory markers in their body than those who consumed less sugar.

Alcohol

Alcohol is widely known to cause a number of unpleasant effects on the body, one of which is a dramatic increase in levels of inflammation, which will make the length and severity of the pain experienced during delayed onset muscle soreness much worse.

Alcohol dehydrates your cells, which on its own can result in cramps, soreness, and potential strains. Research has even shown that it can impair blood flow and increase the length of time it takes a muscle to recovery from injury.

While these effects of alcohol can be an issue in their own right, those looking to reduce the impact DOMS has on their life will find it incredibly problematic.

Other Strategies To Fight Sore Muscles

Before we wrap things up, I want to show you a few other strategies to fight sore muscles that you have at your disposal. These are things that have less to do with the foods and drinks you consume and more to do with actions you take during your daily life.

Not only will they help to relieve delayed onset muscle soreness on their own, but they can also massively boost the effects of the foods and supplements you take to help it as well.

Warm Up, But Don’t Stretch

Before you start your workout, it is also important to warm up the muscles you will be using.

This can be done with anything from performing light sets of the exercises you will be doing to going for a short session on the rower, to get the blood flowing to the desired area.

This will get the muscle nice and warm, supple, and filled with blood, making it ready to be exercised and limiting the potential for injuries or post workout muscle soreness to occur.

One thing that many people do in a warmup is stretch. By stretching a muscle out, you make it feel more flexible and increase the range of motion that you can comfortably move it through. However, while this can be good for many physical activities, it is actually a really bad idea to do before weightlifting.

By stretching the muscle, you put the fibres in their most vulnerable, elongated position. This means that, while it may feel more comfortable during the workout, each fibre is under much more pressure.

This can increase the small tears responsible for delayed onset muscle soreness, making it worse, and significantly increasing the chance of a serious injury, which is one of the main things you are trying to avoid by stretching in the first place.

Some evidence suggests that a warmup using dynamic stretching immediately before a workout could reduce muscle soreness for up to two days later, but the reduction in soreness seen in the research has been very small, and its safety hasn’t been completely confirmed.

A Cochrane review of 12 studies that looked at how stretching before or after a workout affected delayed onset muscle soreness consistently found that stretching did not have an effect on muscle soreness within a week after a workout.

Stay Hydrated

While it may sound obvious, staying hydrated is an extremely important aspect of muscle recovery. Water keeps the fluids moving through your system, which eases inflammation and keeps your systems working effectively, flushes out waste products, and delivers nutrients to your muscles.

By ensuring you remain properly hydrated, you will keep your body functioning at an optimal level, making sure you stay healthy and the supply of nutrients to the muscles is great enough that it boosts recovery and limits delayed onset muscle soreness as much as possible. 

Proper hydration will even ensure the muscles are able to contract as powerfully as possible, thanks to the nutrient supply, improving your exercise performance and maximising your results.

To see these kinds of results, you need to ensure you stay properly hydrated at all times though, not just when you are working out.

Use A Foam Roller Immediately After Working Out

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A foam roller is a great way to massage a muscle. Much like any type of massage, this makes it an ideal method to remove any knots and ease any tension that may have built up over the course of a workout.

This will ensure that proper blood flow will occur in the muscle, optimising the circulation of oxygen and nutrients to damaged areas, encouraging recovery, reducing swelling and tenderness, and limiting the chance of experiencing delayed onset muscle soreness.

A review published in the International Journal Of Sports Physical Therapy in November 2015 found that foam rolling can significantly help to increase the range of motion of a muscle and reduce the likelihood or severity of delayed onset muscle soreness.

Beyond foam rollers, there are also a range of other recovery tools you could try, which effect your body in similar ways and offer comparable benefits.

Get More Sleep 

Sleep is critical for many reasons and is vital for most of our bodily systems to function correctly, but it is also one of the most important components of exercise recovery.

When we are asleep or at rest, many of our bodily systems go into “standby mode”. This means they receive less blood flow and only operate just enough to keep our body ticking over healthily. This means the surplus of blood that remains can be redirected to other areas, such as damaged muscles.

This is why sleep is one of the most important aspects for people trying to develop their body. As muscles repair the fastest when you are asleep, getting enough sleep of a sufficient quality will not only prevent or limit delayed onset muscle soreness, but it is also vital for the muscles to grow as well.

As an added bonus, our body temperature naturally lowers when we are asleep as well. This is ideal for reducing inflammation, which will reduce the impact of DOMS even further.

Make Use Of Thermotherapy Techniques

Thermotherapy is the process of using different temperatures to exert a desired effect on the body. It can be used for everything from enhancing physical performance and muscular recovery to boosting your overall health and wellbeing.

Thermotherapy tools such as ice packs can be effective for combatting delayed onset muscle soreness, as they lower the temperature of the part of the body they are placed on. This will ease the inflammation, restore blood flow, and help the muscle to repair and grow effectively.

On the other hand, applying things like heat packs is a good option if you experience some of the more extreme symptoms of DOMS, such as muscles going into spasm. The warmth from the pack will radiate into the muscle, helping it to relax and encouraging it to come out of spasm.

Many people will use a combination of both hot and cold therapy, to maximise their recovery times and optimise the health benefits offered, while almost completely eliminating delayed onset muscle soreness in some instances.

Some of the most popular and effective thermotherapy tools available to people looking to avoid DOMS are cold plunges for those seeking cold therapy and infrared sauna blankets for those after heat therapy.

Steer Clear Of NSAIDs

NSAIDs stands for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and is the category that substances such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) fall into.

As they are designed to reduce inflammation and ease pain associated with muscle soreness, it would seem they would be perfect to combat DOMS.

However, there is also evidence to suggest that they may also prevent your muscles from repairing properly, stopping them from growing back bigger and stronger. 

So, while taking them will likely have the desired effect of reducing or even eliminating the pain associated with delayed onset muscle soreness, they may prevent you from hitting the goal that most people who experience DOMS are trying to achieve in the first place.

Final Thoughts

Delayed onset muscle soreness is an unpleasant experience that virtually all of us who have ever worked out will have had to deal with at one time or another. However, while it has the potential to derail even the most successful training programs, that need not be the case anymore.

You should now have all the info you need to design a meal plan that makes the most of the foods and supplements which help to prevent DOMS or reduce the symptoms of it, while avoiding those that make it worse.

Add in the other ways we have looked at to reduce the effect of delayed onset muscle soreness and you should never have to miss another workout.

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