Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is when your muscles start hurting a day or two after training. This usually lasts about 3-5 days but can even last up to two weeks, depending on how long ago you were active, what the intensity of your exercise/workout was and the state of your metabolism which also determines how fast you repair.
This intense soreness, called DOMS, is due to muscle damage and inflammation that occurs a day or two after a workout, which is why you’ll always feel it in the muscle that you worked the hardest. DOMS are pretty much inevitable, especially when you’re just starting out with training and learning new movements or haven’t trained in quite a while.
A good program for beginners will always start out slow and then progressively ramp up the volume and intensity to adequate levels to ensure that optimal gains are being made while preventing injury or “paralyzing” DOMS.
But it’s not only beginners that can get some serious DOMS, advanced and even elite trainers can also get DOMS if they do something drastically new in their workout, like squat sets of 20+ when they’re only used to doing sets of 6-8 for example. Even after over a decade of training I still get DOMS because I regularly switch things up in my workouts. But they’re definitely not excruciating and my body repairs much faster now than it used to in the past.
In this article I’m going to give a few tricks, methods and supplements that can help you to deal with DOMS and make it go away ASAP. This information isn’t just applicable to the beginner or intermediate athlete/trainee, but also to the elite athlete who wants to squeeze as much out of their training, recovery and adaption as possible, as this is the advice I give to all my clients from beginners to high end athletes.
Yes, ashwagandha also helps with DOMS. It’s really just a great supplement to have in general. Taking 300-500mg ashwagandha extract twice daily significantly improves muscle growth and strength gains and also increases testosterone and reduces muscle damage.
Tart cherry extract
Taking 480mg/day of Montmorency powdered tart cherries before/after a training session of resistance training appears to be an effective dietary supplement to attenuate muscle soreness, strength decrement during recovery, and markers of muscle catabolism in resistance trained individuals.
Magnesium supplementation is shown to speed up muscle recovery and reduce muscle soreness, but only in individuals with a magnesium deficiency (which are most people).
My recommendation: I recommend taking 200mg if you already consume enough magnesium through your diet and 400mg or more daily if you are/have been eating a diet low in magnesium. Another great way to get magnesium with a supercharged method is to add Epsom salt and sodium bicarb to a warm bath, which will allow magnesium and carbon dioxide absorption over the whole body to speed up recovery. Carbon dioxide is a very interesting and beneficial gaseous molecule that speeds up recovery and goes perfectly with Epsom salt in the form of sodium bicarb.
Red & infrared light therapy
The most significant and consistent results for improvement in exercise performance, strength, recovery, reduction in fatigue, inhibition of myostatin and increase in hypertrophy are found with red or infrared light used before exercises. The researchers concluded that phototherapy (with lasers and LEDs) improves muscular performance and accelerates recovery, mainly when applied before exercise.
Light-emitting diode therapy, which is a flexible light-emitting diode array (λ = 850 nm, total energy = 75 J, t = 15 seconds) was used on the quadriceps femoris muscles of individuals immediately after each strength training session. There was a decrease in markers of inflammation (interleukin 1β) and muscle atrophy (myostatin) as well as an increase in protein synthesis (mammalian target of rapamycin), oxidative stress defense (SOD2 [mitochondrial superoxide dismutase]), together with increases in thigh muscle hypertrophy.
Wavelengths of 880nm and 660nm appear to be equally effective at relieving DOMS. Red light devises at those wave lengths are easily obtainable.
This is because red light displaces nitric oxide from the cytochrome c oxidase complex of the mitochondria, thus promoting optimal mitochondrial energy production.
High energy state = greater hypertrophy.
The effects of light therapy on muscle tissue are shown to last 24 to 48 hours. So exposing yourself to red light daily or every other day would have a very beneficial effect on energy production, recovery and muscle growth.
My recommendation: Shine red light for at least 10 minutes minimum on your trained muscle groups before and after training if possible (product).
300mg of saffron supplementation has been shown to significantly decrease the CK, lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) concentrations and muscle pain following exercise.
Warm baths are very effective at reducing DOMS by promoting blood flow and relaxation and also aids in detoxification.
My recommendation: Add 1-2 cup of epsom salt and 1-2 cup sodium bicarbonate (equal parts of both) to your bath water to increase magnesium levels with the epsom salt and CO2 with the bicarb.
Saunas can also be very useful for reducing DOMS. But be sure to “electrolyte up” when doing saunas.
Protein supplementation, like whey or casein, reduces muscle damage and soreness but only in individuals who are in a negative energy and nitrogen balance (who consume too low protein). Consuming 1.6g/kg/BW protein should put you in a positive nitrogen balance. When enough protein is consumed daily, like the amount I advise to consume, additional protein might not have an added beneficial effect. However, certain amino acids, namely glycine and taurine, can be very beneficial for recovery.
Glycine – Glycine protects skeletal muscle from catabolism and loss of function. It reduces the oxidative and inflammatory burden and reduces the expression of genes associated with muscle protein breakdown. Glycine also lowers cortisol, increases DHT and is anabolic on its own. Gelatin/collagen is also potently anabolic and can help put you in a positive nitrogen balance even when consuming too little protein in general. Aim to consume at least 20g glycine per day from all sources.
Taurine – Taurine scavenges free radicals, inhibits lipid peroxidation, prevents iron (Fe+2) self-oxidation, regulates calcium homeostasis in skeletal muscle, increases muscle force, improves lipid metabolism, increases insulin sensitivity, improves carbohydrate metabolism and favors glycogen resynthesis. It also improves muscle endurance, increases testosterone levels, decreases urinary nitrogen excretion by 33%, and promotes positive nitrogen balance. A combination of 3.2 g BCAA and 2.0g taurine, three times a day, attenuated exercise-induced DOMS and muscle damage.
Cocoa – a dose of 0.375 g/kg body mass of cocoa powder (30g or 6 tbsps. for an 80kg guy) has been shown to decrease the muscle damage biomarkers of CK and LDH by 39.4% and 23.03%, respectively. It also decreases oxidative damage, increases in total antioxidant capacity, GSH-Px activity and improves physical performance.
Pomegranate – Supplementing with pomegranate juice has been found to attenuate weakness and reduce soreness of the biceps but not of quads.
This would indicate that pomegranate juice has a mild, acute ergogenic effect, but mostly in smaller muscle groups.
TensLess® (a supplement containing a combination of mangosteen, elderberry and pomegranate extract) – 500mg of the supplement was given to recreationally active athletes, which significantly decreased DOMS perception by 33% as of the first 24 hours, and this was significantly correlated with a lowered release of muscle damage-associated biomarkers, namely myoglobin, creatinine, and CK, for the whole length of the recovery period.
Lemon verbena extract
Participants who took 400mg of lemon verbena once daily benefited from less muscle damage as well as faster and full recovery compared to the placebo groups. Also, those who took lemon verbena extract had significantly less exercise-related loss of muscle strength over all time points, improved glutathione peroxidase activity and less movement induced pain.
Recommended product: (Amazon)
Who doesn’t like a good massage right? Well if you do like massages then you’ll be pleased to know that it’s also effective at alleviating DOMS by approximately 30%. Although it has no effect on muscle function, it does reduce swelling and soreness.
So be sure to ask your spouse to give you a nice massage after your warm bath. If you don’t have a spouse or you do have one but would rather not bother to ask, then you can order a hand held deep tissue massager instead as it works just as effective if not more! 🙂
PUFA depletion diet
I noticed that after I minimized my polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) intake to less than 5g daily, my DOMS have decreased and my recovery has increased quite significantly. This is something my clients experience as well once they do a low PUFA diet. This is because PUFAs directly contribute to inflammation and slow the metabolism down.
When you go on a PUFA depletion diet (which basically just means you focus on keeping your PUFA intake below 5g daily), a little bit of vitamin E (100-200IU) and aspirin (81mg) can greatly help to reduce the inflammation caused by the PUFAs and can also help reduce muscle soreness.
Keeping your diet low in PUFAs is totally optional but is definitely highly beneficial. It’s not only beneficial against DOMS, but depleting your body of PUFAs can dramatically increase your metabolism, androgen production and general health as well as brain function.