Article written by Ellen Turnbull- MSc Sport & Exercise Nutrition
What is DOMS?
Have you ever woken up the day after a hard training session and your legs feel double their original weight? I bet you were wondering what on earth was causing such pain. This was probably something called delayed onset muscle soreness, also known as DOMS. DOMS typically refers to muscular pain and stiffness felt after an intense, long and/or challenging bout of physical activity. It often occurs 24-48 hours after completion of the activity, whereby muscles may swell, become tender and have a reduced strength output . While the actual cause of DOMS is still debated within research, it is thought to be in correspondence to an inflammatory response that takes place within the muscles, to clear damaged tissue and begin to repair the microscopic tears in the muscle fibres .
Is DOMS normal?
So, you probably want to know if this is good? Is it normal to be feeling sore after an intense session? Putting your muscles under certain stress is actually beneficial. The muscles recover by repairing those microtears that happen during training, making them a little bit bigger and stronger each time they are exposed to this stimulus.
While it is totally normal for athletes to experience DOMS and is temporary, it can become an issue when there is limited time for recovery between training sessions, or the volume or intensity of training is significantly increased. Luckily, good daily nutrition can often aid with the symptoms experienced with DOMS and get you moving again the day after your session.
How can nutrition help DOMS?
Inflammation is a natural way for the body to heal, so you actually do not want to completely stop the process. But there are ways to deal with inflammatory factors to preserve the integrity of your muscles. A well-balanced diet, including plenty of high-quality protein, wholegrains, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats will help to support the adaptation process and alleviate the symptoms associated with DOMS. Specific research into DOMS is lacking, so while we can’t promise that nutrition will prevent DOMS, we can recommend good nutrition strategies that could potentially reduce soreness. Here are some of the best foods for muscle recovery and reducing DOMS.
Protein & DOMS
Protein is a key nutrient for growth, maintenance, and repair of muscle tissue, making it especially important post workout . While a post workout protein hit is essential, consuming it 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.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids & DOMS
These fatty acids cannot be made in the body and therefore must be consumed by the diet. It has been suggested that when omega-3 fatty acid is consumed regularly, it could help to reduce DOMS due to the inflammatory effect of EPA (a type of omega-3) . Thus, they could help to reduce muscle soreness.
Good sources of foods high in omega-3 fatty acids are fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, and tuna) and nuts and seeds (chia seeds, flaxseeds and walnuts). You should try to include omega-3 rich foods in your daily diet.
Polyphenols & DOMS
Polyphenols are a phytochemical (also known as antioxidant) and are found abundantly in plant foods. They can help to reduce muscle soreness by reducing cell damage from free radicals and act as an anti-inflammatory agent . Studies have looked at potential polyphenol rich foods for reducing DOMS, particularly tart cherry juice and pomegranate juice, with some studies finding it works and others finding no difference . Ultimately, you should focus on regularly consuming foods that are naturally high in polyphenols as this may help to reduce the likelihood of DOMS. Foods that are rich in polyphenols include the likes of cherries, strawberries, pomegranate, blueberries, cocoa powder, dark chocolate, beans and nuts.
- Ensure you take sufficient protein on board to support muscular repair and growth.
- Consume some essential fats, such as omega 3 to support the immune system and inflammation.
- Eat your five a day! Fruit and vegetables contain vitamins and minerals which provide antioxidants, polyphenols and phytonutrients which will help with recovery.
- Refuel after your workouts. You need to replenish your used carbohydrate stores and provide energy for the muscles.
- Chicken salad sandwich
- Tuna/salmon sushi
- Homemade protein blueberry smoothie
- Tinned tuna on crackers
Eating certain foods may help to reduce DOMS. Your main focus should be on eating a variety of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and oily fish. However, it is important to remember that regardless of whether you chose to focus on these nutrients to help with DOMS, getting enough calories daily from protein, carbohydrate and fat is vital to support daily activities and recovery. There is no quick fix, so consuming a well-balanced diet should ultimately be the main priority.
- Kim, J., & Lee, J. (2014). A review of nutritional intervention on delayed onset muscle soreness. Part I. Journal of exercise rehabilitation, 10(6), 349.
- Etheridge, T., Philp, A., & Watt, P. W. (2008). A single protein meal increases recovery of muscle function following an acute eccentric exercise bout. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism, 33(3), 483-488.
- . Jouris, K. B., McDaniel, J. L., & Weiss, E. P. (2011). The effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the inflammatory response to eccentric strength exercise. Journal of sports science & medicine, 10(3), 432.
- McLeay, Y., Barnes, M. J., Mundel, T., Hurst, S. M., Hurst, R. D., & Stannard, S. R. (2012). Effect of New Zealand blueberry consumption on recovery from eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 19. https://doi.org/10.1186/1550-2783-9-19