Although muscle soreness is thought to be caused by a buildup of lactic acid, research has shown that this is not the cause. The cause of muscles soreness and stiffness is believed to be due to microscopic damage to the muscle fibers. However, there are ways to combat muscle soreness and inflammation through nutrition.
What is DOMS?
Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is characterized by muscle soreness and stiffness that occurs after exercise-induced muscle damage and can contribute to decreased exercise performance.
How can you manage DOMS through nutrition?
Research has shown that including some simple nutrients into your eating pattern can help reduce the effects of DOMS. Foods containing caffeine, omega-3 fatty acids, taurine, and polyphenols have been shown to help reduce inflammation and soreness.
Taurine is a non-essential, sulfur-containing amino acid. Non-essential means that it is not essential to include in the diet because it can be made by the body.
Taurine can be found in skeletal muscle and has many important functions. Some of these functions include membrane stability, antioxidant activity, water balance/regulation and calcium regulation. It is thought that the addition of taurine in the diet may help reduce muscle soreness by reducing oxidative stress.
What is oxidative stress? It is the imbalance of free radicals (molecules that damage cells) and antioxidants in the body. Physical activity (as well as stress) induces oxidative stress which leads to tissue damage and inflammation. Incorporating antioxidants into the diet helps decrease the amount of tissue damage which in turn reduces the amount of muscle soreness.
Good sources of taurine are shellfish (scallops, mussels, clams), dark turkey and chicken meat.
Polyphenols are a component of phytochemicals which include anthocyanins and flavonoids. Phytochemicals are the compounds responsible for the naturally occurring bright colors of food. Anthocyanins and flavonoids give off blue, red and purple pigments in a variety of fruits and vegetables.
Other than helping our plate look like a rainbow, polyphenols combat muscle soreness by reducing cell damage from free radicals. They also act as an anti-inflammatory agent against exercise-induced muscle damage.
Caffeine may help alleviate DOMS by deactivating the enzymes responsible for breaking down bone material, which will help increase bone density. This is due to caffeine acting as an adenosine (hormone) antagonist and blocking the adenosine receptor. Caffeine also has a glycogen sparing effect during endurance by promoting fat usage for energy.
Good sources of caffeine are cocoa beans, kola nuts, tea leaves, coffee beans, tea, chocolate, and energy drinks.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids contain EPA and DHA, which help to regulate the inflammatory response, can help reduce pain from rheumatoid arthritis, and promote brain health!
Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce muscle soreness by also providing an anti-inflammatory effect to exercise induced muscle damage. This inflammatory response will also help decrease water retention (as long as you are drinking enough water).
Good sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish and other seafood (especially cold-water fatty fish, such as salmon, mackerel, tuna, herring, and sardines), nuts and seeds (such as flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts), and plant oils (such as flaxseed oil, soybean oil, and canola oil).
Delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) occurs after exercise-induced muscle damage and can contribute to decreased exercise performance. Research has shown that certain nutrients such as taurine, polyphenols, omega-3 fatty acids, and caffeine, have the ability to alleviate some of the inflammation and muscle soreness associated with exercise induced muscle damage.
Including foods that are rich in vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, and antioxidants are a great way to elevate your exercise performance. However, be mindful of over supplementation because toxic effects may occur with high intake of multiple supplements in a short period of time. Be sure to talk with your Elevated Dietitian to figure out what supplements are best to elevate your health and wellness.
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- Williams M. Dietary supplements and sports performance: amino acids. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2005;2(2):63‐67. Published 2005 Dec 9. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-2-2-63
- De Poll MCG van, Dejong CHC, Soeters PB. Adequate range for sulfur-containing amino acids and biomarkers for their excess: Lessons from enteral and parenteral nutrition. JOURNAL OF NUTRITION. 136(6):1694S-1700S. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edswsc&AN=000237993400010&site=eds-live&scope=site.
- Williamson G, Holst B. Dietary reference intake (DRI) value for dietary polyphenols: are we heading in the right direction? BRITISH JOURNAL OF NUTRITION. 2008;(SUPP/3): S55.http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=edsbl&AN=CN069523971&site=eds-live&scope=site.
- Caffeine: How much is too much?. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678. Published 2020.