Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a condition that leaves millions of gym-goers around the globe waking up 1-3 days after a workout feeling as though they got into a sumo wrestling match with a silverback gorilla overnight. DOMS can make you miserable. Even worse, it can keep you out of the gym. But there’s good news: Remedies and supplements for sore muscles can relieve DOMS symptoms and help you bounce back faster and stronger.
What is DOMS (Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness)?
As a term, DOMS specifically applies to the muscular discomfort that generally reaches its peak anywhere from 24 to 72 after the exercise session that caused it. Delayed-onset muscle soreness can generally be recognized by the following symptoms:
- Dull, slow-burning pain that emerges slowly and is slow to fade
- Muscle tightness
- Reduction in mobility
- Temporary reduction in muscle strength
- Related joint stiffness
You may not be aware of DOMS right away, but once it’s activated, it’s impossible to mistake for anything else. The following are each some of the most helpful tips and supplements to keep in mind when it comes to keeping DOMS at bay as best as you possibly can.
Why does DOMS happen?
Remarkably, science has not yet pinpointed an exact cause of delayed onset muscle soreness.
DOMS has, however, been linked to high-level concentric, isometric and eccentric exercise. As the muscles are trained, they’re constantly generating tension while getting longer (eccentric), contraction (concentric), and statically maintaining their length without any changes at (isometric).
Most of all, eccentric exercise that involves the lengthening of muscles seems to be responsible for DOMS onset. Eccentric muscle-lengthening activities include lowering a barbell (versus raising it) and running down stairs (versus running up them).
- If you are training muscles in a new way, you place stress on muscles. This stress may result in microscopic tears to muscle fibers. DOMS has been suggested to be linked to the inflammation and other natural repair processes that occur after muscle damage.
Muscular training, no matter what exercises are used, requires recovery. However, getting to the point of DOMS isn’t always necessary. When exercise exposes the body to much more stress than it’s accustomed to, unusually intense levels of soreness is a natural outcome.
Is anybody more susceptible to DOMS?
In any age group, those who don’t have the most extensive history of strength conditioning will always be at a higher risk for DOMS. However, the best way to represent the risk is a double-sided coin:
- Those who have a low level of training experience have a higher risk of incurring DOMS than those with more experience performing similar exercises
- Advanced athletes may get DOMS when they try new or exotic exercises. Such exercises effectively turn gym rats into “beginners”
Excessively intense training, without sufficient flexibility exercises or rest, can often result in even those who do have a rather impressive training resume experiencing DOMS eventually.
Keep in mind that there’s always a risk of even the most well-conditioned people being at risk of DOMS given the right combination of training intensity and carelessness. Overtraining, though the determination of such vary between person to person, can always put someone at a higher risk than normal for experiencing DOMS.
Professional athletes and lifelong sedentary office workers alike can both be at risk of experiencing DOMS in time if they fall too far out of touch with the exact limitations of their bodies’ capacities for enduring extensive amounts of punishment.
DOMS: Not Just Bodybuilders
Strength training is just one DOMS cause. Other causes:
- Jogging and running activities
- Aerobics classes and exercises
- Exercises that involve a lot of jumping
Physically fit? You might still get DOMS when trying new exercises or pushing past your limits.
How Long does DOMS last?
Under regular circumstances, DOMS shouldn’t be a condition that persists for an unbearably long amount of time. Most cases of DOMS are generally self-abating in a window of time of just about 3 to 5 days.
With the right steps, including supplements for sore muscles, DOMS can resolve quickly.
When factoring in the “buffering” period of about 1 to 2 days after the exercise session that leads to DOMS symptoms, the overall period of time from initial muscular trauma itself to the day of relief is about 5-7 days.
Should I keep working out If I have DOMS?
Naturally, the degree to which DOMS pain actually impairs the ability to exercise fully can vary. Once DOMS has settled in, it’s wise to take it as a warning that the body has temporarily received more punishment than it can safely bear without long-lasting damage.
Never underestimate the potential consequences of aggravated muscle tears. The muscular tensions that compounds into DOMS can very easily escalate to a state that threatens their physical makeup on a cellular level. For the sake of both short-term and long-term safety, it pays not to try working through any case of DOMS by overcompensating on the next workout.
Rather than taking an even greater risk by working through the pain, it’s much wiser to invest in practices and solutions that preemptively reduce the risk of DOMS occurring in the first place.
Muscle Recovery Tips
There are a few common sense steps that can help you minimize DOMS onset, or help you to simply feel more comfortable after it sets in:
Especially if you are new to working out, a gradual introduction of your training program will help to reduce the risk of delayed onset muscle soreness. Don’t try to do too much right off the bat.
Take Time to Heal
It is always important to give your body time to recover after working out. Don’t hit the same muscle groups over and over again, day after day. Alternate muscle groups, and give your muscles time to adapt, repair and recover from workouts.
Muscle Pain Relief
DOMS can make you feel miserable. You can ease DOMS discomfort with:
- Ice packs
- Gentle massage
- OTC pain relievers like acetaminophen and ibuprofen
- Various muscle-soothing gels and ointments, which may supply active ingredients like arnica, menthol or cayenne pepper
What about Stretching?
You might think warming up and stretching may help with DOMS. However, evidence is conflicted. If anything, most experts feel that stretching will not help with muscle soreness. One study, however, found that a single yoga session appeared to help reduce symptoms of muscle soreness.
The jury is out, but it seems that stretching won’t stop DOMS from happening, but may provide some relief after it sets in. Either way, you should still warm-up and stretch before every workout.
Best 5 Supplements for Sore Muscles
Some supplements for sore muscles are highly effective at relieving DOMS. These are sometimes called muscle recovery supplements.
Many sports nutrition formulas nourish, protect and build muscle tissues. Therefore, they target DOMS right where it strikes.
Supplements for sore muscles include:
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) are microscopic pieces of body-building protein. They appear to be a highly effective DOMS countermeasure. These muscle building blocks are highly functional, helping to:
- Boost protein synthesis: Accomplished by raising growth hormone and improving muscle tissue cells’ ability to take in new proteins
- Increase muscle energy: Energy fuels muscle-regenerative processes. Hence, your muscles heal faster.
- Replenish BCAA to muscle: The harder you workout the more BCAAs your muscles burn through. Supplementing helps maintain levels needed for recovery
These activities combine for real results. BCAAs have been found in multiple clinical research studies to help reduce muscle soreness after intense training.
One of the key aspects of muscular endurance and conditioning is the muscular potential to generate nitric oxide, and for that particular job, L-arginine is a supreme contender.
However, there is a more efficient way to gain the benefits of L-arginine: L-Citrulline.
Citrulline converts into L-Arginine. By raising L-Arginine levels, it boosts nitric oxide to promote robust blood flow to muscles. It also helps to flush away muscle-damaging ammonia. Most of all for DOMS, Citrulline helps muscles to use BCAAs more efficiently. It may therefore amplify BCAA benefits for DOMS.
L-Citrulline is a popular natural performance-enhancer. However, its far-reaching muscle benefits also seem to help with soreness.
- One study found that citrulline supplementation not only increased repetitions during strength training, but was also associated with a significant 40% reduction in muscle soreness at 24 and 48 hours post-workout.
Much like BCAA, beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) can be a highly effective potential measure that you can take against DOMS. Pre-workout, post-workout and fat-burner supplements all use HMB. This sport nutrient works by crushing muscle- and protein-destroying enzymes that are generated during intense training.
As a result, HMB has anti-catabolic activity. In other words, it protects muscle from the microscopic damage that leads to delayed onset muscle soreness.
HMB’s muscle-maintaining activity has become popular recently in the context of fasted training. It appears to help preserve muscle during workouts on an empty stomach, further strengthening its ability to reduce DOMS.
Pomegranate juice and supplements for sore muscles are highly effective.
Why is pomegranate among the best supplements for sore muscles? It supplies polyphenol antioxidants.
Antioxidants from pomegranate are valuable because they neutralize destructive free radicals. Generated during exercise, free radicals degrade muscle tissue. Specifically, they damage and inflame muscles until DOMS sets in. By “quenching” these free radicals, pomegranate antioxidants promote soothing comfort in muscles and joints that can get you back in the gym sooner.
- One human clinical trial found that pomegranate juice accelerated muscle recovery after eccentric exercise. Intriguingly, the reduction of muscle weakness and soreness was far more significant in elbow flexor muscles than knee extensor muscles.
This amino acid appears to help with muscle recovery via a different pathway: Energy.
During exercise, L-Carnitine helps to keep energy that is present within muscle tissues. So instead of muscle eating itself for energy during training, the body will preferentially burn fat as a fuel source. This has obvious benefits for fat burning, but may also have protective effects on muscle.
L-Carnitine also helps to shuttle fatty acids into muscle tissue cells mitochondria, so they can more efficiently produce ATP energy. Energized muscles mean better performance.
What few consider, however, is that energized muscles are better able to repair, maintain and rejuvenate muscle tissues. This nutrient fuels muscle regeneration and accelerates muscle repair. L-Carnitine is among the best supplements for sore muscles.
- One human clinical research study found that supplementation of L-Carnitine by women and men during physical training did not affect performance. However, L-Carnitine did appear to reduce free radicals, muscle soreness and muscle damage.
If you’re going to use L-Carnitine to help with DOMS, buy the ALCAR (Acetyl L-Carnitine) form — it is more bioavailable and easier for the body to use.
Contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily have to design every single workout to leave you with “muscles on fire” discomfort. DOMS can strike athletically experienced and primarily sedentary people alike. However, DOMS can be whipped into submission — by using these lifestyle tips and supplements for sore muscles.
- Best 5 Guide: Best Pre-Workout Supplements
- 2017 Edition: Best 5 Pre-Workout Supplements
- Best 5 Guide: How to Buy a Good Supplement
- Pre-Workout Supplement Reviews
- Post-Workout Supplement Reviews
- BCAA Supplement Reviews
Cheung K, Hume P, Maxwell L. Delayed onset muscle soreness: treatment strategies and performance factors. Sports Med. 2003;33(2):145-64.
Jooyoung Kim and Joohyung Lee. A review of nutritional intervention on delayed onset muscle soreness. Part I. J Exerc Rehabil. 2014 Dec; 10(6): 349–356. Published online 2014 Dec 31. doi: 10.12965/jer.140179
Matsumoto K, Koba T, Hamada K, Sakurai M, Higuchi T, Miyata H. Branched-chain amino acid supplementation attenuates muscle soreness, muscle damage and inflammation during an intensive training program. J Sports Med Phys Fitness. 2009 Dec;49(4):424-31.
Armstrong RB. Mechanisms of exercise-induced delayed onset muscular soreness: a brief review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1984 Dec;16(6):529-38. Treatment and prevention of delayed onset muscle soreness. J Strength Cond Res. 2003 Feb;17(1):197-208.
Connolly DA, Sayers SP, McHugh MP. van Someren KA1, Edwards AJ, Howatson G. Supplementation with beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB) and alpha-ketoisocaproic acid (KIC) reduces signs and symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage in man. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2005 Aug;15(4):413-24.