We’ve all experienced it! The soreness you get after a challenging workout that catches your muscles off guard. Delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS is the aches and stiffness you experience after an exercise session your muscles aren’t accustomed to. The soreness makes its grand entrance 24 to 48 hours after a harder than normal work out and lasts for several days up to a week.
Most people consider DOMS to be an unpleasant side effect of weight training while others embrace it as a sign that they’ve worked their muscles productively. You might like working your muscles hard, but few people relish the pain and stiffness they get after a sweat session.
Some research suggests that certain foods and beverages may reduce delayed onset muscle soreness or shorten its course. For example, tart cherry juice has components with anti-inflammatory activity. A study in long-distance runners found that drinking tart cherry juice or eight days prior to an event lessened the degree of delayed onset muscle soreness.
Other foods with anti-inflammatory activity include the spice turmeric, ginger, berries, leafy greens, and fatty fish, but it’s not clear whether these foods reduce DOMS. However, there are other obvious health and nutritional benefits of consuming these foods.
Another dietary component, protein, plays a key role in muscle repair. When you weight train, it breaks down muscle fibers and those fibers must be repaired. Amino acids from protein provide the building blocks that muscles use to repair and rebuild. So, it’s not surprising that researchers question whether protein might aid in calming those achy muscles. Is there evidence that supplementing with protein reduces delayed onset muscle soreness? First, let’s look at branched-chain amino acids and the role they play in muscle soreness after a workout.
Branched Chain Amino Acids and DOMS
Branched-chain amino acids include leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Bodybuilders sometimes take branched-chain amino acids as a supplement because they activate mTOR, the main pathway muscles use to build new muscle proteins.
One study carried out by British researchers found that supplementing with branched-chain amino acids before and after vigorous training diminished delayed onset muscle soreness. Those who took the branched-chain amino acids also had fewer markers of muscle damage after a training session.
In another 2010 study, 12 untrained females consumed branched-chain amino acids the morning of a squat session. The study showed that markers of muscle damage were reduced by supplementing with branched-chain amino acids. The study was blinded and used a crossover design, adding to its credibility.
Yet another study looked at the effects of distinct protein supplements on delayed onset muscle soreness via a randomized, double-blind trial. The subjects, during four separate trials, got either soy protein isolate, whey protein isolate, hydrolyzed wheat protein, or water before performing a downhill run. The study found that all proteins supplements decreased delayed onset muscle soreness and there was no difference between the types. These studies are small, but they suggest that branched-chain amino acids, and other protein supplements, could have some benefit for reducing muscle soreness.
If you drink a protein shake to reduce DOMS, doing it every day may offer the most benefits, based on a study in Sports Medicine. This study looked at 27 studies and found no link between taking a protein supplement before, during, or after a workout and reduced markers of muscle damage and muscle soreness. However, they did see benefits for both when participants consumed protein after each daily training session.
Should You Take a Protein Supplement Before a Workout?
It’s important to get enough protein if you’re breaking down muscle fibers through weight training or if you’re doing any exercise of long duration or high intensity. However, you don’t need a protein supplement to get enough amino acids to repair muscle fibers and build new muscle. You can get enough protein from meat and dairy, poultry, fish, nuts, seeds, beans, lentils, and whole greens. Even vegetables contain modest quantities of protein. If you don’t consume meat or dairy, make sure you’re getting enough plant-based protein in your diet.
However, there are no studies looking at whether dietary protein from whole foods reduces delayed onset muscle soreness. If that’s your goal, drinking a protein shake rich in branched-chain amino acids is your best bet. Keep in mind that studies showing benefits are small. but branched-chain amino acids have other benefits for muscle hypertrophy, particularly leucine. Leucine is the main activator of the mTOR pathway for muscle protein synthesis.
Pick Your Protein Carefully
If you take a protein supplement, keep this in mind. They are not regulated in the same way pharmaceuticals are, so you don’t always get what you pay for, and sometimes you get more than you counted on. According to Harvard Health, protein supplements may contain a variety of toxins and contaminants, including heavy metals and pesticides. When the Clean Label Project analyzed 134 products, they found unwelcome contaminants, including cadmium, arsenic, lead, and BPA. So, it pays to research who you’re buying from and, if possible, check out sites that do independent testing of these supplements.
- Branched chain amino acid supplements may reduce delayed onset muscle soreness based on small studies.
- It’s not clear whether consuming lots of protein from whole food sources reduces DOMS.
- You don’t need a protein supplement or shake for muscle hypertrophy if you’re consuming enough protein.
- If you take a protein supplement, research beforehand to make sure you’re getting a quality supplement with as few contaminants as possible.
- It’s also okay to do nothing. Delayed onset muscle soreness is short-lived, anyway. It will go away on its own. Stretching, light exercise and moist heat may be all you need to ease the symptoms until they go away on their own.
- J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010; 7: 17. Published online 2010 May 7. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-7-17.
- The FASEB Journal. Vol. 28, No. 1_supplement. April 2014.
- Front Physiol. 2017; 8: 788.. Published online 2017 Oct 17. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00788.
- Scientific Reports volume 6, Article number: 31142 (2016)
- Sports Med. 2014 May;44(5):655-70. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0137-7.
- Harvard Health Publishing. “The hidden dangers of protein powders”