Most of us know that feeling after an intense and satisfying workout – your limbs feel like jelly, you can barely get out of bed, and everything hurts (in a good way). You’re probably experiencing Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) which occurs a day or two after you’re done working out. But why does this happen and is there anyway to prevent it or alleviate the pain?
According to The Guardian, there are ways to help make you feel better, but it’s unlikely that you can completely get rid of it. Not unless you simply don’t engage in such intense workouts. But what happens to your muscles when you’re feeling that soreness?
“If you look [at a normal muscle] under an electron microscope, you see that there’s a normal architecture and normal structure to the muscle fibre,” says Dr Mark Wotherspoon, a consultant in sport, exercise and musculoskeletal medicine. “When you look under the electron microscope with DOMS, the whole architecture is disrupted. Essentially, it is true muscle damage, but it’s at the muscle fibre level as opposed to a muscle tear that you would get when you’re running and your hamstring goes.”
This “muscle tear” isn’t as scary as it sounds, and to some, it may even be an indicator of how well their workout went. However, it’s not recommended that you treat soreness as a true indicator of how well your workout went.
“A lot of people like [DOMS] because it means they’ve worked really hard and it’s a great feeling, but if it’s excessive and you’re getting it all the time then I would be questioning either your recovery strategies or your training plan.”coach Nick Anderson.
What To Do To Recover From DOMS
So, what can you actually do to help speed up recovery and not feel like a wreck after a hard workout? The simple answer is to eat, but the caveat is you can’t just eat anything you like. The key macronutrients you should focus on consuming are carbohydrates and protein.
“Regular intake of carbohydrate is vital to replace muscle glycogen depleted during exercise. If you skimp on the carbohydrate, you run the risk of excessive protein (muscle) breakdown, which won’t contribute positively to the training process,” says sports dietitian and ultrarunner Alexandra Cook.
But how much you eat also depends on your activity. “If you’re undertaking high-intensity, prolonged-duration exercise like a half-marathon, you may need to consume 8-10g of carbs per kg of body mass per day. For shorter-duration, lower-intensity exercise, the demand may be reduced,” says Ted Munson, a performance nutritionist at Science in Sport
As for recovery tools and exercises, there are a whole range of implements you can make use of. Things like compression clothing, foam rollers, and even ice baths may work to help speed things up. But Dr Wortherspoon argues that recovery is all in the mind.
“There’s some evidence that it doesn’t matter which one of them you use, because the most effective recovery component is psychological,” he says. “So, in other words, whatever makes you feel better, do. If you’re absolutely convinced that recovery stockings are the thing that helps you, crack on and use them; if you want to get in an ice bath, happy days. There’s no good scientific evidence that any one of those is any better.”
So, if you’re ever feeling super sore after a workout, just remember it’s really all about your nutrition (and state of mind) that matters.
By Gilbert Wong, Men’s Health Content Producer