So, you’ve been working out pretty consistently for a while now, but you wake up one fine morning to find your muscles protesting any movement. Your muscles feel sore and stiff, and trying to get out of bed feels like you have the weight of the world crushing you. You are now trying to find the best supplement for sore muscles.
As you grit your teeth and try to figure out the source of this uncharacteristic rebellion of your body, it hits you that your sessions at the gym may have been a tad too vigorously of late.
Yes, what you are experiencing is possibly Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), and it is a pretty common issue plaguing those who work out regularly, athletes, bodybuilders, and the like.
While it isn’t a serious cause for concern, it can be a bummer to deal with for a couple of days and it will definitely throw off your exercise schedule for that duration.
In this article, I’ll explain what DOMS is exactly, why it happens, and how to prevent it. There are a few supplements that have helped me recover from sore muscles quicker and minimize their occurrences significantly.
I will go on to share the details of these, along with a few others that I researched, so you can pick the best supplement for sore muscles, and to do away with sore muscles for good!
All You Need to Know About Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
What is DOMS?
When you push yourself a little too hard in the gym, particularly if you are doing some sort of resistance training, your muscle fibers develop microscopic tears.
Your body tries to fix this damage, which leads to the inflamm4ation of the muscle tissues. The muscle soreness caused by DOMS usually takes 1-2 days to manifest after a particularly intense workout session, as opposed to the regular old muscle pain stemming from a build-up of lactic acid.
Before I list down the best supplements for sore muscles, let’s see if you even need them!
How to Identify DOMS
DOMS is often confused with acute muscle soreness, but the two are quite different, both in their cause and effect. Yes, at the end of the day they both wreak havoc on your muscles, but a critical difference is that while acute muscle soreness is caused by a quick lactic acid build-up, DOMS is caused by micro tears of the muscle fibers.
While the former manifests during or after an intense workout session, it immediately goes down after you take a breather. DOMS, on the other hand, is a ‘delayed onset’ of the muscle soreness as suggested by the name.
Not only does it take 12 to 24 hours after the workout session to actually show up, the pain won’t reach its peak until a day to three days after the actual workout.
Now that we have identified the key differentiators between acute muscles soreness and DOMS, let’s move on to the actual symptoms to look out for to identify the latter:
- Muscles feel tender to the touch
- Swelling of the muscles in the affected region
- Muscle fatigue
- Pain and stiffness causing a limitation to your range of motion
- Loss of muscle strength for a brief period
Who is Susceptible to DOMS?
Pretty much anyone who works out can fall prey to delayed onset muscle soreness. It is especially a part and parcel of workout routines aiming for hypertrophy.
High-intensity workouts such as ‘eccentric exercises’, that is when you tense up and lengthen a muscle at the same time, which is pretty common during any sort of resistance training, is a very common trigger for DOMS.
While pro athletes and bodybuilders often experience DOMS, workout enthusiasts like you and me or even complete novices embarking on their workout journey, are no strangers to it either.
Essentially, you take your workout intensity up a notch, and you can be saddled with DOMS.
Is DOMS all that Bad?
While delayed onset muscle soreness can be quite the pain, literally, you can actually look at it as a sign of growth!
A lot of pro performance athletes look at it as a sign of pushing their boundaries and stepping up their endurance to the next level.
When you are trying a new routine that is more intensive than the one you are used to, trying out exercises that engage different muscle groups due to novel movements, you are susceptible to DOMS.
However, as your muscles get used to it and your body adapts, you won’t have to endure the soreness anymore. So overall, DOMS is generally accepted as a natural, if not positive, trajectory of your fitness journey, despite the pain.
Speeding Up Muscle Recovery: Food and Supplements
While you can placate yourself with the assurance that experiencing DOMS is an indication of growth, making it easier to bear the pain, you would, of course, want to minimize it.
The faster your muscles recover from the exertion and tissue damage, the faster would the pain go away.
While it is impossible to do away with muscle soreness altogether if you want to excel in your fitness journey, you can definitely minimize its occurrence and pain by consuming certain foods and being on top of your nutrition game with nutritional supplements for sore muscles.
Foods that Help Curb Muscle Soreness
Proteins and carbohydrates are your body’s main fuel to help you power through your workouts, and then help your muscles recover. Without an adequate balance of proteins and carbs in your diet, your tendency to suffer from DOMS exponentially increases.
As the ‘building blocks’ of your body, proteins not only help build more muscle, but is integral to reducing muscle soreness and fatigue as it helps muscle recovery like nothing else.
Chicken, fish, turkey, and eggs are perfect sources of protein to achieve the optimum 30% protein intake requirements of athletes looking to bulk up, and recover speedily.
Foods such as turmeric and ginger have been known for their anti-inflammatory nature and phytonutrients-rich nutritional value for years. These can be holistically incorporated to deal with DOMS by combating muscle tissue inflammation.
Caffeine is actually a great ingredient that can help you overcome DOMS. It acts as a stimulant that encourages easing muscles of soreness and fatigue. In fact, a lot of us swear by caffeine to not only give us a jolt of energy in the morning, but also to improve our performance during strength and endurance workout routines.
Since it stimulates the nervous system, you will also not feel the pain and stress caused by your workouts as much, thus making it easier for you to follow through with the routine.
Don’t underestimate the value of your morning cup of coffee in getting over the symptoms of DOMS quickly; just beware the possibility of jitters and sleeplessness!
Importance of Nutritional Supplements for Muscle Recovery
No matter how much effort you put into maintaining that perfectly balanced diet, you will possibly fall short. You can never get the concentration of nutrients you really need as a performing athlete or fitness enthusiast from a regular meal.
Add to that, the fact that given our lifestyle today, it is super inconvenient to stock up your refrigerator regularly, and prepare meals from scratch every day. Nutritional supplements are a boon in such scenarios as they not only give you a supercharged dose of nutrition catering to your specific fitness or dietary goals, but are also super convenient for an on-the-go lifestyle.
When it comes to muscle recovery, weight trainers definitely need the extra support from protein powders and specialized muscle recovery supplements to match up to the huge amount of protein, carbs and other nutrients the body requires to constantly power through workouts, build muscle mass, and repair all the wear and tear to the muscle tissues.
Whey powder and casein protein are both excellent supplements for those looking to bulk up. Though they metabolize at different rates, both these powders help increase muscle mass and improve recovery, thus posing the perfect solution to keep DOMS in check.
The Best Supplement for Muscle Soreness
Any supplement that helps with muscle recovery will help mitigate your muscle soreness caused by DOMS. Here is a compiled list of the most credible nutritional supplements to include in your routine right now that will help keep muscle soreness in check:
Protein supplements, since they are the building blocks of tissues, are a no-brainer when it comes to something that will help repair, recover, and build muscle tissue.
When consumed after a workout, it goes a long way in combating the eventual onset of DOMS-induced muscle soreness. Protein supplements work in our favor when consumed after a workout session by boosting up our metabolism, moderating glycogen levels, and reducing cortisol- all of which go haywire during a workout, more so if an intense one.
The human body can usually successfully absorb up to 15-20 grams of protein after a bout of exertion, however exceeding that would be a waste since it would simply be excreted out. Ideally, set your goal for 20 grams of protein per serving of your post-workout supplement, and make the most of the benefits.
When it comes to the type of protein supplement to invest in, it essentially boils down to your tolerance of the ingredients and whether you have dietary restrictions.
For instance, whey protein is a highly absorbable protein powder that is excellent for muscle synthesis and thus minimizing muscle soreness, however it does not agree with everybody. Dairy can be a key ingredient in a lot of protein powders; however that would not work for you if you are lactose intolerant or simply averse to dairy.
You can explore rice-based protein powders if you want to go for a vegan or paleo-friendly option. However, a tip would be to consume these as soon after the workout as possible for best results, since they are not nearly as absorbable as whey protein.
L-Glutamine is an amino acid that is a great supplement to explore if you are combating muscle soreness. It encourages muscles to absorb carbs more speedily and efficiently after a workout, thus aiding in significantly faster muscle recovery.
By triggering an increase in the levels of growth hormone produced by the body, L-Glutamine makes way for the creation of new muscles. An added bonus? It works well to maintain optimum gut health as well.
If you are looking to stack your L-Glutamine supplement, it pairs particularly well with BCAA supplements, especially when both are taken right after a workout session and in powdered forms.
3. Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs)
While protein is the building block of your tissues, amino acids are what make up proteins. Of the 20 amino acids requisite for the human body, it can only produce 11.
The other 9 called ‘essential amino acids’, unfortunately, are not ones the human body can synthesize on its own, and must instead rely on external consumption via food or dietary supplements. Branch Chain Amino Acids, or BCAAs, are three of the main ones responsible for building muscle tissues.
Recommended: Here’s an article on the best time to take BCAA’s for optimum growth.
The recommended ratio of 2:1:1 of Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine, that is the three BCAAs, is integral for speeding up muscle recovery, reducing soreness and muscle fatigue, and improve hydration of your body.
4. Citrulline Malate
A non-essential amino acid, Citrulline Malate is an important nutritional supplement you should be considering to reduce muscle soreness after intense workouts.
To understand the importance of Citrulline Malate, we must delve into a bit of physiology. When you exercise, the human body produces ammonia, which is actually quite toxic for us. The more intensely you exercise, the more ammonia is produced. Ammonia can cause massive fatigue and seriously hinder your performance.
Here is where Citrulline Malate comes in. Citrulline converts this poisonous ammonia into a urea, which is a harmless compound. At the same time, Citrulline Malate also boosts the production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) which is the body’s energy currency, boosts the body’s nitrogen dioxide levels, and significantly reduces the lactic acid buildup. Also, it is stackable with BCAA supplements to enhance their efficacy of protein synthesis and recovery manifold.
In brief, Citrulline Malate has a lot to offer when it comes to enhancing performance and muscle recovery, and dealing with soreness. A 3-4 gram dosage of Citrulline Malate before your workout will ensure that you can train more vigorously than before, without worrying about your recovery time or muscle repair.
Creatine is an amino acid that is a definite must-have supplement for sore muscles. It is a coveted ingredient that helps athletes bulk up on their muscle mass, and can boost muscle recovery rates and reduce soreness or muscle fatigue despite the most strenuous workout routines.
While it cannot do away with DOMS altogether, it gives your muscles the boost it needs to repair and recover from the stress, and synthesizes new muscle tissues to replace those that are worn out.
L-Carnitine, much like Creatine, is an amino acid that is a favorite with athletes and those undergoing bulking programs to do away with symptoms of DOMS.
It dials up the recovery process of your worn out muscles and minimizes both muscle damage and soreness. As an ingredient, it is very compatible with proteins and carbs, and a balanced intake of other essential nutrients will optimize L-Carnitine’s benefits.
Theacrine is another important supplement for sore muscles after workout to look out for when it comes to muscle recovery. This ingredient charges up your body to put on muscle mass without succumbing to too much of wear and tear. It actually works in a very similar way to caffeine or caffeine supplements, but without the setback of sleeplessness or the jittery feeling.
An important factor that often eludes us, is the impact of gut health and optimum digestion on optimum muscle recovery. If your gut health is not in order, it would stunt the process muscle and tissue repair, thus exacerbating the inflammation.
Probiotics are the perfect nutritional supplement that can ensure your gut health is in order, and the optimum facilitation of digestion, absorption, elimination of the nutrients in your body. Probiotics also help boost your immunity. All of this culminates towards speedy muscle recovery, therefore reducing muscle soreness.
There are a variety of probiotics supplements you can choose from, just take care to ensure a target dosage of 20-50 billion CFUs to get the most out of your supplement!
9. Omega-3 Fish Oil
An Omega-3 Fish Oil supplement would provide a wide range of benefits, all of which come together to get rid of muscle soreness and symptoms of DOMS.
These supplements aid in hormone synthesis, is notably anti-inflammatory by nature, boosts bone and muscle repair, and is a boon for reducing muscle soreness. An ideal daily dose to get the most out of the supplement would be 3-5 grams.
A CoQ10 supplement is an antioxidant with broad-spectrum benefits, and is particularly beneficial in maintaining your cardiovascular health, and alleviating muscle soreness and fatigue.
When you exercise, the inflammatory pathways in your body automatically increases, which the CoQ10 helps regulate. It is a super convenient supplement that you can consume any time during the day.
We have all heard about the potent anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric- but do you know where it gets it from? Well, Curcumin is the ingredient responsible for all the magic.
Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, a Curcumin supplement would calm down the inflammation of the muscle tissues, encouraging healing of the micro tears, thereby getting rid of the muscle soreness. Look for a potent and absorbable Curcumin formula, which can either be ingested or topically applied.
L-Arginine is an amino acid supplement that nudges up the growth hormone production rate, thereby leading to muscle growth and recovery, making it to the list of best supplement for sore muscles.
It works in quite a similar manner to the amino acid called Creatine (another viable muscle recovery supplement) as they both boost performance, restore muscle health, and help mitigate soreness or fatigue. L-Arginine supplements are readily available as tablets, which is super convenient, as well as in powder form which you can blend into your regular protein shakes and smoothies.
Magnesium supplements are a must have and are one of the best supplements for sore muscles after exercise, if you are concerned about muscle fatigue, stress, and soreness. They not only speed up muscle recovery, but also relax your muscles and improve your general muscle function.
Overall, it is just the thing you need to beat those DOMS blues. A few additional perks of incorporating a magnesium supplement include reduction in overall fatigue, perfect electrolyte balance, and getting phenomenally good sleep at night. A magnesium and zinc blend increases the efficacy of the supplement exponentially, given zinc’s immunity boosting properties.
M3 is a potent and highly absorbable nutritional supplement that blends the benefits of organic magnesium, zinc, malic acid, and vitamin B6, which is the perfect solution to a lot of fatigue and muscle issues, including muscle recovery and abating DOMS.
Final Thoughts: Efficacy of Supplements in Combating Muscle Soreness
When you are aiming for hypertrophy, working out with weights or undergoing resistance training is the usual route. These are, unfortunately, also the workouts that have the most tendencies to lead to micro tears on your muscles- which eventually lead to inflammation and induce DOMS or muscle soreness.
This is a part and parcel of working out, and you can never do away with it completely, without jeopardizing your own progress. If you don’t attempt to push your limits, that significantly reduces the risk of DOMS- but then again, how would you ever progress and achieve your fitness goals?
With the right diet and nutritional supplements, you can minimize the symptoms of DOMS and perhaps reduce the duration of the muscle soreness.
Also Read: Stretching can prevent injuries and help release muscle stress. Here’s a brief introduction on how to stretch before and after a workout.
I have tried out quite a few of these supplements for sore muscles and they have definitely reduced the time it takes for my muscles to recover. The pain goes away much more swiftly as well, and I can get back to my usual workout routine without compromising on my performance.
The thing you must realize when judging the efficacy of these supplements is that they cannot completely do away with DOMS. It is virtually impossible. Their benefit lies in reducing the symptoms, pain, and recovery time- and you will definitely see them do you good once you incorporate them into your routine.
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Dipanjana’s tryst with fitness and nutrition started way back in high school when she developed an interest in reading about workout routines and diets. A postgraduate student of Literature, Dipanjana has studied Nutrition alongside- both as part of her University curriculum as well as online certificate courses. When she is not working out, Dipanjana can usually be found writing blogs and screenplays or napping amidst a sea of pillows.
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