Episode 122 – Nutrition for DOMS

Key Topics Covered

Man holding leg because of delayed onset muscle soreness.

Reducing muscle soreness isn’t absolutely necessary to optimize muscle growth or recovery.

However, it’s uncomfortable and could be a bonus if you reduce this, particularly if it is quite significant.

Some nutritional strategies can help minimize this. However, if you’re training muscles in a way that they haven’t been trained for a while, DOMs are still guaranteed regardless.  

Protein Intake 

Protein sources

  • Theoretically, consuming more protein should help reduce DOMs (through its function of muscle recovery).
  • It’s actually harder than you’d think to find research backing up that claim though.
  • A 2014 systematic review looking at muscle damage and soreness did not find a noticeable link between protein intake and soreness. 
  • That’s surprising and I wouldn’t read too much into it. But it is interesting regardless.  
  • It also depends on the research e.g. that review involved at least one study that was comparing intakes such as 1.8g/kg vs 2.9g/kg which is a lot less relevant than 0.8g/kg vs 1.6g/kg for example.

BCAAs and EAAs 

  • BCAAs and EAAs are consistently linked with reductions in DOMs.
  • A review that included all the studies involving 2g+ per day of BCAAs or EAAs for 10+ days found significant reductions in soreness. 
  • Research on amino acids is actually quite hard to interpret though. Because if you looked at each individual EAA and BCAA study on muscle growth without context, you’d think they help muscle growth.  
  • But we know they don’t help muscle growth, assuming total protein intake is high enough
  • Almost all amino acid studies use sub-optimal protein intake. 
  • Based on this, my personal interpretation is similar to that when it comes to DOMs too, even though the protein research for DOMs has not been as promising.  
  • That’s a personal interpretation though – the research in isolation actually looks like BCAAs and EAAs help quite a bit for this.  

Polyphenols

Tart Cherry Juice

  • Polyphenols can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
  • Tart cherry juice is the best example of this.
    • It is made up of a specific type of cherry called montmorency cherries which are particularly rich in polyphenols which have a strong antioxidant effect.
    • These cherries also contain melatonin and tryptophan which may assist with sleep and therefore may have downstream positive effects on muscle soreness.
  • Research on other polyphenol-rich foods such as blueberries and NZ blackcurrants has also been positive. 

Omega 3’s 

  • Omega 3s consistently helps to reduce DOMs.
  • This is likely related to how they impact the inflammatory response.
  • Most studies have found positive benefits, but at least two studies found no improvements in DOMs. So it isn’t entirely consistent.  
  • If you already have a high intake of Omega-3s, this will likely make less of a difference.
  • It’s worth noting that studies measuring DOMs often use brutal protocols of eccentrics (to stimulate DOMs). No matter what nutritional strategies are implemented, DOMs will still be experienced.
  • Although some studies also look at inflammatory markers, the DOMs are self-reported, which is something else to keep in mind.

Citrulline

L-Citrulline Supplement

  • A systematic review of 13 studies found significant reductions in DOMs
  • Mechanisms: 

1. Citrulline facilitates the clearance of ammonia. This results in a reduction of lactate accumulation in the blood. That being said, lactate does not seem to be a massive contributor to muscle soreness as a general rule. 

2. Citrulline also increases nitric oxide. Nitric oxide is involved in muscle contractile function and repair. This could explain the reductions in muscle soreness. 

Caffeine 

  • Caffeine has research indicating it can reduce DOMs
  • However, it may also impact recovery which could have the opposite effect.
  • Two key studies on this topic used 5mg/kg, which is a lot of caffeine.  
  • The first one used caffeine 1hr after exercise.
  • Both studies also used it 24 and 48 hours after eccentric exercise. 
  • To put this into perspective, this amount of caffeine is 500mg for a 100kg person. This would be ~6 cups of coffee.
  • Is it worth having such a high amount of caffeine specifically for this purpose?  

Vitamin D 

  • Research is mixed on vitamin D and DOMs. But we know it plays a role in inflammation
  • Some research looking at vitamin D levels and DOMs has found an association with higher levels leading to lower DOMs. However other research has found no association. 
  • From a more promising perspective – a study involving participants with a deficiency found that supplementing 4000IU per day vitamin D for 6 weeks helped reduce DOMs vs placebo. 

Antioxidant Supplements 

  • High-dose antioxidant supplements typically help DOMs.
  • But this opens a whole conversation about whether there is potential for this to be an issue. 
  • If it blunts inflammation and muscle damage, does this also blunt adaptations due to reducing the stimulus? 
  • Quick thoughts on this:
  1. There are theoretical reasons why it could impact muscle growth. 
  2. The studies that have been done so far really don’t demonstrate any noticeable blunting of hypertrophy or strength gains. The impact on endurance adaption seems more consistent though.  
  3. There are actually not many studies on the topic so far. 
  4. There also is likely not much benefit for people to be intentionally supplementing antioxidants around the time of training, outside the reductions in DOMs. 
  5. Since no downside has been found in getting them through food, it makes sense to focus on food. 

Creatine 

  • Creatine has evidence for reducing DOMs in both endurance and resistance training activities.
  • Research is mixed though.
  • I wouldn’t take it for this purpose, however, it could be an extra benefit if relevant. 

Summary

  • There are other strategies that weren’t mentioned that may help through their anti-inflammatory properties.
  • For example, supplements like curcumin, or dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet.
  • Overall though, DOMS are largely unavoidable. However nutritional strategies may help, particularly if you have low intakes of these nutrients in your diet.

Relevant Links / Resources

Blog Posts

Studies Mentioned