Episode 122 Transcript – Nutrition For DOMS

Aidan Muir & Leah Higl cartoon for ideal nutrition podcast.


Hello and welcome to the Ideal Nutrition podcast. My name is Adam Muir and I’m here with my co -host, Leah Heigl. And this is episode 122, where we’re going to be talking about nutrition for reducing delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. And this is a topic that may or may not matter. Some people care about this, other people don’t.

One time I got a comment on my Instagram where I made a post on reducing DOMS where somebody was like, but don’t we like, doesn’t this not matter? Like the research shows that DOMS doesn’t matter. And I’m like, well, yeah, but your sore. It’s uncomfortable. Like, yeah, it doesn’t matter for your muscle growth or recovery or any of those kinds of things, but maybe you do want to just reduce how sore you get.

So it still is relevant to a degree. And we’re just going to talk about anything that you can do to reduce that, should you wish to reduce that and anything that’s relevant in this kind of discussion.


Awesome. We’re going to start in a really obvious place and that’s looking at overall protein intake. So theoretically, consuming more or consuming adequate protein should help to reduce DOMS. If you think of protein and its link with muscle recovery, you’re like, yep, that makes a lot of sense. But in practicality, it’s actually harder to find research backing up the claim of increased protein intake being linked with a reduction in muscle soreness. It’s harder than you think to find actual research backing that up.

But I wouldn’t necessarily think too deeply into this. Looking at one systematic review from 2014, this included multiple studies and there was no noticeable link found between protein intake and general muscle soreness. So again, that is pretty surprising, but not necessarily something that I would take into consideration too much. It does also depend on the specific research that you are looking at.

That review involved at least one study that was comparing something like 1.8 grams of protein per kilo body weight to 2.9 grams per kilo body weight, which is less relevant since that both of those protein intakes would be, I guess, considered good optimal amounts for recovery. So you’re kind of comparing something that is potentially already optimal to something that is maybe just slightly more optimal or maybe doesn’t even any kind of difference in regards to recovery.

But what is more relevant is looking at generally very suboptimal intakes of protein. So kind of like the less than one gram per kilo body weight to something that is optimal for muscle recovery and muscle protein synthesis. So whilst the research isn’t particularly promising in this area, I think it’s easy to say that a good protein intake is going to help you recover and that’s probably going to reduce overall soreness.


Yeah, it’s a pretty safe bet. Like I remember, I don’t know how many years ago, one, two, I don’t know. I wrote a blog post on this topic and I have two ways I go about writing blog posts. One, if it’s a topic I don’t know super well, I’m not super familiar with, I’ll spend ages looking at all the research first, then I’ll go and write the blog post and reference everything that way. If it’s a topic I think I know pretty well. I’ll try it just from an efficiency perspective, write the majority of it first and then look at research after to try and like reference everything appropriately.

And when I was writing about protein in that blog post on reducing DOMS, I was like, hang on, I’m just going to take a moment here and look at the research before I write this. And when I looked at the research, I was like, I was looking at it from the angle of being like, surely this is going to help reduce DOMS. And crazy that that’s not actually what the research shows.

The next topic we’re looking at is branched -chain amino acids and essential amino acids, so BCAAs and EAAs. They are consistently linked with reductions in DOMs, like quite consistently in the research. A review that involved all studies involving at least 2 grams plus of EAAs or BCAAs for at least 10 days found significant reductions in soreness. It’s pretty hard to kind of ignore that considering the consistency of that.

But research on amino acids is a lot harder to interpret than you’d think. If you looked on each individual study, on essential amino acids and BCAAs, looking at muscle growth without context, you’d think that they help muscle growth. Like quite literally, if you look at each individual study, you would be like, they help muscle growth. But we know that they don’t help muscle growth if total protein intake is high enough coming from a variety of sources.

And one simple explanation for that is because if you have a really high total protein intake, you have an abundance of all relevant amino acids anyway across the day. But even without that, that’s just theoretical looking at outcomes we know that doesn’t make a difference. One of the kind of like hacks in a way that’s used in all of these studies is that almost all amino acid studies use a suboptimal protein intake, which means if you added amino acids on top of that, it’s going to help. Or if you added amino acids in replacement of some lower quality protein in a suboptimal protein intake, it will matter more as well.

So based on that, my personal interpretation is a little bit similar when it comes to DOMS too, just kind of being like, if I make the assumption that total protein intake matters a bit for reducing DOMS, I also make the assumption that if you have a high enough total protein intake, it doesn’t really matter if you’re having EAAs or BCAAs for reducing DOMS. But once again, that’s my personal interpretation. The research in isolation actually does look quite promising, so it is another thing worth being aware of.


The next thing we’re going to touch on is polyphenols. So polyphenols can reduce overall inflammation and oxidative stress. So the things that are causing this muscle soreness. A really great example of how you could put this into practice from a dietary perspective is tart cherry juice.

So the reason why tart cherry juice is a good example is due to it being made of a specific type of cherry called Montmorency cherries which are particularly rich in polyphenols, which have a very strong antioxidant effect. On top of that, these like on a little side note, these cherries also contain things like melatonin and tryptophan, which may assist with sleep and therefore have a flow -on effect to recovery and muscle soreness.

But even just looking from a polyphenol antioxidant point of view, tart cherry juice seems to be a really good supplement to use in order to reduce general inflammation and then hopefully blow an effect to soreness. A common way of having tart cherry juice is in its concentrated form where you only have to take like a 30 ml shot of this concentrated juice as opposed to like something crazy like half a litre if it’s not concentrated. So you’re basically having this like small amount of liquid that is just really really high in polyphenols.

Of course you can get polyphenols and antioxidants through regular dietary intake of things like fruits and vegetables. For example, other options like blueberries and New Zealand black currants have been particularly positive in the research from their polyphenol content. But having it in your tart cherry juice where it’s like this super concentrated amount, that’s pretty hard to reach just through like normal dietary intake of food. So it is something that you could utilize potentially to reduce your muscle soreness.


It’s also where this whole nuance comes into play when say that commenter was like, DOMS don’t matter. Because if I’m working with a pro athlete who has a relatively unlimited budget and they want to be doing everything they can and say they have a tournament that is like multiple days and they’re competing back to back to back to back. I almost always will chuck in tart cherry juice for that person.

What if it helps sleep and that helps their performance? We know sleep has a huge impact on performance. And two, what if them being less sore in the third day of that kind of tournament helps them compete better and get better results as well?


Yeah, absolutely. And another time that I’ll use it is like leading into like a powerlifting competition or something where like you do want to get rid of that muscle soreness to the best of our ability.


So another one is Omega 3s. Research on Omega 3s consistently shows that it helps reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. Out of all of the studies on this, there are most of them showing benefits. One of them, or two, sorry, two studies found no improvements in DOMs, so it’s not super consistent.

The mechanism’s likely related to the fact that omega -3s can help reduce the inflammatory response, so that kind of makes sense. And as you can imagine, with most areas in omega -3s, with omega -3s, is that if you had a really high dietary intake of omega -3s, supplementing with omega -3s is likely to be less beneficial.

Another interesting point that I want to touch on now though is how do they actually measure DOMS. There’s a few ways that it’s often measured in research. One is just self -reported. That is the one that makes the most sense because they also often measure like inflammatory markers and stuff like that. But sometimes that doesn’t perfectly line up with how sore people feel. That’s kind of what we’re measure.

That kind of matters because although it’s obviously going to be self -reported and that’s kind of flawed, they are measuring the thing that we’re kind of talking about. So that kind of matters.

How they actually do these studies though is really interesting because if we’re trying to measure how sore somebody gets, surely we’re going to put them through a protocol that makes them really sore. It just kind of makes sense. And if you have a protocol that makes people abnormally sore, you’re going to see larger differences in how effective a supplement or whatever strategy you use is.

So in a lot of these studies, they don’t just do like a normal training protocol or anything like that. They typically do pretty savage protocols, usually like very eccentric as in like the negative portion of lifting, like very eccentric focus. Like one example of this is like, say they get somebody to bench press like 110 % of their max, but they do like five negative reps. Like it’s kind of brutal. Like you obviously need spotters and everything like involved in this.

A lot of these studies are quite brutal, which brings up a final point on this as well as being like a lot of stuff we’re talking about is going to help reduce DOMS. But if you do anything that is significantly different to your normal, you’re going to get DOMS regardless. All of these things might reduce it, but you can’t necessarily prevent it because this is something that just comes hand in hand with training hard and trying new things.


Talking about another supplement based option to potentially reduce delayed onset muscle soreness would be citrulline. So there is a systematic review available of 13 studies that found that supplementing with citrulline did result in pretty significant reductions in DOMS and just general muscle soreness.

The potential mechanisms behind this are twofold. So firstly, 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, although it may be a contributing factor to why citrulline is pretty effective in this regard.

The second potential mechanism that we could look at is citrulline’s link with increasing nitric oxide. So nitric oxide is involved in muscle contractile function and repair. So having an increase in this could explain the reductions in general muscle soreness. So that’s kind of a quick summary of how citrulline could be effective.


So another interesting one is that caffeine has a lot of research indicating that it can help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. And obviously there are some mixed feelings here due to the impact it could have on recovery, depending on the time and everything, like when you have it, how much you have, all of those kinds of things.

And there are two key studies looking at this topic, which both look quite promising. Both of them used five milligrams per kilogram for caffeine, which is quite a lot of caffeine. So the first one used caffeine one hour after exercise and then 24 hours later and then 48 hours later. So this really high dosage of five milligrams per kilogram.

And then the second study just did it 24 hours after and 48 hours after. I’m just like picturing that in my head. I’m just being like at a random time 24 hours later having five milligrams per kilogram of caffeine, which for context, I’m just going to use somebody who’s a hundred kilos to make it super simple from a mathematical perspective. That’s 500 milligrams of caffeine. Obviously for a smaller person, there would be a smaller number, but let’s just keep the math simple.

A generic shot of coffee is around 80 milligrams of caffeine. So we’re looking at like six shots of coffee basically and if somebody’s like a little bit smaller maybe we’re looking at five maybe we’re looking like four four and a half type of numbers. It’s a lot and that begs the question is having such a high amount of caffeine specifically for this purpose of being less sore worth it?


I personally do not think it is and I wouldn’t be going out of my way to recommend it, especially at such an odd time.


Yeah. It’s like a nice to know thing. Like it’s interesting, but it’s like, that’s a lot of caffeine just to have to be less sore. Like there’s, if you wanted to use caffeine particularly at that high of a dose, there’d be so many other reasons you would want to use it unrelated to that.

And even just like, I think two episodes ago, we were talking about like common nutrition mistakes and having caffeine late in the day and stuff like that. And just being like, if you’re having a dosage that is that high, like I would have referenced the study in pre -workout basically showing that if somebody’s going to bed at 10 PM, they would have to have stopped on average, it depends on the metabolism rates and everything like that, on average stopped having pre -workout or anything super high dosed at like 9 AM.

Pre -workout is like a lower dosage than even this. So it’s like if you were having any form of caffeine, even if you’re having it like 1130 AM, it’s still likely to affect sleep at that high of a dosage unless you’re a really quick metabolizer of caffeine. And if you’re a really quick metabolizer of caffeine, you’re probably getting less of this reduction in DOMS anyway over the course of the day too.


And if it is for DOMS, it’s like, what’s the protocol and like, do you do it every single day? Like how do you then incorporate that into your life? I just feel like, like you said, it’s nice thing to know, fun little fact, but also it’s not a very usable piece of information.


Yeah. Just like this is a separate topic, but like having caffeine technically increases our ability to store glycogen is my understanding in terms of if you, if one version of you did exercise and then you had a high amount of carbohydrates coming in and another version did the exact same protocol, but had a bit of caffeine alongside that glycogen synthesis is higher in that second one.

But outside of very niche circumstances, is that worth knowing slash using? Like if you want to have the caffeine for other reasons, it could be a nice bonus, but would you implement that protocol specifically for that? It’s probably rare when that’s actually practical.


Totally. The next one we’ll touch on is vitamin D. So the research on vitamin D and looking at delayed onset muscle soreness is mixed. But we know vitamin D just generally does play a role in inflammation.

So some research looking at vitamin D levels and DOMs has found an association with higher levels of vitamin D leading to less DOMs. So there has been some association found, but other researchers found no association. So it really is a mixed bag.

From a more promising perspective, a study involving participants with a deficiency found that supplementing 4 ,000 international units per day of vitamin D for six weeks helped to reduce DOMS versus placebo. So, you know, there is some research out there indicating that it could be beneficial, particularly if you have a deficiency and you’re rectifying that deficiency. But outside of that, I’d say it’s probably not a super beneficial thing to add on if your levels are currently fine.


Another one that consistently reduces DOMS is high dose antioxidant supplements. But this opens up a massive conversation about whether it’s smart to do this or if there’s other issues with that.

There’s research or the theory basically is that if it blunts inflammation and muscle damage, which would theoretically reduce soreness, does this also blunt the adaptations due to reducing the stimulus? That’s the theory. We do see more evidence for that in endurance athletes than we do in terms of muscle growth and strength and everything like that.

It was definitely up until like a few years ago, a commonly accepted thing. That’s like, we probably shouldn’t have antioxidants in high amounts around the, around training, but there was a systematic review that was put together in the last two years that basically came to the conclusion that it’s like, there’s like two studies on this topic in like strength training athletes. And it showed like no difference.

I am probably going to write a blog post on this at some stage, but it is a very complex topic which is why I haven’t written about it, because it’s just like, I just know it’s going to be a rabbit hole for something that doesn’t really matter. Like honestly, it doesn’t really matter, but because it’s like, when you talk about antioxidants, what are we talking about?

Like, like we’ve got vitamin C and vitamin A, but then there’s like hundreds of other things. It’s like, you don’t have to categorize what specific antioxidants you’re talking about, et cetera, et cetera.

But I also think this is just an interesting thing about being like, if we came to the conclusion that this doesn’t blunt hypertrophy and you didn’t care about endurance stuff, you just cared about muscle growth or being a better powerlifter or whatever. And we know it reduces doms. That’s where it starts to get exciting. I personally am not at a stage where I think that’s a good idea. I think it makes sense to separate them just in case, right?

But this is a niche reference, but back in the day, Charles Poliquin used to inject all those athletes with vitamin C because you can absorb higher levels of vitamin C if you inject it instead of oral things. The niche reference is Charles Pollack and was a bit of a madman. He was a bit of a, for every good idea, he had like five bad ideas and people just like full board into his protocols, right?

But it is interesting about being like, if there happened to be no downside of high dose antioxidants from this whole muscle growth perspective, he’s a genius. Cause it’s something like people would be getting significantly less sore because of these vitamin C injections. Once again, not something I have interest in recommending or anything like that, but it’s just another interesting idea in nutrition that could be played around with or though through or if somebody did have a strong opinion about this being like, maybe it doesn’t blunt hypertrophy.


Yeah, it’s a great summary of that. The final thing we’re going to touch on is creatine. So we talk about creatine all the time. This is another aspect of creatine that is pretty awesome in that it does have evidence for reducing DOMs in both endurance and resistance training activities.

Although, unlike other aspects of creatine research, this part is a little bit more mixed. So I wouldn’t take it for that purpose alone. There are so many other great reasons to take creatine, but hey, if it is one of the things that it does have an impact on, then it is just a handy side benefit if it’s relevant to you.


There’s a bunch of other stuff we haven’t mentioned too, just for the sake of time. So stuff like curcumin slash tumeric, like well known for anti -inflammatory properties, which theoretically would help with this. You could go massively down that list of like anything anti -inflammatory related and how that could potentially benefit with this.

And then like we’ve gone like real specific on certain strategies, particularly supplements as well, but an anti -inflammatory style diet in general would likely help with this as well. That’s obviously just harder to quantify because I say anti -inflammatory style diet, but even that’s a controversial topic because if I start saying that it’s a diet that’s high in vegetables, somebody who’s in like the carnivore community would be like, no vegetables are inflammatory.

It’s hard to put together a study, but there’s some vibes or some common themes that we can look at. The Mediterranean style diet is often linked with anti -inflammatory properties. And you could make an assumption that eating in that type of way, particularly with sufficient protein and a few of the other things we’ve kind of talked about, would likely reduce muscle soreness as well. But that is a big topic as well beyond just the specific strategies we’ve talked about.

This has been episode 122 of the Ideal Nutrition Podcast. If you haven’t yet left a rating or review, it would always be greatly appreciated for you to do so, but otherwise, thanks for tuning in.