Nutrition to reduce DOMS

Have you ever killed your first workout in a new training phase or made a comeback to training after a bit time off and you wake up the next day and it hurts to do.... well, anything! Cue, delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS.

DOMS occurs after exercise-induced muscle damage, peaking around 24-48 hours post exercise and is shown to significantly reduce exercise performance. This poses a challenge if we are looking to optimise performance in subsequent training sessions, potentially leading to slower progression than we would hope for.  

We cannot ignore the fact that if you are training hard, we are likely to experience DOMS despite being smart about nutrition and recovery. The good news is that there are certain nutritional strategies to help prevent or reduce the dreaded DOMS. Let’s take a look at what they are and how we can apply it to our training.

Omega 3s
Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce DOMS due to the anti-inflammatory effect of EPA and DHA (types of omega-3 fatty acids). Reduced inflammation then amounts to a reduction in DOMS. Most of the evidence stacks up to consistent omega 3s intake rather than an isolated dose which suggests our day-to-day omega 3 intake is most important. Therefore, try to include omega 3 rich foods on a regular basis, including chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseeds and oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines.

Polyphenols
Polyphenols are a phytochemical or antioxidant found in many plant foods which have been associated with potential reduction in DOMS post-exercise. This is especially true for polyphenols found in tart cherry juice and pomegranate juice. The main takeaway would be to frequently consume foods that naturally contain polyphenols, including fruits, vegetables, cacao powder, herbs and spices. A side note: it is well known that red wine is indeed high in polyphenols but it is definitely not the best choice for recovery!

Protein
My next point is on protein and the evidence actually took me by surprise. I say this because it is well recognised that protein intake plays an important role in muscle hypertrophy (growth), however, its efficacy in reducing DOMS is rather unclear. There is merit in consuming protein during endurance exercise to reduce markers of muscle damage and DOMS 12-24 hours post exercise. Outside of this, results are dissimilar, with studies reporting no significant difference in DOMS when comparing overall daily protein intake. That being said, sub-optimal protein intake is associated with reduced muscle protein synthesis and growth, therefore, optimising protein intake makes sense and just maybe, might help to reduce DOMS along the way.  


Caffeine
A recent study reported that caffeine can act as an effective nutritional strategy for reducing DOMS by essentially blocking the adenosine receptor and deactivating the central nervous system which may reduce soreness. With this is mind, it is suggested that caffeine intake of 5mg/kg body weight would reduce DOMS after exercise. However, the practical application of this is challenged when we consider training in the afternoon/evening as caffeine intake can interfere with sleep which will arguably impact recovery more! It would also be smart to weigh up the potential gastrointestinal discomfort associated with caffeine intakes this high due to increased gut motility.

Creatine
Creatine is a well-researched and supported sports supplement that is synthetically produced, typically associated with performance enhancing benefits. Interestingly, creatine also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which can help reduce DOMS.

Firstly, around 1-2g/day of creatine is naturally produced in the kidneys, liver, and pancreas. We can then obtain additional creatine from our diet, particularly red meat and seafood. This means that vegetarians and vegans are predisposed to reduced creatine intake and may benefit more significantly from creatine monohydrate supplementation.

A loading phase of creatine monohydrate has been determined to reduce markers of inflammation following endurance and resistance training. It also has been shown to reduce markers of muscle damage and muscle soreness in some cases. At this time, consensus points toward a loading phase of 0.3g/kg/day, split across 4 doses for 5-7 days.

Taurine
Taurine is an organic acid found in skeletal muscle and has many biological functions such as antioxidant capacity, osmoregulation and calcium homeostasis. Several studies have demonstrated the effect of taurine on DOMS although the exact mechanism is not completely understood. Both taurine only and combined intake of taurine and BCAAs are suggested to reduce DOMS following eccentric exercise. A possible explanation for this may be related to reduced oxidative stress. Dietary sources of taurine are shellfish (scallops, mussels, clams), turkey and chicken.

Hydration
Dehydration may increase the risk of DOMS, therefore, rehydration after training to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes is a must! Depending on the type of exercise and the amount of sweat lost, different fluid sources should be prioritised. If we have just completed an easy session, water will do the job. However, if the session was more intense, prolonged or in hotter temperatures, electrolytes or milk drinks like chocolate milk or smoothies may be required. Milk drinks have an added bonus as the protein will support muscle repair and recovery.

The bottom line is, if you are about to head into a new training phase where you are likely to experience DOMS, it may be helpful to take these strategies on board to aid recovery and increase performance in your next session. Of course, we cannot conclude this will be a magic cure rather, the goal is to reduce its impact.

References

Fitzgerald GK, Rothstein JM, Mayhew TP, Lamb RL. Exercise-induced muscle soreness after concentric and eccentric isokinetic contractions. Phys Ther. 1991;7:505–513.
Kim J, Lee J. A review of nutritional intervention on delayed onset muscle soreness. Part I. J Exerc Rehabil. 2014;10(6):349‐356. doi:10.12965/jer.140179
Harty PS, Cottet ML, Malloy JK, Kerksick CM. Nutritional and Supplementation Strategies to Prevent and Attenuate Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: a Brief Review. Sports Med Open. 2019;5(1):1. doi:10.1186/s40798-018-0176-6
Williams M. Dietary supplements and sports performance: amino acids. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2005;2(2):63‐67. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-2-2-63
Williamson G, Holst B. Dietary reference intake (DRI) value for dietary polyphenols: are we heading in the right direction? BJN. 2008;SUPP/3
Cleary MA, Sitler MR, Kendrick ZV. Dehydration and symptoms of delayed-onset muscle soreness in normothermic men. J Athl Train. 2006;41(1):36-45.