best Nutrients to stop muscle soreness & Where To Find Them
At Resync, we’re all about effective recovery. That’s why we want to share with you what are the best foods for muscle soreness, and what the clinical research say about supplements and the infamous delayed onset muscle soreness.
We’ve pored over the research to give you the actionable evidence-based tips to up your game, and feel your best.
What causes muscle soreness?
When you’re working out, your muscle fibers are contracting and releasing repetitively. That process creates lots of hydrogen, and it’s the acidity created by that hydrogen that leads to pain in your muscles while you‘re working out. Lactic acid may play a small role, and inflammatory signals might have a small effect at this stage.
The cause of post-exercise muscle pain, or “delayed onset muscle soreness”, on the other hand, is more complex. Different theories point to acidity, lactic acid buildup, inflammatory cytokine increases, or various other pro-inflammatory growth signals.
We know that eccentric exercise causes significantly more delayed onset muscle soreness, but a new study shows that fascia thickness is also correlated. As the connective tissue that connects other tissues, this research could mean that damage to your fascia is what may release those inflammatory signals.
Putting the differences in theories aside, what we know for sure is that the wear and tear of intense, load bearing movements initiates a collection of inflammatory signal that tells your cells to start repairing those damaged tissues.
Naturally, pain comes alongside this pro-inflammatory process — your body knows exactly how to slow you down in order to allow the healing process to take place!
This kind of acute inflammation is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, some studies show that slowing, blunting, or delaying this process may actually impair your ability to heal. From major injuries to everyday soreness, it’s important to not take excessively high doses of antioxidants or pain killers!
That said, getting enough antioxidants to support your body’s increased needs is important. That’s why we made this list. It summarizes some of the best superfoods you can eat to manage soreness.
We cover the basics in this article, but if you want a professional-level education on managing connective tissue damage, consider Resync’s Course on Nutrition and Connective Tissue Injuries here. This information is so important that we made the first class free, check it out!
how to stop muscle soreness
I split methods for muscle soreness into two categories: what you eat, and what you do.
First thing’s first: nothing beats a healthy balanced diet. Getting enough lean protein, vegetables and fruit, healthy fats and fiber, enough minerals, electrolytes and vitamins, and staying hydrated are all key to a healthy baseline.
Without a rock solid foundation, no supplements or superfoods are going to make up for it. Check out this article for more on healthy eating: Staying Healthy, Staying In.
On the other side of the equation, what you do physically for your body’s connective tissue relaxation is just as important.
Elongated stretches, along the myofascial lines are key to keep your muscles and fascia healthy. Recent science tells us, foam rolling might not be as effective as using smaller and gentler myofascial release balls that can softly replicate a human touch. Yet, trigger point therapy, and myofascial release, are a huge component of physically working out the buildup of inflammatory molecules that build up post-exercise. Check out some resources and newest myofascial release tools at Beyondstretch.com!
Best Superfood Supplements for Muscle Soreness
I know it's simple, and most people already know this, but high quality protein sources are your best bet for mitigating the pain from an intense workout. Protein provides amino acids, which serve as the building blocks for repairing damaged muscles and connective tissue.
Whole foods proteins like lean meats, fish, eggs, and fermented dairy are some of the most complete proteins you can eat, but nuts, seeds, beans, and collagen protein sources all provide amino acids helpful for managing exercise-induced damage.
When it comes to supplemental protein, first make sure your supplement is clean. Look for the highest safety and quality certifications, especially since many cheap protein powders have been shown to be contaminated with heavy metals, pesticides, mold, or any other of a number of toxins.
The best type of protein for your recovery is a hotly contested subject in athletics research. Simply by convention, whey and dairy-based protein have been the standard for decades.
However, new research is starting to show that a number of other protein sources are as suitable for recovery and strength. You can even choose proteins based on the amount of individual amino acids they provide in order to support specific functions!
For example, whey protein may be one of the best sources of “essential” branched chain amino acids, which are all known to enhance muscle protein synthesis and promote recovery in muscles.
However, many collagen amino acids like glycine, proline, and arginine are conditionally essential. That means that certain stressors — like and injury or an intense workout — can deplete those amino acids rapidly. And these amino acids are key to the recovery of your collagen connective tissues, like your ligaments, tendons and fascia that surround your muscles as opposed to just your muscles.
Since the specific amino acids in collagen are also some of the ones you need most after a workout, it makes sense to add a collagen supplement alongside your regular post-workout recovery routine. There’s even high quality research showing that collagen can significantly reduce pain for days after exercise!
Plant-Based Nitrates to Support Nitric Oxide
Nitric oxide is a signaling molecule that opens up your blood vessels to allow nutrients like oxygen to flow in. Your body makes it naturally from amino acids like L-arginine or l-citrulline, which is one reason why l-citrulline has some research for alleviating muscle soreness.
However, the nitric oxide enhancing effect of these amino acids pales in comparison to what you can get from a plant-based nitrate supplement. That’s probably one reason why some studies don’t show a beneficial effect of citrulline for muscle soreness.
Compare that to the powerful soreness-lowering effect of concentrated beetroot juice, a potent source of dietary nitrates. Research shows that dietary nitrate is able to speed up how fast your muscles regenerate phosphocreatine and accelerate the rate of oxygenation for high-demand tissues.
The best plant-based nitrate sources come from red spinach, arugula, red and green leafy vegetables, and also beets. Yet, beets are not the best sources of nitrates. Check out other nitrate combos in this article: How to Make the Best of Your Vegetables.
One of the best studied supplements for muscle soreness is L-carnitine. Across multiple studies, 1 – 2 grams of L-carnitine meaningfully reduced muscle soreness for days after a particularly damaging bout of exercise.
Besides the supplement, what foods have the highest levels of carnitine?
It is most highly concentrated in red meat, but also in fish, poultry, and whey.
L-carnitine content of vegetables is almost nonexistent, so vegetarians and vegans may want to talk with their healthcare provider and consider a supplemental source.
Vitamin C may be somewhat effective for decreasing symptoms of a cold, but its antioxidant ability may affect soreness as well.
One study showed that 3 grams of vitamin C daily was able to reduce muscle soreness and markers of muscle damage. This is well beyond the 1 gram serving that another study used, which was sufficient to blunt the oxidative damage associated with exercise.
Another study found that 400mg of vitamin C was not enough to affect delayed onset muscle soreness.
In summary, the research shows that it may take 1000mg of vitamin C to see benefits, but the muscle soreness advantages of this dose are offset by the risk that that many antioxidants could delay your healing process. You have to take an individually-tailored approach!
The best sources of vitamin C are acerola cherries, kiwi, red and orange bell peppers, and citrus. Green leafy vegetables have some vitamin C as well.
Turmeric & Curcumin
Turmeric is the golden culinary spice that has seen an explosion of attention to its potent anti-inflammatory effects. In four clinical research studies the average pain reduction from curcumin supplementation was 10 – 20%. This reduction in pain allowed people to get back to their exercise routine, essentially compounding the benefits over the course of multiple days.
Now, be aware that turmeric is one of the most adulterated ingredients on the market. That’s why making sure your supplements are tested by 3rd party, should be your number one priority.
Ginger has a few studies backing its anti-fatigue and anti-soreness effect. 2 grams may accelerate VO2 recovery after cardio, but results of studies are inconsistent. When it comes to pain, though, one serving of ginger may decrease reports of pain by 23-25%!
Theaflavins and catechins — each polyphenol antioxidants in green tea — have both been shown in clinical research to reduce muscle soreness.
Even though blueberries may decrease markers of muscle damage, one study did show that there were no perceived differences in muscle soreness after supplementing with a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of blueberries daily.
Unfortunately, some of the most powerful antioxidants have never been clinically tested in this regard. According to some scientific theories, the higher antioxidant capacity of elderberry or aronia berry may contribute to a more powerful anti-soreness effect.
Otherwise, some of these superfoods provide an additive combination. Acerola cherries, AKA “tart” cherries, combine a whopping does of vitamin C alongside a concentrated polyphenol source. After workout sessions, tart cherry juice has been shown to reduce soreness, but the effect doesn’t appear to hold up in research on team sports or low-impact sports.
When it comes to decreasing soreness after exercise, nothing beats a healthy diet and a good movement routine. If your foundation is solid, consider these superfood supplements for feeling less sore and getting back to your max faster.
- Adequate protein, from a variety of high quality sources, is the bedrock of any effective soreness-management strategy. Although whey is well known as a post-exercise supplemental protein source, the research emerging around collagen protein is promising for its positive effect on soreness and connective tissue recovery.
- Dietary nitrates to boost your nitric oxide levels and enhance blood flow.
- L-carnitine, either from plant-based supplements or from high quality lean meats.
- Proper servings of antioxidant-rich foods like vitamin C, turmeric/curcumin, ginger, and polyphenol sources like aronia berry or green tea extract. Remember: not too much, not too little!
Talk to your healthcare provider and try some of these tips out. Every body is different, so let us know how they work for you in the comments!
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Helping you lead a healthier life,
The Resync Team
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About This Class
This class considers vital nutritional factors that impact every layer of connective tissues health, with a deep dive into the importance of healthy collagen tissues. Nutrition plays a significant role in maintaining connective tissue health, preventing injuries, healing painful joints, recovering and rebuilding from regular physical activity. This course provides evidence-based nutrition recommendations to optimize performance, promote healing from an injury, and manage symptoms of connective tissue conditions.
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