Using Nutrition to Reduce
Post Exercise Muscle Soreness by Matt Fitzgerald -
Muscle soreness is an unavoidable side
effect of endurance training. The only way to avoid post-exercise muscle
soreness completely is to avoid exercise.
However, there are several things you can do
to minimize muscle soreness caused mainly by damage to muscle proteins
without sacrificing fitness. Some obvious ones include warming up and
cooling down properly and building up your training workload very
Less known and less widely practiced are
some nutritional means of minimizing post-exercise muscle soreness that are
based on cutting-edge sports science research.
By consuming the right balance of nutrients
before, during, and immediately following workouts, this research shows, you
can minimize the amount of muscle protein degradation that is caused by
workouts and maximize the rate of post-exercise muscle protein repair and
And this will allow you to perform better in
your key workouts and bounce back quicker afterward.
Start with a full tank
Carbohydrate, mainly in the form of muscle
glycogen, is the primary fuel for moderate- to high-intensity exercise. But
amino acids, supplied in part through the breakdown of muscle proteins, also
provide some energy. The longer a workout or competition lasts, the less
carbohydrate contributes and the more amino acids contribute to the bodys
Athletes can minimize the number of muscle
proteins that must be broken down to supply energy by beginning their workouts
with more glycogen stored in their muscles.
In a university study, subjects performed a
prolonged one-leg strength exercise first with a randomly chosen leg and then
with the opposite leg. They began the workout with normal glycogen levels in
one leg (again randomly chosen) and depleted glycogen levels in the other. The
researchers found that muscle protein breakdown was much greater in the
glycogen-depleted leg than in the normal leg during the course of the
It is important, then, that athletes top off
their muscle glycogen stores before workouts. The best way to do this is to eat
a meal comprising mostly low- to moderate-glycemic carbohydrates two to three
hours before exercise.
In a Penn State University study, one group
of athletes ate a rolled-oats cereal (moderate-glycemic) while another group
ate a puffed-rice cereal (high-glycemic) before a stationary cycling test. Both
breakfasts contained 75 grams of total carbohydrate.
Those who ate the rolled oats cereal were
able to cycle significantly longer than those who ate the puffed rice. These
results make it clear that athletes should choose their pre-exercise foods
The pre-workout meal should also contain
some protein. New research suggests that providing the body with a dietary
source of amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) through
pre-workout protein consumption can further decrease the bodys reliance
on muscle proteins for energy during exercise.
It also accelerates post-exercise muscle
protein synthesis by increasing the availability of amino acids for this
Consuming a carbohydrate-protein supplement
during exercise can further minimize muscle tissue damage and accelerate
post-workout protein synthesis. Use of a conventional 6-8% carbohydrate sports
drink such as Gatorade slows the depletion of muscle glycogen stores and
thereby delays the rise in the use of muscle proteins as an energy source.
But newer research has demonstrated that the
addition of a small amount of protein to a sports drink spares glycogen even
further. It does this by stimulating more insulin, which is the hormone
responsible for transporting glucose to the muscles.
In a study, researchers found that the
addition of protein to a carbohydrate sports drink in a 4:1 ratio enhanced
aerobic endurance performance by 24% more than a conventional carbohydrate
These data suggest that the addition of
protein increased insulin and glucose uptake, thereby providing faster energy
to the exercising muscle. The result is increased sparing of muscle glycogen
and a significant improvement in endurance.
A sports drink is the best form in which to
consume carbohydrate and protein during workouts, not only because these
nutrients will be more quickly absorbed in this form but also because a sports
drink also provides the water and electrolytes needed to prevent dehydration
Athletes should consume a few ounces of such
a drink every 10 minutes throughout exercise. The precise amount needed depends
on factors that include the size of the athlete, the intensity of exercise, and
the air temperature.
A study performed at St. Cloud University
demonstrated that using a carbohydrate-protein sports drink during a workout
can also significantly reduce post-exercise muscle tissue stress. In this
study, athletes that used this supplement showed on average a 36% lower level
of a physiological marker for muscle tissue stress than controls, suggesting
that by providing amino acids in addition to carbohydrate, the sports drink
helped maintain cell membrane integrity.
It is not possible to consume enough
carbohydrate during moderate- to high-intensity exercise to replace what is
burned, nor to completely offset muscle protein degradation. So it is important
to consume additional carbohydrate and protein after the workout.
This should be done as soon as possible,
because the body is able to synthesize glycogen and protein at more than twice
the normal rate due to heightened insulin receptivity in the muscle cells
following exercise. For this reason, exercise physiologists sometimes refer to
the first two hours post-exercise as the muscle recovery window."
Carbohydrate-protein sports drinks are again
the best immediate post-workout nutrition source because of their rapid
absorption and their water and electrolyte content. Using such drinks and/or
water and solid foods, athletes should be sure to fully replenish fluid losses
(i.e. return to pre-workout body weight) and consume 10-20% of their daily
carbohydrate and protein intake within the first two hours after completing
In addition to consuming appropriate amounts
of carbohydrate and protein before, during, and immediately after workouts,
athletes can reduce muscle damage and soreness by maintaining a diet that is
generally high in antioxidants.
Oxygen radicals are believed to play a role
in the cellular damage that follows the rupture of muscle fibers during
exercise. By consuming plenty of antioxidant vitamins and enzymes on a daily
basis, athletes can limit this damage. Vitamins C and E appear to be the most
effective antioxidant defenders against free radical damage to muscle tissues.
Citrus fruits, melon, and berries are good sources of vitamin C. Vegetable
oils, nuts, dark green vegetables and whole grains are rich in vitamin E.
The bottom line While muscle
tissue damage and muscle soreness are normal effects of hard training, proper
sports nutrition practices can minimize these effects. If you are consistent in
these practices you will recover more quickly between workouts and competitions
and perform better during them.
Not to mention, you wont wake up in
the morning feeling as though you had been caned in your sleep!
Matt Fitzgerald is the author of
Triathlete Magazines Complete Triathlon Book.