How to recover from muscle soreness caused by intense exercise
How to Recover from Muscle Soreness Caused by Intense Exercise
May 06, 2012
by Gabe Mirkin, MD
Muscle soreness should be part of every exercise program. If
you don’t exercise intensely enough on one day to have sore
muscles on the next, you will not gain maximum fitness and
you are also losing out on many of the health benefits of
exercise. The benefits of exercise are much greaterwith
intense exercise than with casual exercising.
You must damage your muscles to make them grow and become
stronger. When muscles heal, they are stronger than they were
before you damaged them. All athletes train by “stressing and
recovering”. On one day, they take a hard workout in which
they feel their muscles burning. Eight to 24 hours after they
finish this intense exercise, their muscles start to feel
sore. This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS).
Then they take easy workouts until the soreness is gone,
which means that their muscles have healed.
DOMS IS CAUSED BY MUSCLE DAMAGE. Muscles are made up of
fibers. The fibers are made up of a series of protein blocks
called sarcomeres that are lined in a long chain. When you
stretch a muscle, you stretch apart the sarcomeres in the
chain. When sarcomeres are stretched too far, they tear. Your
body treats these tears in the same way that it treats all
injuries, by a process called inflammation. Eight to 24 hours
after an intense workout, you suffer swelling, stiffness and
pain. The most beneficial intense exercise program is:
• severe enough to cause muscle pain on the next day, and
• usually allows you to recover almost completely within 48
ACTIVE, NOT PASSIVE, RECOVERY: When athletes feel soreness in
their muscles, they rarely take days off. Neither should you.
Keeping sore muscles moving makes them more fibrous and
tougher when they heal, so you can withstand greater forces
and more intense workouts on your hard days. Plan to go at
low intensity for as many days as it takes for the soreness
to go away. Most athletes try to work out just hard enough so
that they recover and are ready for their next hard workout
in 48 hours.
TIMING MEALS TO RECOVER FASTER: You do not need to load extra
food to recover faster. Taking in too much food fills your
muscle cells with fat, and extra fat in cells blocks the
cell’s ability to take in and use sugar. Sugar is the main
source of energy for your muscles during intense exercise.
Using sugar to drive your muscles helps them to move faster
and with more strength.
Timing of meals is more important than how much food you eat.
Eating protein- and carbohydrate-containing foods helps you
recover faster, and the best time to start eating is as soon
as you finish a hard workout.
At rest, muscles are inactive. Almost no sugar enters the
resting muscle cell from the bloodstream (J. Clin. Invest.
1971; 50: 2715-2725). Almost all cells in your body usually
require insulin to drive sugar into their cells. However
during exercise your muscles (and your brain) can take sugar
into their cells without needing insulin. Exercising muscles
are also incredibly sensitive to insulin and take up sugar
into their cells at a rapid rate. This effect lasts maximally
for up to an hour after you finish exercising and disappears
almost completely in around 17 hours. The best time to eat
for recovery is when your cells are maximally responsive to
insulin, and that is within a short time after you finish
Not only does insulin drive sugar into muscle cells, it also
drives in protein building blocks, called amino acids. The
sugar replaces the fuel for muscle cells. The protein hastens
repair of damaged muscle. Waiting to eat for more than an
hour after finishing an intense workout delays recovery.
WHAT TO EAT AFTER YOUR INTENSE WORKOUTS: Fatigue is caused by
low levels of sugar, protein, water and salt. You can replace
all of these with ordinary foods and drinks. If you are a
vegetarian, you can replace your protein with combinations of
grains and beans. You can replace carbohydrates by eating
virtually any fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds
A recovery meal for a vegetarian could include corn, beans,
water, bread, and fruits, nuts and vegetables. If you prefer
animal tissue, you can get your protein from fish, poultry or
meat. Special sports drinks and sports supplements are made
from ordinary foods and therefore offer no advantage whatever
over regular foods.
BODY MASSAGE: Many older studies have shown that massage does
not help you recover faster from DOMS. Recently, researchers
at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario showed that deep
massage after an intense workout causes muscles to enlarge
and grow new mitochondria (Science Translational Medicine,
published online Feb, 2012). This is amazing. Enlarging and
adding mitochondria can help you run faster, lift heavier
weights, and even prevent heart attacks and certain cancers.
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