For sure you all made this experience more than once by now: You finish a hard workout and you already notice that little burn in your muscles – and the next day you just cannot move anymore. “Delayed onset muscle soreness”: The effort for your muscles was just a little bit too much, and now it leaves you with the problem of then having to cope with aching muscles for at least a few days. Does that stop us from working out? No. Do we complain about it? No. But even if sore muscles aren’t more than a little painful accompanying effect on our way to true greatness, it doesn’t mean that we can’t do anything to avoid them. So, let’s learn something about this pain, which bothers us as soon as we do something we are not used to…
Aching muscles – why do we get them?
One of the most common explanations of how stiffness emerges is the over-acidification of the affected muscle. To gain energy, muscles utilize two different processes: aerobic and anaerobic. As soon as the body has to cope with an intense physical effort, he switches to anaerobic metabolic pathway, whose end product is lactate. And because the depletion of the lactate is slower than the formation of new one, the muscle suffers an over-acidification. You may think this is the reason for your stiffness? Well, this is… wrong!
Fact is: the lactate in your muscles is responsible for the temporary pain you feel when you are working out. Did you go for some running intervals already? Well, how many runs did you do until you noticed that burning fatigue in your legs while sprinting? That is due to the lactate. But you won’t notice your sore muscles until the next day – a point in time where the lactate is already decomposed. And: Even the best athletes build lactate while working out; but they won’t get stiffness every time they do, right?
The reason why you get sore muscles is another: Whenever you expose yourself to an unfamiliar physical load, tiny fissures in the muscle fibres arise called micro-traumas. Those micro-traumas emerge especially during an eccentric contraction, when the muscles are extended through huge external forces – that’s why abrupt movements like landing after a jump or sudden directional change causes stiffness while a constant movement does not.
Okay, what happens now in the injured muscle fibre? Through the tiny fissures water slowly percolates. After 24 to 36 hours enough water will have percolated resulting in small oedemas. The fibres swell up and gets stretched. And this is exactly what you feel: the pain of distension = aching muscles!
What to do against sore muscles
Well, the bad news is: Once you have stiffness, you need to wait until it is gone. The only thing you can do is to encourage the blood flow, which helps to provide the muscle with important nutrients and improve its ability to heal. So: Take a hot bath, enjoy the sauna. A light workout helps increasing the blood flow, too! So no need to rest…
You think a good massage or a treatment with the foam roller might help? However, at this point you should be really careful: Once you HAVE the stiffness, too much pressure might acerbate the problem and even increase the fissures, compound the pain and thus delay the healing process…
You can’t do much to speed up the healing, but you can do a lot to decrease your risk of getting sore muscles from the very beginning.
- The best remedy against soreness is precaution. Feed your body with all the nutrients he needs such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, carbs, fat and protein to support the metabolism of your muscles. Studies have proved that milk protein can avoid sore muscles. It’s high in vitamin D, which is important for your stamina and for a fast recovery. In addition a Canadian study showed that athletes who drank milk after intense training not only lost more fat, but they also developed more lean muscle than those who reached for drinks with the same caloric content.
- To PREVENT stiffness, it’s a good idea to work with the foam roller on a regular basis. The micro fascial release helps muscles to regenerate faster and improves blood flow by releasing adherences.
- You like drinking coffee? Well, good news for you: It helps to avoid stiffness, too! The caffeine helps regenerating up to 66% faster than usual… The reason: Caffeine accelerates the supply of glycogen, the body’s own carbs. The more the body produces, the faster the muscles recover. Give it a try!
- Perhaps you prefer juices? Well, this is not bad either. Next time you are working out and you start to feel exhaustion in your muscles, have a big glass of cherry juice! The University of Vermont proved in studies that the juice of sour cherries helped athletes to maintain their muscle power after training – and the effect lasted for up to 96 hours. In addition, the pain of sore muscles was far lower and gone after 24 hours, while an equivalent placebo group needed 48 hours to report the same effect. The reason: Sour cherries contain a lot of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances.
- The last tip is for those who like spicy food. Try using ginger and chili in your meals! They both provide anti-inflammatory properties. Ginger, similar to aspirin, helps alleviate the pain of stiffness by up to 25%. This effect can be seen in blood tests, which showed lower inflammation scores in studies.
Enjoy your training and stay healthy!