Whether you’re a newbie or an experienced bodybuilder at some point you are undoubtedly going to experience DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. What is DOMS you ask? DOMS is the pain and discomfort often felt in the 24-72 hours post-exercise. It differs from regular muscle soreness in the duration, severity, and causal factors – where regular soreness is likely due to microtrauma to muscle fiber structure and is experienced immediately after training, tapering off in less than two days. Some trainees feel that muscle soreness is a sign that they have actually done hard work, and if they don’t feel slight discomfort than they have not trained hard enough. Regardless of how hard you train, any new/different stimuli to the muscle will likely produce the same result; pain and discomfort.
DOMS is an inflammatory response to muscle cell damage primarily due to eccentric contractions during exercise – the type of muscle contraction that is the key factor in the DOMS development. Examples of eccentric muscle contractions include running downstairs, running downhill, lowering weights, and the downward motion of squats and push-ups.
Eccentric exercise induces an inflammatory response to the muscle as a result of damage to the cell membrane. The pain and swelling experienced is due to the inflammatory response of the body where prostaglandins and leukotrienes are sent in to attract neutrophils (white blood cells) to the site of damage. This subsequent rush of neutrophils brings free radicals along for the ride, thus causing more damage in the end – this is why antioxidants are thought to help prevent/improve DOMS. Antioxidants are chemicals that fight free radical damage (cellular oxidation). Vitamins C and E, frequently found in citrus fruits, are those antioxidants best known to fight off free radicals.
DOMS doesn’t discriminate – young or old, male or female, black or white (and anything in between), from the weekend warrior to the experienced bodybuilder - all have an equal opportunity. In the younger athlete, DOMS may be experienced due to the fact that it is the beginning of their training career and they lack muscular conditioning, while their inflammatory response cannot keep up with their training sending an abundance of neutrophils that bring along free radicals. In the older athlete, DOMS may be a result of a weakened, less efficient inflammatory response due to age. In both cases, the trainee likely lacks the anti-inflammatory enzymes that prevent it.
Prevention and Treatment of DOMS:
With so much still unknown regarding DOMS, the majority of studies on the prevention and treatment of DOMS are inconclusive. Particularly from a nutritional standpoint – results appear mixed.
The most common practiced prevention of DOMS is warm-up, stretching, and massage therapy. Exercise physiologists commonly recommend to warm-up prior to physical activity to increase body temperature, increase blood flow and lubrication of joints, and prepare muscles, tendons, and ligaments for stressful activity. While regular stretching may provide the benefits of reduced muscle tension, making the body feel more relaxed, increased range of motion, prevention of injuries such as muscle strains, increased performance during exercise, increased body awareness, and improved circulation and a feeling of well-being. Some studies have shown that a combination of pre-exercise warm-up with stretching and post-exercise massage had positive effects on DOMS.
A study in the Journal of Nutrition by Shimomura et al, examined the effects of BCAA supplementation on muscle soreness and muscle fatigue induced by squats in humans. Results showed that BCAA supplementation prior to squat exercise decreased DOMS and muscle fatigue occurring for a few days after exercise – suggesting that BCAAs may be useful for muscle recovery following exercise. BCAAs – or branched chain amino acids – are comprised of the three essential amino acids L-leucine, L-isoleucine, and L-valine. How are BCAAs different from all other amino acids? They act as nitrogen carriers which assist in synthesis of amino acids needed for anabolic muscle action. During intense weight training – when DOMS is likely to follow – the body is normally in a highly catabolic state. At this time, glycogen stores are being rapidly depleted, and protein catabolism is taking place. The addition of BCAAs, especially during times of stress, may stop protein catabolism and promote protein synthesis thus reducing DOMS altogether. Supplementing with 4-8 grams before and after a workout is optimal. A lesser amount is effective, but if increased performance and recovery is needed, then more is better in this case. Taking them with a post-exercise meal or recovery drink will help speed the replacement of BCAAs in the muscles, speeding muscle recovery, and preventing overtraining. An excellent supplement is Power Shock due to its’ BCAA Nitrates – which provides the BCAAs with a rapid delivery system, and the increased vasodilation from nitrates.
Glutamine supplementation may also be an ideal addition to your daily routine. Because intense exercise and DOMS will decrease your immune function, it is ideal to keep your immune system as healthy as possible on a daily basis. Even though our body does synthesize glutamine on its own, it may be beneficial to supplement with it – a lowered plasma glutamine concentration contributes to the decreased immune response due to physical activity. Glutamine is a non-essential amino acid that makes up almost half of the muscles’ amino acid pool. Like glycogen depletion, glutamine depletes due to strenuous activity. Therefore, repleting glutamine stores with supplementation may increase recovery time contributing to a smaller incidence of DOMS. The best way to maximize absorption of any nutrient is to consume it when your body needs it most – first thing in the morning and post-workout. Another beneficial time would be one hour before you workout and on your off-training days before you go to bed. Try taking your Power Shock with Ultra Pure Glutamine Powder™ to maximize your results and get your daily dose of each all in one shot - not to mention Ultra Pure Glutamine Powder™ is the highest quality free form glutamine available.
While DOMS is a very serious and painful condition, it may be slightly preventable. An adequate nutrient dense diet along with supplementation of BCAAs and Glutamine to increase your immune response may be beneficial in shortening or preventing incidence of DOMS. The good news is that unless you increase or change your training, you will not experience DOMS. So if you don’t want to feel the pain, don’t make any changes – that or use Glutamine and BCAAs to avoid it altogether.
Shimomura Y et al. Neutraceutical Effects of Branched-Chain Amino Acids on Skeletal Muscle. Journal of Nut. 126:529S-532S, February 2006
Connolly D.A et al. Treatment and Prevention of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Journal of Stre and Cond Research. 17(1), 197-208, 2003