Understanding Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

DOMS Have you ever adopted a new workout regimen, then ended up kicking your ass so hard that you became discouraged from the pain you experienced after your workouts? If so, you were probably taken by surprise when delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) set in. What often occurs is that people adopting new exercise regimens may become quickly discouraged, usually because they don’t understand why they are so sore, and will back off from exercising without ever getting a chance to maintain consistency. However, DOMS may be a beneficial signal that your workouts are challenging enough to make a difference.

DOMS typically develops between 24 to 72 hours after physical activity, and is considered a relatively normal and common result of activity that challenges muscle tissue. One popular but flawed theory is that the microscopic tears which occur in the muscle fibers after exercise, coupled with the release of lactic acid and protons, are responsible for the muscle soreness which characterizes DOMS. Mizumura and Taguchi determined in an important study that neurotrophic factors are produced by muscle fibers and satellite cells, and are critical for the development of DOMS symptoms. They also determined that damage to muscle fibers was not a necessary component of DOMS, further suggesting that a neurological cascade is what results in the post-exercise soreness.

For the most part, the aches and pains which characterize DOMS are assumed to be a sign that your muscles are adapting to the activity which caused them to develop in the first place. Rather than shying away from physical activity in the long term, the general recommendation is to take it easy for a few days, while still exercising, until the pain subsides. However, those of us who are gym rats and fitness freaks will tend to adopt the “Suck it up, buttercup!” mentality, powering through workouts as best we can while our bodies scream out in general agony.

So what can you do if you have DOMS and you want to lessen the severity and duration of the soreness? The truth is, not much. However, here are some suggestions which you might want to try. Keep in mind that none of these suggestions is proven to ameliorate DOMS, but none will worsen the symptoms either.

• consumption of plenty of water both during and after exercise
• consumption of a protein-rich meal after exercise
• glutamine
• cherry juice
• vitamin D supplementation
• compression garments
• Epsom salts
• application of heat

One thing to bear in mind is that if you are consistently working out at the same intensity, your muscles will become familiar with that intensity, essentially adapting to it. This phenomenon is called the repeated bout effect (RBE), and basically means that you will most likely notice a drop-off in DOMS episodes. If you suddenly increase the intensity or duration of your workouts, the chance of developing DOMS will return.

Obviously if you believe you have a specific injury, and not DOMS, then get it evaluated and rest up.

Mizumura K, Taguchi T. Delayed onset muscle soreness: Involvement of neurotrophic factors. J Physiol Sci. 2016 Jan;66(1):43-52.

L-Carnitine Tartrate For Athletic Performance

I am personally a big fan of l-carnitine supplementation. This amino acid compound, consisting of lysine and methionine, can be found in a couple of different forms. This article discusses L-carnitine tartrate, which is the form known to benefit athletic performance and recovery.

There are a couple of important points to consider when supplementing with carnitine. First of all, insulin must be present in the body for carnitine to enter muscle. One way of taking carnitine is to ingest carnitine with carbs so that there is an insulin release, but another effective option is to ingest carnitine with omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids optimize cell membrane health, thus making cells more sensitive to insulin. Carnitine serves as a delivery system for fatty acids, so if carnitine levels are high, more fatty acids will be shuttled into cells to be utilized for energy.

Conversely, when carnitine levels are low, fewer fatty acids are moved into the cells and are instead stored as fat. Supplementation with carnitine before intense exercise, especially cardio, will switch the focus on burning fat rather than utilizing glycogen stores, resulting in longer sessions before glycogen stores are depleted. In addition, the presence of carnitine inhibits production of lactic acid, so recovery from intense exercise is more rapid.

Carnitine is not only an excellent performance supplement, it also serves as an excellent means of addressing metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome, characterized by diabetes, atherosclerosis and high cholesterol, can be countered by carnitine’s ability to induce fat loss, prevent atherosclerosis and minimize the development of diabetes. After several months of carnitine supplementation, carnitine levels reach a level at which energy production and performance are enhanced. For this reason, it is best to consider carnitine an essential supplement in your daily regimen rather than as something taken only periodically.

Take 500 to 2,000 milligrams of l-carnitine tartrate daily, along with omega-3 fatty acids, for best results.

Sequential Compression Devices For Recovery

I’ve been using the Air Relax sequential compression device for a couple of months now, and have incorporated regular treatments into my post-workout regimen. Whenever I train legs (three days a week), I make sure to do a 15 minute treatment at some point during the day. For the most part, it feels fantastic, like a therapeutic massage, but every now and then, the leg sleeves will clamp down like vice grips on a strained area like my calf and inspire me to chant, “ow, ow, ow, owwww!” in quick succession. Despite these isolated moments of torture, I always feel better after the treatment is finished, and my limbs don’t feel as heavy or as cramped as they usually do post-lift.

There are two types of individuals who can benefit from using sequential compression devices. The first group consists of sedentary or bedridden patients who run the risk of developing deep venous thrombosis. The second group consists of athletes, ranging from weekend warriors to elite Olympians. The benefits of sequential compression include enhanced lymphatic drainage, improved blood circulation, enhanced mobilization of lactic acid and other waste products from muscle tissue, and a massage component which is rather pleasant.

If you decide to purchase a sequential compression system for home use, I heartily recommend the Air Relax version, because it is quite affordable for under $400 (versus $1,500 for one major competitor’s version), and it inflates to pressures over 200 mm Hg, qualifying it as a FDA 510K Class II cleared medical grade device.