Feeling sore after working out means you are training hard, so kudos to that, you are a one tough MF! But, feeling sore for days after a workout can be problematic, especially if it happens after every single one of your workouts. This article will try to fix that.
Below, we list the 5 best supplements for muscle soreness and recovery. But, before that, we explain what muscle soreness is and why it happens and share some advice to manage soreness, helping you get the most out of your workouts. Let's go!
- 1 What Are DOMS?
- 2 Is Overtraining A Myth?
- 3 What Supplements To Take For Muscle Soreness?
- 4 Bonus: Supplements That Can Interfere With Recovery
- 5 Conclusion
What Are DOMS?
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a scientific term that describes the pain and tightness in the muscles that you experience 24-48 hours after exercising, not immediately after, hence the "delay."
Depending on the amount of stress you've put on your muscles, you can feel sore for more than five days after working out. But, the DOMS usually go away after 48-72 hours, depending on your metabolism and current fitness level.
Soreness is entirely normal, and if you are sore, that means you put your muscles under new stress through hard training. If you recover well, your muscles will adapt during the process and grow bigger and stronger. Therefore, muscle damage is one way your muscles get stronger, and soreness is a byproduct of that.
What Causes DOMS And Why Muscles Get Sore?
Whenever you put your muscles under new stress by giving them something they never experienced before, you will create muscle damage. For example, if you start a new workout program or perform an exercise for the first time, you are likely to feel sore afterward. But, even if you are doing an old movement with a considerably heavier weight, you are likely to create muscle damage too.
When working out with a challenging weight, you are actually causing micro damage to your muscle tissue. The eccentric part of any movement (stretching the muscle under load) creates this kind of damage especially. For example, when doing biceps curl, raising and curling the weight is the concentric part. Lowering the weight back down is the eccentric part - if you slow down the eccentric, you will create the most muscle damage and might get sore for days after.
Should You Workout When Sore?
Ideally, you will work out, let your muscles FULLY recover, and then work out again. Therefore, if your muscles feel sore while training, you didn't let them recover. If that is the case, you should wait more and let them fully recover. That way, you will be able to use them again with maximal force, and you won't stop the muscle-building process before you need to.
However, it doesn't mean you shouldn't exercise at all when you are sore. If you design your plan right, you can work other muscle groups while those sore ones rest. For example, if you perform an upper/lower split while your upper body muscles are sore, you do a leg day. Meanwhile, your upper body will recover, and you will hit it again while your legs are resting.
You will learn that some muscle groups take more time to recover, while others can be worked almost every day. You can usually train smaller muscles more frequently without feeling sore for days. These are deltoids, biceps, triceps, calves, traps, forearms. Try it yourself, and see how you feel.
Is Overtraining A Myth?
Overtraining is not a myth! Chronically not letting your body recover will not only hinder your progress but will actually cause you to regress. By trying to push through the discomfort and soreness day after day, you are not letting your muscles recover and grow. Even worse, you are putting unnecessary strain on your tendons, ligaments, and joints, which will eventually lead to breakdown and injuries.
And it is not only about training, it is about other things in your life, and stress in general. If you are working double shifts or just had a newborn baby, it will be tough to train as usual. In those conditions, it will take your body more time to recover. If you ignore the overtraining signs, you will suffer consequences.
As for the symptoms, overtraining insomnia is common, and so is the inability to relax. You will also feel fatigued all the time and might suffer irritability and mood swings. Your workout performance will decline too, or even regress, and you will feel sore for much longer than usual. You will even feel sick more often and might feel pulse and blood pressure issues, as well as digestive issues.
What can you do if you are overtrained? Rest, of course. There are no miraculous supplements for overtraining you can take and cure it. The best overtraining solution is to rest, or at least to program a deload week. But, there are supplements that will aid in muscle repair, which we discuss below.
What Supplements To Take For Muscle Soreness?
After you create micro muscle damage while exercising, the recovery process starts, and muscles get repaired through muscle protein synthesis. During the process, the tissue gets repaired, and muscles become bigger and stronger. Therefore, proteins play a central role in muscle building and making sure you intake enough protein will help your fitness goals.
However, reaching the optimal 1.6-2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day, which is recommended if you want to optimize muscle growth, can be challenging. A busy business person can eat only so much chicken breast per day before quitting and turning to the nearest fast food joint.
While protein powders are not supplements for muscle soreness per se, they will do wonders for your muscle-building (a.k.a. repair) in general. Also, every complete protein source contains BCAAs, which would make intaking both redundant.
That's why it makes sense to invest in a quality whey isolate protein powder, or at least a whey concentrate. If you are vegan, you can try pea or rice protein, they all work great. But, there is one protein source you probably haven't tried, which can help your muscle-building efforts a lot - casein.
Casein - The "Sleep" Protein
Whey protein powder is fast-acting, which is excellent, as it ends up in your bloodstream quickly, and muscles get the needed amino acids fast. That makes whey protein powder one of the best supplements for post workout.
Casein, on the other hand, is a slow-acting protein. That means that it takes your body longer to digest it, which means it will release a steady amount of amino acids over a more extended period. Taking casein before sleep makes sense, as it will give your body amino acids to help muscle repair while you rest.
If you want to build muscle mass, your goal is to reach a net anabolic state. Anabolic processes in the body create (muscle) tissue, while catabolic processes break down (muscle) tissue. Therefore, your goal is to be more anabolic than catabolic in total. You stimulate anabolism through adequate training, rest, and good nutrition with an optimal protein intake.
This is why it makes sense to intake casein. You spend 1/3 of your time (8/24 hours) sleeping. So, intaking a quality slow-digesting protein like casein before sleep can help your muscle-building efforts, giving your muscles enough building blocks even while you dream.
BCAA - Branched Chained Amino Acids
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) own their name to their molecular structure. Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs have a branched structure. But, their shape isn't the reason why bodybuilders love them, it's because they help recovery, which is why they are favorite supplements for muscle recovery after exercise.
BCAAs are leucine, isoleucine and valine. These are essential amino acids, which means that we need to intake them through food, as our body doesn't make them on its own. But, as much as 40% of total amino acids in our body are BCAAs, and most of them get broken down in the muscles. Because of this, it makes a lot of sense to supplement with BCAAs, to help the process.
Which BCAA Ratio Is Best?
Of all three amino acids, leucine is the most important one for building muscle mass. Isoleucine and valine are important too, but their role is in muscle repair, energy, and blood sugar regulation.
Therefore, the best BCAA ratio would be at least 2:1:1 leucine-isoleucine-valine. In other words, for each one gram of isoleucine, there should be one gram of valine and two grams of leucine. Some supplements go as high as 10-1-1 ratio, but the additional benefits you get from those are not proven, and they cost more. Considering that 2-1-1 supplements are most widely available, stick to those, or maybe those with a 3-1-1 ratio. Anything above that is probably overkill when you take the value into the equation.
We have already mentioned that you probably don't need to take BCAAs separately if you already use protein powder. Protein powders, like whey, already contain all essential amino acids, which means BCAAs too. But, because they are so beneficial, many people prefer to take them with protein powder or choose to buy protein powders that have more BCAAs in them. Whether or not this is a good choice is ultimately your decision, just factor in your budget.
Research shows that L-glutamine can help as a muscle repair supplement as it reduced local muscle damage in the observed tissue. The research is promising, and it seems like L-Glutamine can help with recovery. Besides this, taking glutamine for gut health may be beneficial.
As for glutamine dosage for muscle recovery, recommendations vary. Glutamine is a naturally occurring amino acid, which means it isn't toxic. Some studies tested even 45 grams of glutamine per day and didn't show any significant adverse effects. Still, it is best to be cautious and take smaller doses, up to 14 grams per day, as this study shows. Be warned that long-term use of this supplement hasn't been studied, so use with caution.
L-Carnitine is an amino acid often used as a fat-burning supplement, but it can be a muscle recovery supplement as well (and reducing your body fat can't hurt!). Besides these effects, L-carnitine may also positively impact cognitive performance. If you are a student that loves lifting hard, you can probably benefit from L-Carnitine a lot.
L-carnitine L-tartrate is a form that is especially useful for muscle repair, as studies show. Therefore, if you see it on the label of workout recovery supplements, the product should be a decent choice. However, the research is quite limited, and you shouldn't expect miracles.
Besides protein powders, creatine is one of the most popular supplements, and there are many reasons why. But, first and foremost - creatine is the most researched supplement of all, and many studies show its effectiveness. Furthermore, because it is used for so long and so widely spread, creatine is also proven to be safe for most people, and many professional sports organizations approve its use.
What Does Creatine Do?
First, creatine can be found in our bodies naturally. Our bodies make a small amount of creatine, but you can also intake it through food, especially red meat. The issue with that is that you would need to intake a lot of red meat to benefit from creatine found in it, which can potentially create problems and significantly increase your daily calories. That's why supplementation companies sell it in powder form.
Creatine has a positive impact on performance as it is involved in ATP production, which is the primary energy source we use. Therefore, supplementing with creatine will help you lift more, which on its own will have a positive impact on your muscle building. Creatine also makes your muscles bigger as it ties water in the muscle cells, which swells them up. For the same reason, you will gain (water) weight, and you might even need to upgrade your pants size.
But, studies also show that creatine aids recovery. That means creatine will not only help you lift more but will help you recover faster. Because of this, it should not only be taken for increased strength and muscle size, it is also valuable as a muscle repair supplement.
Creatine Side Effects
Creatine is generally safe, and most people don't have any issues with it. As for the side effects, the more common ones include digestive discomfort, such as bloating and stomach cramps.
More severe side effects are rare and are usually tied to kidney and liver issues. Therefore, if you have a history of liver or kidney problems, you shouldn't take creatine. But, like with everything else, make sure you consult your doctor before introducing a new supplement to your diet.
How Much Creatine To Take?
It is generally recommended that a creatine intake of 5 grams per day will get you the most benefits. As for the form, you should stick to creatine monohydrate, as it is the cheapest, the most effective, and the most researched of all creatine types.
Also, creatine loading is not necessary. Creatine loading is a common practice where people look to get the optimal amount of creatine in their muscles as soon as possible by doubling or quadrupling the recommended amount, taking 10-20 grams of creatine per day. While this effectively speeds up the build-up process, it also causes stomach issues often, which is why it is not recommended.
Instead, just take 5 grams of creatine per day with a lot of water. That way, it will take a bit slower for creatine to build up, but only a couple of weeks more. But, you will avoid issues with your gut.
When To Take Creatine?
The most important thing is to hit the correct dose, which is 5 grams per day, as we noted above. But, if you are concerned about timing, you should take it around your workouts. Taking it before your training will optimize performance. Taking it after your workout will top up creatine reserves in your muscles.
On your rest days, you can take creatine with your meals. You can spread it throughout the day, as you don't have to take it all at once if you don't want to.
Bonus: Supplements That Can Interfere With Recovery
One of the most widely used supplements out there, loved by millions of people worldwide, with a proven positive effect on performance, both cognitive and physical, can also hinder your recovery like almost no other. We are talking about caffeine.
Drinking coffee in the morning kickstarts your day like nothing else. The same goes for taking pre-workout supplements that are almost always filled with caffeine. The energy spike you get helps you plow through your workouts, no matter how you felt before going to the gym.
But, caffeine can also mess with an essential part of recovery - sleep. Not only that, intaking caffeine before going to bed will prevent you from falling asleep. Even if you do, your sleep quality will suffer. And sleep plays a pivotal role in hormone regulation, and without it, your gym progress will stall and regress.
Therefore, avoid any caffeinated supplements, beverages, or foods six hours before bed. That way, you will give your body enough time to get rid of the caffeine, giving you an opportunity for complete nighttime rest.
Five supplements for muscle soreness from above will help with muscle building and recovery but don't expect miracles. If you are not training hard enough (or even worse, if you are overtraining), if your nutrition is off, and if you are not sleeping as much as you should, your gym progress will stall, no matter how diligent you are with your recovery stack. In fact, if you are not taking care of your training, nutrition, and sleep, don't waste your money on supplements, as they won't change a thing.
However, if you are training how you are supposed to and do your best to eat a clean, protein-rich diet, plus you make sure to get 8 hours of sleep each night, supplementing makes sense. Taking some casein, creatine, or BCAAs, and avoiding caffeinated drinks before bed might just be the thing you needed to enhance recovery and improve your gains. If that is the case, investing in quality supplements for muscle soreness will be money well spent.