As an athlete or someone who works out frequently, you’re bound to experience DOMS at some point or another. If you’re new to the fitness world, you might not have heard of DOMS, but chances are, you will experience it nonetheless at some point on your fitness journey. DOMS stands for delayed onset muscle soreness. Experts at Whole Life Challenge define DOMS as “a condition that causes significant muscle aches and soreness, typically around 24-48 hours following a challenging bout of exercise (hence “delayed onset”). It’s caused by micro-trauma to the tiny fibers within our muscles, which leads to inflammation, swelling, and changes in normal levels of electrolytes and other fluids near the affected muscles.”
So if you find yourself struggling to lift your t-shirt over your head two days after an intense arm workout, or limping down the stairs the day after leg day, that’s DOMS. Even though it is rare that DOMS can result in serious health repercussions, it definitely puts a damper on your fitness plans and is a downright inconvenience. While it is manageable with painkillers, if you want to avoid popping ibuprofen or acetaminophen, there are several natural ways to reduce the discomfort DOMS causes. Let’s take a look at some of them:
The most obvious way to prevent DOMS is to cut out the activity that probably caused it in the first place. There is a fine line between a grueling workout and overtraining, and you would do well to respect that line. While you might think overtraining can speed up results, and that your muscle soreness is, in fact, proof of your hard work, science begs to differ. As stated by experts at Healthline, “There is a growing amount of evidence that suggests moderate- to high-intensity exercise performed for more than 90 minutes can negatively impact your health.” Studies show that overtraining can result in chronic infections, digestive discomfort, insomnia, and even depression. Properly managing the time and intensity of your workouts is crucial to keeping DOMS in check.
Eat Tart Cherries
Tart cherries are rich in antioxidants, specifically of the anthocyanin type. Anthocyanins have been shown to significantly reduce muscle soreness and discomfort. As stated in this article about scientifically proven ways to reduce muscle soreness, “marathoners consuming tart cherry juice five days before, on the day of, and 48 hours following their races reduced muscle soreness. And how’s this for the cherry on top? The athletes also showed signs of improved muscle recovery and function.” Incorporating tart cherries into your post-workout smoothie, or simply drinking tart cherry juice can help combat inflammation that later leads to DOMS.
Pre-workout caffeine is known to reduce subsequent muscle fatigue. There’s a reason caffeine features in our Pre-Workout 101 article, as one of the key ingredients to look out for in a traditional pre-workout recipe. A study published by the Journal of Pain shows that consuming caffeine as part of your pre-workout resulted in a 48 percent drop in DOMS. Additionally, caffeine has major analgesic properties, which in turn helps to dull muscle pain. Drinking about two cups of coffee (the amount used in the study) an hour prior to a heavy workout is a great way to prevent muscle soreness later.
Consider Natural Supplements
There are many natural supplements that could aid in relieving the symptoms of DOMS. Magnesium is one of them, and today, many medical professionals recommend that magnesium be a part of every athlete’s recovery process. Magnesium has the ability to relax muscles and speed up recovery significantly. If you don’t want to ingest magnesium orally, consider using magnesium oil to relax your muscles. You can directly apply magnesium oil in the form of a spray to the affected muscle area or soak in a bath that has magnesium flakes.
Kratom is another supplement that is used to relieve muscle pain. Kratom is a plant that grows in Southeast Asia, and has been used in traditional medicines for many years. While there are different varieties of kratom that each have different effects, KratomSpot states, “It has been speculated that red-veined strains such as Red Bali contain higher concentrations of alkaloids such as mitraphylline and 7-hydroxymitragynine, which are thought to possess sedative and analgesic properties.” These sedative and analgesic properties are why Kratom is used in treating DOMS.
Try Foam Rolling
Much like a massage, foam rolling helps to release your muscles. Research has shown that a little foam rolling before your workout can increase range of motion and relieve stiffness. Trainers at Bodybuilding.com suggest rolling for a short period and then easing into warm-up sets before lifting weights. This increases blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscle groups, as well as working your joints through a full range of motion. Additionally, rolling out your muscles after your workout also helps to relieve them. Using a foam roller on your recovery days will help you stay limber and relieve muscle fatigue.
Brad Borland, Master of Kinesiology and a strength and training specialist states that staying hydrated is “arguably the most overlooked aspect of recovery and soreness.” Hydration is often seen as a way to boost performance. However, staying properly hydrated is equally important for post-workout recovery. Borland states that blood flow is integral to clean out waste products from muscle cells so that they can effectively recover. Water intake directly affects this process — the more water that is consumed, the easier time your body will have performing these processes. Not only is it important to stay hydrated before and during your training, but your water intake should be high even on days of no activity. Make sure you’re adequately replacing the fluids lost during your workout, and always keep an eye out for symptoms of dehydration.
Take a Bath
There are few things as satisfying as a hot, soothing bath. Relaxing as they may be, baths are great for relieving sore muscles. This should come as no surprise, considering the inherent therapeutic properties of water.
To further benefit your muscles, try adding Epsom salts to your bath. Epsom salts are made up of magnesium sulfate, and much like magnesium itself, are a natural muscle relaxant. Fitness gurus at Reader’s Digest state that “The magnesium and the salt work to pull fluid out of the tissues, therefore reducing swelling.” They suggest pouring a couple of cups of Epsom salts into a warm bath and soaking in it till the water has reached room temperature. Doing this two-to-three times a week should help reduce soreness, and combat DOMS. While this type of treatment requires time to take effect, a few weeks of soaking in water at least twice week will have your muscles feeling refreshed and relaxed.
Even though you might not be able to completely get rid of DOMS related muscle soreness, these natural remedies are sure to provide some relief to your muscles. Rather than reaching for the pain pill bottle, use these strategies to prevent DOMS from hindering your fitness journey.