Muscle soreness should be part of every exercise program. If you don't exercise intensely enough on one day to have sore muscles on the next, you will not gain maximum fitness and you are also losing out on many of the health benefits of exercise. The benefits of exercise are much greater with intense exercise than with casual exercising.
You must damage your muscles to make them grow and
become stronger. When muscles heal, they are stronger than they
were before you damaged them. All athletes train by "stressing
and recovering". On one day, they take a hard workout in which
they feel their muscles burning. Eight to 24 hours after they
finish this intense exercise, their muscles start to feel sore.
This is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS). Then they
take easy workouts until the soreness is gone, which means that
their muscles have healed.
DOMS IS CAUSED BY MUSCLE DAMAGE. Muscles are made up of
fibers. The fibers are made up of a series of protein blocks
called sarcomeres that are lined in a long chain. When you
stretch a muscle, you stretch apart the sarcomeres in the chain.
When sarcomeres are stretched too far, they tear. Your body
treats these tears in the same way that it treats all injuries,
by a process called inflammation. Eight to 24 hours after an
intense workout, you suffer swelling, stiffness and pain.
The most beneficial intense exercise program is:
• severe enough to cause muscle pain on the next day, and
• usually allows you to recover almost completely within 48 hours.
ACTIVE, NOT PASSIVE, RECOVERY: When athletes feel soreness
in their muscles, they rarely take days off. Neither should you.
Keeping sore muscles moving makes them more fibrous and tougher
when they heal, so you can withstand greater forces and more
intense workouts on your hard days. Plan to go at low intensity
for as many days as it takes for the soreness to go away. Most
athletes try to work out just hard enough so that they recover
and are ready for their next hard workout in 48 hours.
TIMING MEALS TO RECOVER FASTER: You do not need to load
extra food to recover faster. Taking in too much food fills
your muscle cells with fat, and extra fat in cells blocks the cell's
ability to take in and use sugar. Sugar is the main source of
energy for your muscles during intense exercise. Using sugar to
drive your muscles helps them to move faster and with more strength.
Timing of meals is more important than how much food you
eat. Eating protein- and carbohydrate-containing foods helps you
recover faster, and the best time to start eating is as soon as
you finish a hard workout.
At rest, muscles are inactive. Almost no sugar enters
the resting muscle cell from the bloodstream (J. Clin. Invest. 1971;
50: 2715-2725). Almost all cells in your body usually require
insulin to drive sugar into their cells. However during exercise
your muscles (and your brain) can take sugar into their cells
without needing insulin. Exercising muscles are also incredibly
sensitive to insulin and take up sugar into their cells at a
rapid rate. This effect lasts maximally for up to an hour after
you finish exercising and disappears almost completely in around
17 hours. The best time to eat for recovery is when your cells
are maximally responsive to insulin, and that is within a short
time after you finish exercising.
Not only does insulin drive sugar into muscle cells, it
also drives in protein building blocks, called amino acids. The
sugar replaces the fuel for muscle cells. The protein hastens
repair of damaged muscle. Waiting to eat for more than an hour
after finishing an intense workout delays recovery.
WHAT TO EAT AFTER YOUR INTENSE WORKOUTS: Fatigue is caused
by low levels of sugar, protein, water and salt. You can replace
all of these with ordinary foods and drinks. If you are a
vegetarian, you can replace your protein with combinations of
grains and beans. You can replace carbohydrates by eating
virtually any fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds and
A recovery meal for a vegetarian could include corn,
beans, water, bread, and fruits, nuts and vegetables. If you
prefer animal tissue, you can get your protein from fish, poultry
or meat. Special sports drinks and sports supplements are made
from ordinary foods and therefore offer no advantage whatever over
BODY MASSAGE: Many older studies have shown that massage
does not help you recover faster from DOMS. Recently,
researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario showed
that deep massage after an intense workout causes muscles to
enlarge and grow new mitochondria (Science Translational
Medicine, published online Feb, 2012). This is amazing. Enlarging
and adding mitochondria can help you run faster, lift heavier
weights, and even prevent heart attacks and certain cancers. See
http://www.drmirkin.com/public/ezine021212.html (second article).
NSAIDS DELAY DOMS RECOVERY: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs (NSAIDS), such as ibuprofen, may help relieve pain, but they
also can block muscle repair and delay healing. See
HOT BATHS: Most research shows that a hot bath is
not much better than doing nothing in helping muscles recover
from exercise (European Journal of Applied Physiology, March 2006),
COLD OR ICE BATHS: A recent review of 17 small trials,
involving 366 participants, showed a minor decrease in DOMS with
ice water baths. They found "little quality research" on the
subject and "no consistent method of cold water immersion"
(Cochrane Library, published online February 15, 2012). Cold
water immersion can reduce swelling associated with injury,
but has not been proven to speed the healing of DOMS.