You know what I hate?
Being so sore that I can’t sit down on the toilet.
You know what I love?
Being so sore that I can’t sit down on the toilet.
However, If I’m so sore that it keeps me from being consistent with my workouts or doing other activities that I love like rock climbing, kayaking, and playing hoops I’m not down with it.
I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately asking questions like these:
- Does being sore mean I got a good workout in and if I’m not sore does it mean I need to workout harder?
- Why do I get so sore in “this” place but not “here?” Does this mean I’m not building muscle and burning body fat in those places?
- What can I do or what supplements other vitamins can I take so I don’t get so sore or recover faster?
- I’m SO sore dude! Am I injured or am I ok?
- I never get sore anymore. Is this ok? I sorta miss it!
Well today you and I are going to cover all of those questions and then some so you can learn how to recover from workouts faster and beat muscle soreness.
Why Do We Get Sore? What Is Muscle Soreness?
Working out is the good kind of stress. When you weight train, run, or do other physically demanding activities (no no, keep it PG people) you damage muscle and surrounding tissue.
The Bill Nye stuff
When you do something physically active, especially resistance training or long distance endurance stuff you break down old proteins in your body and then begin to construct new ones.
This process is what makes you stronger, fitter, leaner, and super’er.
The breaking down of these proteins is known as protein breakdown (makes sense) and the construction of new proteins is called protein synthesis. When the construction of new proteins (synthesis) is able to keep up with the rate at which you’re breaking them down you’ll be able to build lean muscle and burn more body fat. Provided you supply yourself with the right nutrients and rest (more on this in a bit).
Why Am I More Sore 2 or 3 Days After A Workout?
It almost seems crazy that you end up being more sore two or three days after a workout than the day after right?
This is one of the greatest wonders of our time! Ok, not really but it is something that a lot of you are curious about.
The soreness you feel 2 or 3 days later is called Delayed Onset Muscle Soresness or DOMS for short. It was once thought that this type of soreness was primarily due to lactic acid or muscle spasms but it is now known that this is not the primary reason. Lactic acid is actually produced by the body all the time and the burn you feel during a workout from it typically will clear out within 30 to 60 minutes.
What causes DOMS is actually something that is still being researched and studied but so far it’s known that you get sore like this because of the way your muscle is reacting to the damage that has been done to it.
How you get sore (1):
- Overloading your muscles and connective tissue
- Cell membrane and contractile proteins (the things that help your bicep curl) fail. This is why when your biceps get super sore you have T-Rex arms.
- Your muscle cells become overtaken by calcium
- Extra calcium in the muscle cell tells various enzymes to eat the cell (whoa!) and clean it out.
- The muscles then become inflamed and your immune system is called upon, sort of like the bat signal, to save the day.
- Because of the inflammation your muscles swell and become red and/or warm. This is the main reason that it hurts.
Now the reason you don’t feel sore right away is because this entire process takes time. DOMS may be felt 6 to 8 hours after training but it usually peaks around 48 hours after a workout. You may even be sore for up to 7 full days or long depending on a few factors.
Being Sore Doesn’t Mean You Got a Good Workout
Just because you’re super sore after a workout doesn’t necessarily make it a good one. I know, I’m Debbie Downer here just raining on your parade. The only thing it really means is that you did a good job breaking down the muscle.
There are actually a few other factors that explain why you get or do not get sore:
Your Training Age: Plays a huge part in how sore you may or may not be after workouts. I remember when I started resistance training (late 90’s flashback). It seemed like the first few months, maybe even year, was miserable. I’m pretty sure I was sore 24 hours a day, 7 days per week.
If my legs weren’t sore then it was my upper body and vice-versa.
If you’re just getting into the fitness game or have not worked out in a while you will become more sore than someone who has worked out consistently for a while or than someone who is an athlete.
The more you train the more resilient your muscles become to the training. Thus, you’ll start to become less sore. Unless of course you change things up, try new exercises, workout with tempos, try different rep ranges, or other activities.
Certain Body Parts Are More Susceptible To Muscle Soreness: Doesn’t it seem like the legs get way more sore than the rest of your body?
For one, they’re a huge muscle group so when you break them down during a workout you’re breaking down a ton of muscle. The hamstrings in particular tend to be a tight muscle group so when they become broken down they can get extremely stiff and painful.
If you have a job that requires you to sit a lot then your hamstrings and glutes can often become tight and underutilized, making them weak. This too can results in some seriousness once they are actually used.
I’ve noticed that most pulling muscles (back, biceps, hamstrings) tend to get more sore than pushing muscles (quads, chest, triceps, shoulders). I attribute this to our daily requiring us to do things that need us to push rather than pull.
How Fast or Slow You Move Your Body or Free Weights: I’d say one of the greatest contributors to muscle soreness is the tempo or speed in which you resist your body or weights.
Try doing 5 to 10 push-ups (maybe knee push-ups) as fast as you can and take notice of how it feels.
Rest a few minutes and now try to do 5 to 10 push-ups but take 5 seconds to lower yourself all the way to the ground before pressing yourself up. It’s way harder right?
This is because you’re keeping your muscles under tension for a longer time. This means that you’re placing them under greater stress and we know now that the stress your muscles are under is what contributes to breaking them down.
You can try this with other exercises as well:
- Air squat
- Barbell squat
- Bench press
- Barbell row
There are even still other things that factor in to how sore you get and how fast you recover from that soreness.
Lifestyle stressors: Work, relationships, pollution, smoking, and alcohol consumption.
Nutrient deficiencies: We’ll get into which ones may help with soreness and recovery in a little but for now, if you’re not getting adequate vitamins and minerals regularly it’s going to be very hard to recover. Take a look at this Super Foods checklist to help you with nutrient rich foods.
Dehydration: It will be tough for your muscles to flush and clean themselves out if you are not hydrated. dehydration can cause a number of problems so make sure you are drinking plenty of water throughout the day. I try my best to carry around a 32 ounce bottle and drink at least 2 (and hopefully more) per day.
Lack of sleep: If you’re not sleeping enough important recovery, muscle-building, and fat burning hormones like testosterone and HGH can be decreased. These are important hormones for you too ladies so don’t neglect the rest.
By getting enough QUALITY sleep (usually 7 to 9 hours) you’ll be able to speed up the recovery process and repair those damaged muscles.
How Can I Tell If I’m Not Recovering Well
Speaking from personal experience I can tell when I’m not recovering well because my inner Austin Powers isn’t work.
AKA: I’ve got no MOJO baby, yeah!
Basically, I just don’t have much of a desire to workout. I don’t even really want to think about it to be honest. Now if you’re someone that is trying to build healthy habits I recommend pushing though this and focus on just showing up and being consistent.
However, if you’ve been training a while, have no problems with being consistent, jumping back into a routine after a few days of rest, or have already met your fitness goals taking a few days off is probably in your best interest.
Or you can totally flip your routine and try something new. When I lost my fitness mojo a few weeks back I stopped doing Crossfit and weight training and instead just practiced Yoga and Tai Chi.
In a couple of months I was back to my old self again.
A few other things that may signal you’re not recovering well:
Loss Of Strength or Fitness: If you’re a Crossfitter this could mean that your MetCon times are getting worse. If you’re a runner your 400 meter, Mile, 5K, or long distance times are getting worse. If you’re not getting stronger or fitter this might be a sign.
Joint and Muscle Pain: joint and muscle pain could be related to many things but if you’ve just started noticing it may be because you’re body is under a lot of stress and not able to recover.
You’re Constantly On The DL: If you’re always getting injured or sick this might be a sign as well. When you’re training hard and not recovering well your immune system is affected and you may get sick more often.
It’s Tough To Sleep: If you’re having a hard time falling asleep or waking up constantly then you may not be recovering well. You’re body might be agitated and finding it difficult to rest and relax. You may even feel so exhausted but are still finding it hard to sleep.
You’re Grumpy Gus: Have you noticed a change in your mood? If you’re anxious, easily agitated, grumpy, or are noticing mood swings throughout the day (go from super happy to super moody) then your recovery might suck.
Labido Is Depleto: Well, I thought is was clever. If you’re never “in the mood” or have other difficulties when it comes to sex and your sex drive this is a dead give away that you might not be recovering well.
What Can I do To Improve My Recovery?
Now don’t you go worrying. There are tons of things you can do to help improve your recovery.
Step 1: Get Down The Basics
It’s not secret that we live in an instant gratification society. We’re always on the lookout for the next miracle food, pill to take, or money-making hack to fix our problems.
Before looking into supplements and other fixes like that make sure you are CONSISTENTLY practicing the basics.
- Working out based on your “training age” and resting as needed.
- Eating real food and Post workout nutrition
Sleep: In bed by 10pm on most nights with 7 to 9 hours of quality sleep. Quality of sleep has been shown to be way more important than quantity (1).
For me, this means sleeping in a black room with blackout curtains, a temperature no warmer than 70 degrees, and a soothing sound like a fan or ocean waves. Staying away from all electronics about an hour before bed and only reading fiction has helped me out tons as well.
For more Limitless sleep hacking tips visit this post and this one too.
Working Out Based On Your Training Age: If you haven’t worked out in a while start slow and get your sea legs under you first. The first week just knock out a couple of pushups and squats and maybe head out for a walk. Then try a beginner bodyweight routine and work your way up to an advanced bodyweight routine before finally dialing in some resistance training.
Eat more real food: Make sure to checkout the Limitless guide to eating more real food found here but essentially this means eating foods with as few ingredients on the label as possible and if it doesn’t have a label that’s even better.
You can use the Limitless Super Foods checklist to help you include more nutrient dense foods as part of your daily nutrition plan.
But What About Post Workout Nutrition?
This is a questions I get asked a lot. Post workout nutrition will be super important for recovery and helping with muscle soreness especially for you hard training people out there.
A great resource for post workout nutrition can be found here but I’d quickly like to touch on some of the basics.
Good nutrition after a hard workout will help to improve your body composition, performance, and aid tremendously in you ability to recover.
Right after you workout your body is primed for taking in nutrients. It’s basically begging you for them.
Your post workout nutrition should do the following:
- Replenish your energy stores
- Slow down the process of muscle breakdown we discussed earlier
- Increase the process of muscle repair that we discussed earlier
If you do these three things you’ll not only recover quicker and reduce muscle soreness but also be able to build the kind of lean muscle that burns body fat and makes you super strong.
There’s no real “window of opportunity.” I know you’ve probably heard that you MUST get some food in you right after you train or at least within 30 minutes but the truth is your window of opportunity is open until your next meal. However, research is starting to show that it is probably in your best interest to get in some quality nutrition within 2 hours of a hard workout.
If yo wait to long than protein synthesis or repairing might be decreased as well as your glycogen stores. These glycogen stores are what will give you energy for your next workout.
So what do I eat?
It’s really going to depend on your goals, gender, size, and body type.
For with fat loss as a primary goal or those with a pear shaped/mesomorph body type will want to focus on consuming mostly protein with lower amounts of carbohydrate.
For those looking to increase lean muscle or with an ectomorph body type will want to include protein and carbohydrate in a 1 to 2 or even 1 to 3 ratio. For some, maybe even more.
For example: 20 grams of protein would mean also including 40 or 60 grams of carbohydrate. This is roughly equal to 4 oz of chicken or 1 scoop of a protein powder and 1 to 1.5 large sweet potatoes.
If you’re eating a meal any source of animal protein will do the trick. Salmon, beef, chicken, etc… As for carbs, sweet potato, taro, plantain, and even white rice are excellent options.
Should I eat a meal or drink a shake?
Oh this is a good one. I’m always on the side of eating as much real food as possible but shakes are not only convenient but might be also may just be a better choice post workout.
Whole foods will be slowly digested and when it comes to post exercise nutrition you’ll want to get nutrients in your system as quickly as possible. Shakes do this my using insulin to help transport them quickly to the places they need to go.
Here are some of my favorite post workout shakes. For those of you with fat loss as a goal just take out the fruit servings.
Here also is a great protein powder.
When do you eat your post workout meal?
You’re own body will determine this. I have a tough time eating or drinking a shake right after I workout and I’ll usually wait 45 to 60 minutes before having a post workout meal or shake.
A good rule of thumb is to try to get it in within 30 to 120 minutes.
What type of exercise requires a post workout meal or shake?
You’re going to need a post workout meal or shake after intense exercise. Intense exercise would be strength training, Crossfit, sprints or HIIT, or long endurance activities like rowing or running.
More leisure activities like walking lightly on a treadmill or around the block with your dogs will not need one.
What About Supplements?
If you’ve been reading the blog for a while you’ll already know that I’m not a huge supplement guy and prefer to have blood work done to tell me exactly what I’m deficient in. I definitely recommend you doing the same.
Now with that said, there are some supplements that might be beneficial in helping with muscle recovery and muscle soreness.
Fish oil: Is an anti-inflammatory and will help with inflammation. 3 to 9 grams per day should do the trick but avoid taking it if you are having surgery or are taking any blood thinning medication. Fish oil makes blood clotting difficult.
Melatonin: This helps with getting a good nights sleep. Consult with a doctor before taking it but 3 to 5 mg 30 minutes before bed will help you get to sleep and keep you asleep.
Caffeine: Crazy right? But caffeine actually helps with muscle recovery. I came across a study referenced by Charles Poliqun that showed 5mg of caffeine per kilogram of bodyweight reported much less muscle soreness 2 to 3 days after a hard training session and soreness was gone after the third day.
This may be because caffeine blocks central nervous system receptors that are related to pain. AKA pain mailmen.
Branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s): Taking 100mg of BCAAs per kilogram of bodyweight has been shown to reduce muscle soreness in untrained people. This is a good thing because muscle soreness in untrained people is usually more severe and uncomfortable.
BCAAs help improve the protein synthesis we talked about earlier. BCAAs also help to slow muscle breakdown. 5 to 15 grams pre, during, or post workout should do the drink.
Note: I’ve noticed big improvements in recovery if I sip on BCAAs throughout the day.
Ginseng and Rhodiola Rosea: Both herbal supplement have been shown to be anti-stress, have a positive effect on your mood, and enhance energy and general well-being.
Himalayan Sea Salt: You’ll hear a lot about replenishing electrolytes post workout and how important it is. You can buy some decent electrolyte drinks that are low in sugar or even calorie free (stay away from Gatorade and Powerades if fat loss is your goal). You can also add a few pinches of pink Himalayan sea salt to your water to help replenish all the sodium you just sweated out.
Don’t Use NSAIDs/Advil: Over the counter drugs may help reduce inflammation and pain but in my opinion ice, rest, and a little foam rolling will also to the trick and be better for your body. NSAIDs can cause ulcers, internal bleeding, and digestive issues.
I recommend checking out my friends over at Examine.com. They’re the most in-depth online resource on supplementation.
Anything Else That Might Help?
If you’ve got the basics down there are a few other things you can try to improve your recovery and help aid in relieving muscle soreness.
1. Yoga, Tai Chi, Meditation, and Massage: All of which will help the parasympathetic nervous system to keep you relaxed and calm.
2. Change your routine: If you’ve done the same routine for months on end then it might be time to change things up. Try new activities, exercises you’ve never done, MovNat, Animal Flow, Yoga, or skip the gym all together but stay active playing basketball, swimming, or rock climbing.
3. Vary reps, sets, and tempo: If you’re just starting to build the fitness habit I can’t stress enough how important it is to stay consistent. If you’re super sore or feel exhausted from your workouts practice staying consistent by just showing up. If you’re to sore to workout just drive to the gym and hangout there. This way you still keep up the momentum of just showing up.
If you don’t have a problem with being consistent but are not recovering very well try lessening your load in the gym. Drop the weight a little bit, don’t work to failure all the time, or use the same weight and do less reps. Maybe instead of 4 sets just to 2.
4. Warm-up properly and cool down correctly: A good warm-up will help prepare your body for an intense workout and to avoid injuries. An awesome cool down will help speed up the recovery process and may help to elevate any future DOMs. A good warm-up can be found here and a good cool down right here. Also, check out this and this post.
If you want to build lean muscle, burn body fat, become fitter, and build a LimtilessBODY than you’re going to have to train hard and exceed your personal limits.
And if you’re training hard you’re going to get sore.
Taking care of the basics; sleep, eating real food, and working out based on your training age consistently should help with recovery and DOMs. If you’re just starting out there’s no need to run a 5K tomorrow or to blast yourself in the gym for 60 minutes.
Go for a walk, practice 10 minutes of movement, and just take it slow and until you’ve built up some momentum.
Remember, life contributes to stress and recovery as well. Make sure that you’re taking some time for yourself and personal interests – spend time meditating, breathing, and relaxing.
What are you doing to help yourself recover? I’d love to hear in the comments below