What is DOMS and is it Good For You?
I’m sure most of us have experienced the soreness that comes after a good workout. For some of us, getting out of bed after a heavy squat day or having performed “Karen”, can be quite a challenge. But what causes this DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – after a workout?
Generally, DOMS develops after excessive and unaccustomed exercise. It can kick in from as soon as six to eight hours post-exercise and peak around the 48-hour window. So why exactly does DOMS occur?
1. What Causes DOMS?
One of the most popular theories is that DOMS is caused by a build-up of lactic acid and toxic metabolic waste. However, this theory has largely been disproven. So then what is the cause of DOMS?
Honestly, it’s not quite clear exactly how DOMS is caused. However, it’s believed to be a product of inflammation caused by microscopic tears in the connective tissue elements.
These tears heighten the sensitization of pain, causing DOMS. In short, DOMS is caused by connective tissue microtrauma.
2. Is DOMS Related to Increased Muscle Mass?
Sadly, getting DOMS doesn’t mean you’ll magically build more muscle. In fact, if you have severe muscle soreness it can actually be counterproductive. First, severe soreness can significantly decrease force-producing capacity as your pain perception impacts muscular fiber recruitment. This can severely decrease your performance in future workouts.
Additionally, your motivation can decrease if you have severe soreness as you may not feel inclined to go to the gym quite so often! How many times have you skipped a workout because your body was too sore and tired?!
While muscle damage is key when it comes to building muscle, DOMS has not been found to be an accurate indicator of muscle damage or muscular adaptation.
In short, you don’t need to experience soreness in order to build muscle. While DOMS isn’t necessarily a bad thing it’s not a reliable measure of actual gains either.
3. Can You Prevent DOMS?
Thankfully, there are a few ways to help minimize the development of DOMS so your future workouts don’t suffer. This includes:
Scale your Workouts
Try and gradually build up the amount of exercise you do in your program. This will help minimize soreness. If you go to a CrossFit gym and notice consistent, excessive muscular soreness, then talk to your coach about scaling your workouts until your body has built more tolerance to the volume or intensity you’re doing.
Reduce Eccentric Training
Be aware of the amount of eccentric exercise you are including in your workouts. Eccentric exercise is more likely to cause DOMS. Eccentric training involves the slowing down of the eccentric (lengthening) contraction of the muscle. For example, the downward movement of dumbbells away from your shoulder in a bicep curl.
Stretch & Cool down
Ensure you do a thorough cool down following your workout. Muscles contract and tighten during your workout. It’s important to stretch immediately following your workout session to help your muscles return to normal length and minimize the uncomfortable sensations of muscular tightness.
Focus on your Diet
If you have tried out some of the above methods and notice no signs of improvement, then more than likely there are gaps in your diet which are leading to you experiencing this phenomenon more than normal. A balanced diet can provide the nutrition you need to support healthy muscle growth and recovery. Supplements can also help if you struggle to fill those gaps in your nutrition. The most common nutrients missing from our clients’ diets that effect performance and/or recovery are the following:
- Protein – Although people are significantly more aware of meeting their protein needs than in the past, protein is consistently under-consumed by most of our clients when they first come to us. Adequate protein intake helps build and repair muscles & tissue so that we can get stronger and recover more quickly;
- BCAAs – the best sources of essential amino acids are from animal products so if you’re vegan or primarily plant-based, you may not be getting a sufficient amount of BCAAs.
- Vitamin C – Helps reduce oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. A study published in the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism supports this as researchers found that vitamin C significantly reduced muscle soreness in the first 24 hours.
- Fish Oil – Most westerners consume an unbalanced ratio of polyunsaturated fats getting far more omega-6 than is needed and an insufficient amount of omega-3. Omega-3 supports your ability to recover and build muscle as it has an anti-inflammatory effect in the body. Omega-3 can primarily be found in fish oil as a supplement although we recommend clients start with consuming at least 2 servings of fatty fish a week instead of supplementation.
These are just a few practical steps to help decrease the chances of DOMS, improve your recovery and maximize those gains!
The DOMS Takeaway
Hopefully, this simple breakdown has helped shed some light on DOMS and what causes it. While it isn’t an accurate way to indicate muscular gains, it’s not necessarily a bad thing when it does happen.
If you’re putting in a lot of effort in the gym, but not seeing the results you think you should, or you’re experiencing fatigue & soreness more than you think might be normal, then it’s time to address your nutrition! We can help you identify the gaps in your diet and help you reach your goals and feel better than ever before! Check out our lifestyle coaching memberships for more information.