Muscle Away from Aches and Pains
Sarah Reid, RHNC
Muscle soreness after new or prolonged exercise (also called Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness [DOMS]) is the result of microscopic tears in the muscle fibers. Any activity, especially those you aren't used to, can lead to the onset of DOMS, but large volumes of movement that cause forceful muscle contractions often cause the most soreness.
A balanced, high-nutrient diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains should be the “norrn” no matter how much or what type of activity you take part in. However, endurance and strength athletes will both tell you there is no substitute for proper preparation before a workout or event. Physically, this means a decent “warm up” period of light cardio activity such as walking or stair-climbing to get your heart and muscles prepared. Nutritional preparation, however, is a bit lengthier to accomplish fully, although even a few days of eating differently have marked results. Foods high in vitamin E (like whole grains, sunflower seeds and spinach), vitamin C (papaya, bell peppers and berries), the B-complex (whole grains, oily fish, and legumes), choline (soy foods, eggs and bananas), and potassium (mushrooms, squash and eggplant) are essential for pre-exercise fueling. Vitamins E and C are intensive antioxidants that fight cellular damage (and subsequent inflammation) that occurs with muscle use. Vitamin C also has the role of replenishing vitamin E stores in the cells, which in turn helps to clear the buildup of lactic acid and cellular waste from the muscles to prevent the next day pain. The B complex of vitamins is instrumental in helping the muscle cells use and regenerate their energy stores, and also help bring muscle-repairing oxygen to the tissues – preventing major damage and minimizing recovery time. Choline’s main job in the body is to keep the levels of a pro-inflammatory amino acid called homocysteine low in the blood. By doing this, chance of chronic inflammation and irritation caused by muscle use is greatly reduced. Finally, having adequate potassium in the blood and muscle keeps contractions smooth and replenishes the glucose stores in the cells for later use as energy. Try to “load up” on foods rich in these nutrients for at least a week before you know you’ll be stepping up the activity so your body has enough stores to cope.
While you’re in the midst of activity it can be hard to remember the most important key of all when it comes to fighting off muscle soreness – hydration. Most people don’t drink enough water under normal circumstances, and this need is multiplied when we are active. When properly hydrated before, during and after exercise, the muscle fibres are more elastic and the damage caused by movement is lessened. The Institute of Medicine advises an average of 11 cups for adults daily – and a good rule of thumb while exercising is ½-1 cup (4-8 oz) of water every 20 minutes, more often in hot or cold weather. If the exercise is for longer than an hour at a moderate to strenuous pace, replacing carbohydrates and electrolytes with a low-glycemic sports supplement interspersed with still water should be consumed during this time. Examples of storebought formulas are Cytomax® Performance Plus or GU Electrolyte Brew, but they are costly and not strictly necessary for those who are lightly to moderately active (the category for most people at the gym). It is simple to make your own, better balanced blend from 1 part tart cherry juice, 1 part peach juice, 3 parts clear water, 1/4 tsp sea salt - all of which provide electrolytes as well as carbohydrates.
What about after the deed’s been done? Luckily, the speed of recovery is greatly enhanced by the basics of active stretching and proper nutrition choices – relatively simple and a good deal less expensive than massage therapy and painkillers! Increasing foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, zinc, phytonutrients and the amino acid glutamine assist in preventing inflammation, repairing muscle fibres, detoxifying the chemicals created by cellular energy production and relaxing the entire body (preventing cramps and spasms). As well, foods rich in proteases (like bromelian in raw pineapple or papain in papaya) are powerful anti-inflammatory agents due to their activity breaking down the excess proteins that lead to swelling.
Don’t let the weeks go by without regular activity thanks to the fear post-workout pain can cause. Prevent the worst of the damage with proper diet, hydration and physical preparation and accentuate the healing process with more of the same. The burn will soon be only be felt while on the StairMaster and not two days later!