What Is Recovery?
If you’re anything like me, now that we are two weeks into the New Year, our resolutions or general fitness goals are starting to face some hurdles. Whether travel is starting to pick up at the office, your to-do list is piling up, or after-school activities are starting again for your children, staying on top of your goals starts to get more difficult. We start to face a lot of obstacles that seem to be out of our control. One thing we can do is focus on the things that we can control. For me, that is making sure that every day when I wake up I feel the same.
“Wait, what? Isn’t eating better and exercising more, going to make me feel better every day? Why would you want to feel the same when you’re putting in a ton of effort to get fit?”
Yes, eating better and exercising more frequently will, over time increase your energy levels and make you feel better. But, it also is going to come with some physical fatigue and muscle soreness in the short term. That being said, if I can make an effort to reduce my muscle soreness and wake up feeling just as fresh as I did the day before, then I have prepared myself to tackle my goals with a ton of intensity. It’s when you wake up feeling like you can’t move your legs, that you give yourself an excuse to stay in bed or take that unplanned “rest day.”
One way to think of it is as returning to a baseline so that you can push harder the next day. My baseline will continue to rise over time and therefore my fitness is elevated over time. I may feel the “same,” but my baseline is higher than where it was previously. Getting back to my baseline involves several factors, but feeling less sore is a piece that I feel I have control over.
So, without further ado, let’s find how 3 simple ways to reduce muscle soreness!
1) Self-Myofascial Release
The first way to reduce soreness involves using a foam roller, lacrosse or tennis ball, roller stick, or any object that you can use to massage your muscle tissue. Seriously, I had a PT use the handle of a spoon once along with lubricant to release some scar tissue and it worked wonders! In conducting a systematic review, Cheatham et al. showed that foam rolling after high-intensity exercise helped prevent “decrements in lower extremity muscle performance and reduces perceived pain in subjects” (1). That is to say, taking 10 to 20 minutes after doing high-intensity exercise helped prevent power loss in the subject’s leg, as well as helping to reduce the muscle soreness.
In one particular study examined by Cheatham et al., the participants performed 10 sets of 10 repetitions on the back squat with 60% of their 1 rep max (seriously, who signs up for these studies?), with the intention to induce DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness. DOMS is actually a minor muscle strain that occurs from engaging in new or high-intensity activity and can result in muscle stiffness and soreness that lasts up to 7 days! (2,3).
After engaging in the exercise protocol subjects then completed a 20-minute foam rolling session. “Foam rolling reduced subjects pain levels at all post-test points while improving post-test vertical jump height, muscle activation, and joint ROM in comparison with the control group” (1). Not only, did foam rolling help the participants feel less sore it actually kept them from having detriments in performance for up to three days after a highly intense exercise session (1). Likewise, this is of particular value in the New Year when we are starting a new routine or trying out a new form of exercise to challenge ourselves.
2) Supplement with Amino Acids (BCAAs)
Drawing back on this idea of feeling the same or getting back to our baseline, another factor we can control is our diet and supplementation. That is to say, amino acids and the BCAAs in particular, are an excellent tool to help us reduce muscle soreness. This was shown in a study conducted at East Tennessee State University with collegiate distance runners. The runners went through their training either on placebo or supplementing with Amino VITAL®.
Each week they would alternate between supplementing with a placebo and Amino VITAL® so that each person would act as their own control group. The study lasted 6 weeks and showed a statistically significant difference in the soreness the athletes reported between weeks supplementing with Amino VITAL® vs placebo. What does this mean for you and me? To sum it up, it means that supplementing with amino acids can help us feel less sore day to day, meaning we can work in more training and with a higher intensity. (2)
DOMs and BCAAs
Amino acids and the BCAAs, in particular, can also help us reduce the effects of DOMs, which as mentioned before can inhibit performance for several days. Shimomura et al. had participants exert a maximal force on a leg extension test and then had them perform a DOMs inducing routine of 7 sets of 20 squats. After that, three days later the participants were asked to perform the exact same leg extension test for maximal force output.
Those who supplemented with BCAAs before were able to exert the same amount of force as they did on the initial test, while the control only exerted about 80% of their initial test. That is a 20% drop in performance 3 days after doing some intense exercise! In short, if you can control for some of that muscle soreness through supplementation, then you are going to have the ability to give a higher performance in subsequent days (4).
3) Engage in Active Recovery
Finally, one thing we can do to help us get back to our baseline is engaging in in moderate-intensity aerobic activity. By this point, it should be apparent that what we do before during and after our workout greatly impacts how we feel and perform for the next few days.
A study by Tufano et al. showed that moderate-intensity cycling for 20 minutes following a DOMs inducing protocol actually improved peak isometric strength three days after the testing (think of isometric exercise as holding a peak contraction, such as planking). This is compared to both a control group who did no active recovery and a low-intensity cycling group. Similarly, all groups experienced an increase in pain after the exercise protocol, but the control and low-intensity group remained constant in their isometric strength. The moderate intensity group, on the other hand, actually experienced an increase in isometric strength three days after the exercise and recovery protocol (5).
Tufano et al. attribute this increase to isometric strength, despite still experiencing muscle soreness, due to the increased blood flow to the muscles. The increased blood flow will help carry away waste products and bring key nutrients to the muscles, therefore aiding recovery (5).
Okay, so we now have three tools to help us reduce muscle soreness and help us get back to our baseline for the next day. What does this all look like on a practical level? In an ideal world, we would have enough time to foam roll and get on the bike for a 20 minutes cooldown ride. But, for most of us, that just isn’t feasible. What do we do? How do we prioritize?
To start, we can all supplement with amino acids. It takes minimal effort to mix in some Amino VITAL® with our water after a workout. Rapid Recovery® provides our body with the key nutrients it needs to start the recovery process. They also come in convenient single serve stick packs so you can take them with you on a run or to the gym.
Next, my recommendation is to base your recovery protocol on how you intense your workout was and what you enjoy doing. Personally, the foam roller is an everyday tool because I find it really enjoyable. Using it for 10 minutes after every workout has become a part of my routine. Whether I get on the bike for 20 minutes, in addition, will be dependent on how intense my workout was that day or how much time I have. For you, moderate aerobic activity may be a more enjoyable way to recover and the foam roller secondary. Either way, we need to make sure we are taking care of our bodies so that we can tackle our 2019 fitness goals!
Cheatham, S. W., Kolber, M. J., Cain, M., & Lee, M. (2015). THE EFFECTS OF SELF-MYOFASCIAL RELEASE USING A FOAM ROLL OR ROLLER MASSAGER ON JOINT RANGE OF MOTION, MUSCLE RECOVERY, AND PERFORMANCE: A SYSTEMATIC REVIEW. International journal of sports physical therapy, 10(6), 827-38.
Flynn, A., Whiton, T., & Sato, K. (2018). Branched-chain Amino Acid Supplementation May Produce Marginal Reductions in Muscular Soreness in CollegiateDistance Runners. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,50, 588.
Petchonka, A. (2012). Reducing Muscle Soreness and Muscle Damage: A Role for Branched-Chain Amino Acids. Journal of Sports Medicine & Doping Studies,02(05), 2-5.
Shimomura, Y., Inaguma, A., Watanabe, S., Yamamoto, Y., Muramatsu, Y., Bajotto, G., . . . Mawatari, K. (2010). Branched-Chain Amino Acid Supplementation before Squat Exercise and Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,20(3), 236-244.
Tufano, J. J., Brown, L. E., Coburn, J. W., Tsang, K. K., Cazas, V. L., & Laporta, J. W. (2012). Effect of Aerobic Recovery Intensity on Delayed-Onset Muscle Soreness and Strength. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research,26(10), 2777-2782.