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Taking the pain out of DOMS

Taking the pain out of DOMS slider 1 Taking the pain out of DOMS slider 2 Taking the pain out of DOMS slider 3

By Peter Langford

It’s two days after that tough match and you are still feeling the effects. In this issue, fitness and exercise guru Peter Langford offers advice on understanding and overcoming DOMS.

 

We all know about training for sport. Athletes work hard to gain fitness and improve their performance. But one area where a lot of us tend to fall down is with our recovery after exercise.

This also seems to be one of the the most fertile areas for old wives’ tales, urban myths and anecdotal observations. There is a lot of misinformation and a definite lack of science to back up what athletes do to recover from strenuous exercise.

What is DOMS?

Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, or DOMS, is the soreness athletes experience in the day or two following strenuous exercise. Research suggests that this is due to microscopic injury to the muscle cells themselves. Athletes are continually searching for ways to limit the effect of DOMS.This allows them to compete and train consistently at a high level of intensity.

There are a number of topics discussed in this article commonly used as part of an athlete’s recovery regime. We will provide you with some general guidance on these based on what the science tells us.

ACTIVITY

The theory is that following a high intensity workout with some low intensity activity helps to increase circulation to the muscles and deliver more oxygen, thereby assisting the muscle cells to heal and reduce the pain of DOMS.

What the science tells us:

  • Active recovery does have some benefits in reducing DOMS
  • Active recovery has been found to be superior to just rest
  • There are no proven guidelines around which activities work best or the optimal amount of time you need to be active
  • COMPRESSION

    Compression garments have become a mainstay for a lot of athletes and their recovery regime over the past 10 years. There are innumerable brands designs and colours on the market packed with high-tech features. But do they actually work?

    The theory is that stopping your limbs from swelling after exercise helps to reduce the body’s inflammatory response. The idea is that it improves blood flow which, in turn, helps to remove the waste products caused by exercise and enhances the delivery of oxygen to to the tissues.

    A variety of studies have been performed to investigate the effects of compression garments. As is often the case, a number of these were sponsored by manufacturers of these garments. Other independent studies have been performed which, overall, have shown some beneficial effects.

    What the science tells us:

  • There is a decrease in self-reported DOMS by the study participants
  • There is no improvement in athletic performance if these garments are worn during competition
  • There is some improvement in the reduction of markers in the blood indicating inflammation and muscle injury by wearing compression garments
  • There is faster improvement in muscle strength following strenuous exercise if compression garments are worn after exercise
  • Compression garments are most beneficial when worn 24-48 hrs after exercise
  • There is no obvious distinction between the degree of pressure applied and its effect on recovery
  • Compression devices have become popular in the past few years for higher level athletes. These are inflatable devices attached to a pump which sequentially inflate to squeeze the limb like a tube of toothpaste.

    These devices had their origins in hospitals where they are commonly used to prevent blood clots in people who are bed bound. Whether they are any more effective than compression garments is really yet to be determined and certainly the expense involved in buying one of these machines probably would not be justifiable for the average amateur athlete.

    COLD WATER IMMERSION

    It is now commonplace to see elite athletes plunged into baths of icy water following competition. The theory is to reduce the inflammatory response in the body after exertion, thereby allowing for quicker recovery.

    What the science tells us:

  • There is little evidence to show that cold water immersion is effective in helping with recovery
  • It can be useful in reducing your core body temperature in you are competing in hot conditions
  • If the athlete is submerged deep enough there may be a compression benefit from the hydrostatic pressure exerted by the water on the limbs
  • NUTRITION

    Let me start by making it clear that sports nutrition is outside my scope of expertise. However I can share a few basic principles based on what current evidence tells us.

    Hydration

    What the science tells us:

  • Water is still the preferred choice for hydration during and after exercise
  • Sports drinks are effective in giving rapid rehydration, replenishing electrolytes and providing carbohydrates
  • Sports drinks are formulated to be used after strenuous activity. They can be valuable when used appropriately
  • Energy

    The human body stores energy as glycogen. When you exercise, your body burns your stored glycogen as fuel. After exercise most athletes will replenish their glycogen stores over the following 24 hours.

    What the science tells us:

  • Eating carbohydrates immediately after exercise will restore your body’s glycogen levels faster than if you delay it
  • Eating high GI (glycaemic index) foods after exercise, that is carbohydrates that your body can break down quickly, has been proven to speed up your body’s ability to produce glycogen
  • It is recommended that athletes consume 1.0 to 1.5g of carbohydrates per kg of body mass within 30 minutes of exercise
  • Most athletes can replenish their body’s glycogen levels just by having adequate carbohydrates in their daily diet
  • Repair

    Protein supplements are often used by athletes post-workout. The theory is that flooding the body with protein can assist in repair of damaged muscle and speed up recovery.

    What the science tells us:

  • There is no strong evidence to suggest that the consumption of protein after exercise speeds up recovery
  • There is evidence to show that consuming protein after exercise does help to build muscle bulk
  • The optimal amount of protein to consume after exercise is 20g
  • Consuming more than 20g of protein after exercise is of no benefit. Your body cannot use any extra and will break it down to be passed in your urine
  • MASSAGE

    Massage has been a common recovery tool used by athletes of all levels for a long time. Scientifically, it is very hard to find good evidence to prove the effectiveness of massage in helping the body to repair and clear itself of metabolic by-products from exercise.

    What the science tells us:

  • Massage can have a small effect on improving the clearance of metabolic by-products
  • In most studies the participants report improvement in their DOMS even if they have little significant changes in the metabolic by-products in their blood
  • This effect may be due to psychological factors or hormone release
  • Lymphatic drainage seems to be the most effective type of massage
  • Lymphatic massage is a specialised field and should be performed by someone who has had specific training.
  • Foam rollers have become popular in recent years as a form of self-massage. The use of rollers has actually been found to reduce the effect of DOMS and even improve athletic performance.

    Please remember these modalities have been assessed with specific reference to their effect on recovery. For instance, massage may only have a small effect on recovery but could be far more beneficial for relieving a tight muscle. Ingesting protein may not help to speed up recovery but will help to build muscle. So just because some things may not been very useful for recovery does not mean that they cannot be useful for other reasons.

     

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