We’ve all felt the effects of soreness before. Slow movement. Stiff body. Aches and pains coursing through every individual muscle fiber as you limp around the house after a heavy leg day. Whether you just finished a long bike ride or you’re waking up after a tough workout, muscle soreness is the recurring byproduct of an athletic lifestyle. “Get used to it now or find a comfortable spot on the couch because it’s not going to stop anytime soon,” my very first trainer told me.
The good news, though, is that there are several ways to speed up the recovery process and heal those stiff, sore muscles! You don’t have to just sit and suffer through the aching. Let’s talk about 5 of the most popular ways to alleviate the soreness and get your body back to feeling 100%.
If you’re even remotely into fitness, you know that protein is considered to be the king of all nutrients. Why? Because protein is the key nutrient used in the production of muscles (among many other bodily benefits).
Working out creates small micro tears in the muscle tissue, which is what causes the soreness you feel after exercise. The muscular aches and pains are your body’s way of saying, “Hey, my muscles are damaged, please repair them!” That’s where protein comes in.
Protein will rebuild the torn muscle fibers, making them bigger and stronger to resist future tears and therefore alleviating soreness in the process because your muscle fibers are being healed. This is why many trainers and athletes recommend drinking a protein shake immediately after a workout, so that the protein can get a quick start on healing the damaged fibers and reducing the impact of soreness.
In addition to drinking a protein shake right after a workout, it can also greatly help to drink one right before bed. Sleep plays an important role in muscle recovery too (which we’ll talk about in a minute), so adding a little protein to your body just before sleep can help speed up the recovery process and get rid of the soreness you’re experiencing.
Taking nutrition to the next level, branched-chain amino acids are a crucial supplement that people tend to overlook when it comes to muscle production. BCAAs are well-known for stimulating protein synthesis and inhibiting the breakdown of muscle cells, two very important benefits because it works the recovery process from both angles (speeding up production and slowing down breakdown).
There are a total of nine amino acids that are essential to the body, but three in particular should be at the top of your list if you’re looking for a good BCAA supplement. Those three are leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These three little amino acids account for over 30% of muscle tissue and are considered fuel to the muscle-building fire, leucine being nearly 10 times more powerful than any of the other amino acids.
In addition to the muscular micro tears we talked about in the protein section above, another reason your muscles ache after a workout is due to lactic acid buildup and knots in the tissue. While a foam roller is merely external and can’t aid in the actual repair of your muscle fibers, it allows you to target the exact areas you’re sore and release the built-up pressure that’s keeping your muscles tight and immobile.
Using a foam roller to massage your muscles is probably the most immediate form of soreness relief that exists. If you’ve never done it before, I want to give you a fair warning that it can be a little painful in the beginning. Think about it like any good massage though; it may be painful during the process, but the result is a completely relaxed body that’s feeling better than ever.
Staying hydrated is important in all general aspects of life, that’s nothing new. But exercise really drains your body of water and a lot of people fail to rehydrate properly after exercising. We talked above about protein rebuilding the muscle fibers due to the micro tears after a workout. But guess what? Protein synthesis and that muscle production can’t take place if there isn’t enough water in the cells, delaying the muscle recovery process and keeping your body sore until it gets the water it needs.
If that isn’t enough to get you drinking a lot of water each day, prolonged dehydration can even cause your body to start breaking down muscle tissue in a frantic search for hydration, so keep that in mind as well. This is why you’ll often see people in the gym with those gallon-jugs of water to make sure they never push the body off the ledge into dehydration mode.
Surprise, surprise, the final method of ensuring quick muscle recovery is sleep! Okay, maybe that’s not a surprise at all, but you’d be shocked how many people do not get an adequate amount of rest each night. Rest is when your body is able to rebuild muscle best because it can synthesize protein faster than the muscle can break it down. Therefore, the more sleep you get, the more time your body has for muscle production.
This is why I recommended earlier to drink a protein shake before bed. Since your body is in prime muscle production mode, giving it a solid source of protein to use will really help keep the recovery process moving quick. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re going to notice massive gains and sore-free muscles overnight, but it certainly will add fuel to the fire in a very good way.
Wrapping It Up
Muscle soreness is inevitable, but the amount of time your muscles stay sore is completely up to you. Muscle recovery is within your personal control, and if you use each one of the methods in this list to your advantage, it will help you craft you a well-rounded routine to speed up the recovery process from all angles.
Protein, BCAAs, and water will ensure your muscles are fed with the right nutrition for repair and production. Sleep will ensure your body is given a solid amount of downtime for that production to actually take place. And foam rolling will give you the immediate external relief you’re looking for while the internal production happens beneath the surface.