Exercise-induced muscle damage occurs after unaccustomed exercise. It was firstly described in 1902 as a delayed muscle soreness being already suggested that it was caused by microtears in the muscles.
Nowadays it is accepted that exercise-induced damage results in pain, soreness, inflammation and reduced muscle function, often accompanied by an increase in intramuscular enzymes levels and inflammation markers. All these effects are annoying and may potentially affect training levels and athletic performance. It is a temporary damage, but when time is limited it can be useful to reduce recovery time to a minimum.
There a lot of techniques used for recovery (massage, cryotherapy, stretching…) with varied results, but there is also the possibility of counteracting muscle damage with specific foods or supplements, that we will cover in this entrance.
Blackcurrants and cherries are rich in anthocyanins, natural pigments with potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, helpful in reducing symptoms of muscle damage.
Pineapple is rich in bromelain, with anti-inflammatory properties. Its supplementation improves muscle function, reduces soreness and increase pain threshold.
Pomegranate juice is rich in ellagitannins, a polyphenol with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Significative reductions in soreness were seen with 15 days of 500mL consumption in resistance-trained subjects.
Watermelon juice also showed improvements in soreness levels. It is rich in L-citrulline, with antioxidant properties and precursor of nitric oxide, key factor in vessels vasodilation.
Plants and herbs
We already dedicated one of our entries to beetroot juice. You can find it here. Briefly it is rich in dietary nitrates and betalains, with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and its consumption is linked to a faster recovery time between exercise bouts.
Green tea is known for being rich in polyphenols, with potent antioxidant effects. Results have been contradictory. Consumption for 13 weeks prior to downhill running (40min at 65% VO2max) decreased soreness 48h after exercise, although other studies didn´t show any effect.
Other spices and less know herbs also showed promising results. Among them we could talk about curcumin (derived from the spice turmeric) that ameliorates muscle damage, ginger, for faster recovery, and ginseng, that reduced markers of muscle damage. Nevertheless, more studies are needed for all these compounds.
Amino Acid and Protein Supplements
Branched chain amino acids, or BCAA, are quite popular. Its supplementation at levels of at least 200mg/kg/day for a minimum of 10 days could be effective in reducing moderate muscle damage.
Creatine is used as energy substrate, but also has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. Its supplementation had mixed results, although it shows some promise in attenuating damage induced by endurance or sprint exercise.
β-hydroxy-β-methylbutyrate, or HMB, may improve biochemical measures of exercise induced muscle damage by increasing protein synthesis and decreasing muscle protein breakdown. Supplementation ranged from 0.3 to 3 g/day for a period between 2 and 6 weeks prior to effort.
L-glutamine has shown in several publications that may improve muscle function and reduce biomarkers of damage. It has been suggested to improve immune function and replenish plasma levels of glutamine, that decrease during prolonged exercise.
Taurine has also antioxidant effects and has been suggested to regulate calcium homeostasis in skeletal and cardiac muscle tissues, that could make it useful for attenuating muscle damage.
Vitamins C and E supplementation offered mixed results, while vitamin D was the subject of a recent entry where we explained its effects extensively.
Specialized waters are also becoming a focus of interest recently. Deep ocean mineral water consumption after workout improved markers of muscular damage after a single bout of fatiguing treadmill exercise (40% VO2max until 3% body mass lost). These results were confirmed in later studies and using bedrock mineral water too.
As you can see, and we have gone only through some of them, there are many compounds with potentially promising results in delaying/avoiding effects on exercise-induced muscle damage, although more studies are necessary to completely understand their effects.
Nutritional and Supplementation Strategies to Prevent and Attenuate Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: a Brief Review
Harty PS, Cottet ML, Malloy JK, Kerksick CM
Sports Medicine – Open volume 5, Article number: 1 (2019)