Muscle soreness is an unavoidable side effect of endurance training. The only way to avoid post-exercise muscle soreness completely is to avoid exercise.
However, there are several things you can do to minimize muscle soreness caused mainly by damage to muscle proteins without sacrificing fitness. Some obvious ones include warming up and cooling down properly and building up your training workload very gradually.
More: Recovery Nutrition Guidelines After Hard Exercise
Less known and less widely practiced are some nutritional means of minimizing post-exercise muscle soreness that are based on cutting-edge sports science research.
By consuming the right balance of nutrients before, during, and immediately following workouts, this research shows, you can minimize the amount of muscle protein degradation that is caused by workouts and maximize the rate of post-exercise muscle protein repair and rebuilding.
More: The Role of Protein in Exercise Recovery
And this will allow you to perform better in your key workouts and bounce back quicker afterward.
Start With a Full Tank
Carbohydrate, mainly in the form of muscle glycogen, is the primary fuel for moderate- to high-intensity exercise. But amino acids, supplied in part through the breakdown of muscle proteins, also provide some energy. The longer a workout or competition lasts, the less carbohydrate contributes and the more amino acids contribute to the body's energy needs.
More: Are You Eating Enough Carbs?
Athletes can minimize the number of muscle proteins that must be broken down to supply energy by beginning their workouts with more glycogen stored in their muscles.
In a university study, subjects performed a prolonged one-leg strength exercise first with a randomly chosen leg and then with the opposite leg. They began the workout with normal glycogen levels in one leg (again randomly chosen) and depleted glycogen levels in the other. The researchers found that muscle protein breakdown was much greater in the glycogen-depleted leg than in the normal leg during the course of the workout.
More: Why Are Carbs Important?
It is important, then, that athletes top off their muscle glycogen stores before workouts. The best way to do this is to eat a meal comprising mostly low- to moderate-glycemic carbohydrates two to three hours before exercise.
In a Penn State University study, one group of athletes ate a rolled-oats cereal (moderate-glycemic) while another group ate a puffed-rice cereal (high-glycemic) before a stationary cycling test. Both breakfasts contained 75 grams of total carbohydrate.