Bodybuilders and athletes routinely consume supplements for workout recovery. Several studies have identified dietary supplements that improve recovery, inhibit muscle loss and muscle soreness.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is ultrastructural muscle injury caused by eccentric or unfamiliar exercise. DOMS is a perfectly normal body response when you resume a certain training program after some time.
Symptoms of DOMS include “reduced force capacities, increased painful restriction of movement, stiffness, swelling, and dysfunction of adjacent joints” (1). The symptoms can last up to 24 to 48 hours.
The ultimate consequences of muscle soreness are a reduction in exercise performance and slow workout progress.
Therefore, decreasing muscle soreness duration will get you ready for the next session and keep you on track.
Various dietary supplements have been shown to reduce muscle soreness and damage.
This article describes the best dietary supplements proven by scientific research to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery after a workout.
Coffee is the most popular drink in the world. Roasted coffee contains more than 1,000 bioactive compounds, many having antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects (2).
Caffeine is the most famous active ingredient in coffee. It is also found in more than 60 plants.
Caffeine improves mental alertness, attention and also has ergogenic effects (3).
A randomized control study used 5 mg caffeine per kg of body weight per day, which is equal to 2 and a half cups of brewed coffee. The caffeine supplementation 1 hour before exercise significantly reduced the muscle soreness 2-3 days after exercise (4).
Another study used 6 mg caffeine per kg of body weight before exercise and reported that caffeine intake improved recovery from exercise, decreased muscle damage, and muscle soreness in both men and women (5).
But not all studies show a reduction in muscle soreness after consumption of caffeine (6).
Various studies used a daily dose of 5 to 6 mg caffeine per kg of body weight and found a reduction in soreness and improvement in recovery. Therefore, a dosage of 5 to 6 g per kg of body weight may benefit exercise performance.
Caffeine is part of many food items including, sugary drinks, soda, and energy drinks. But these products are highly processed, are not a good source of caffeine.
Coffee and green tea as well isolated caffeine supplements are good sources of caffeine.
2) Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) that cannot be produced in high enough quantities in the body, so they must be acquired from dietary sources.
The major source of omega-3 is fish oil. DHA and EPA are the most studied omega-3 types acquired from fish oil.
Omega-3 fatty acids decrease muscle soreness in several ways.
The intake of omega-3 can reduce inflammation. Omega-3 is converted to prostaglandins, which act like hormones, increasing blood flow and reducing inflammation (7).
A research study found that the intake of 1.8 g per day of omega-3 containing 324 mg EPA and 216 mg DHA, for 30 days before strenuous exercise, significantly reduced the onset of soreness compared to no use (8).
Similarly, the use of 2.7 g per day of omega-3 for 30 days before starting a heavy workout resulted in increased omega-3 tissue levels, reduced muscle soreness and pain. The use of omega-3 supplements did not cause any adverse effects (9).
Intake of 3 g per day of omega-3 for 7 days also resulted in a reduction in muscle soreness (10).
Research shows that long-term use can beneficial for health. For workout and recovery, many studies reported that the use of 1.8 to 3 g omega-3 per day reduced muscle soreness.
Omega-3 is abundant in oily fish and seafood, nuts, and seeds. Fish oil supplements are also a source of omega-3.
Glutamine, also known as L-glutamine, is the most abundant amino acid in the human body. It is a non-essential amino acid, meaning that our bodies can make this amino acid in the body, and we don’t require it from the diet. However, glutamine can be acquired from the diet.
The abundance of glutamine makes it available for antioxidant enzymes, the immune system, and cellular pathways where it performs vital functions (11).
Research shows that glutamine can improve recovery from an intense workout.
A double-blind study used 0.3 g glutamine per kg of body weight for 4 consecutive days starting immediately after eccentric exercise in young men. Glutamine use reduced soreness and muscle weakness compared to no use. Therefore, short-term glutamine use is effective in exercise recovery (12).
In a study, young men engaging in eccentric exercise showed significant improvement in recovery and reduction in muscle soreness after oral glutamine consumption. The glutamine supplement was used for 4 weeks with the amounts of 0.1 g glutamine per kg of body weight, 3 times per week (13).
Another double-blind placebo control used 0.3 g glutamine per kg of body weight used for 4 days showed a marked decrease in muscle soreness and improve recovery (14).
Glutamine use did not cause any adverse effects in these studies.
Various studies used different amounts of glutamine for short-term studies. Most studies used between 0.1 to 0.5 g glutamine per kg of body weight to see improvement in recovery and reduction in muscle soreness.
Foods high in proteins are a good source of glutamine. Some examples are:
- Dairy (cheese, yogurt)
Taurin is a naturally occurring sulfur-containing compound produced from amino acid cysteine. It has an antioxidant function and also provides protein stabilization and cell protection against pathogens (15).
The use of taurine supplements can reduce muscle soreness after a workout.
A randomized control study using 50 mg taurine per kg of body weight daily for 21 days showed a significant decrease in oxidative stress and muscle soreness (16).
A similar study reported the use of taurine amounts of 100 mg per kg of body weight per day for 3 days following hard exercise led to a reduction in muscle soreness and damage (17).
A combination of BCAA and taurine is shown to improve recovery. Intake of 3.2 g BCAA and 2.0 g taurine 3 times per day for 2 weeks before starting workout resulted in better recovery from workout and reduction in soreness (18).
Many studies used between 50 and 100 mg taurine per kg per day. A 70 kg individual may use between 3.5 to 7 g of taurine per day.
Taurine dosage up to 10 g per day showed no adverse effects, thus, it is well-tolerated (19).
Animal products are high in taurine (20).
Taurine can be found in
Taurine is also available as a supplement. They are available in capsule and powder form.
5) Tart cherry juice
Tart cherries (Prunus cerasus L.) or Montmorency cherries possess a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammation due to the presence of polyphenols including anthocyanins.
The intake of tart cherry juice may reduce muscle pain and soreness.
Intake of 355 ml tart cherry juice twice daily for 7 days before physical running reduced muscle pain compared to no use (21).
Another study asked participants to take tart cherry concentrate 30 ml twice per day for 5 days before doing physical exercise. The intake reduced muscle soreness and inflammation indicator IL-6 in participants compared to no use (22)
The intake of 8 ounces (240 ml) twice daily for 5 days before a marathon run resulted in reduced inflammation and better recovery compared to no use (23).
Tart cherry Dosage
Many studies used 8 ounces twice daily tart cherry juice to see a reduction in inflammation. 8 ounces tart cherry juice is equivalent to 50-60 cherries, containing at least 600 mg polyphenols.
Some other studies used 30 ml tart cherry concentrate twice daily and saw a reduction in inflammation, muscle soreness, and increased recovery.
Tart cherries sources
Tart cherries are available in the market in dried. Supplements of tart cherries are also sold in the market.
6) Beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB)
HMB is a popular supplement consumed by bodybuilders and athletes as an ergogenic aid.
It is a metabolite of amino acid leucine that has been implicated in muscle protein synthesis.
Several benefits of leucine intake may come from HMB because it has been shown to increase muscle strength and lean muscle mass.
Research shows that HMB promotes lean muscle mass and muscle strength in a dose-dependent manner. The use of either 1.5 g or 3 g per day HMB reduced muscle damage and improved muscle function.
The use of 3 g per day HMB had better results compared to low amounts (24).
The use of 3 g per day of each HMB and alpha-ketoisocaproic acid (KIC), another metabolite of leucine, for 14 days reduced muscle soreness in men with no prior exposure to resistance training (25).
The HMB and creatine can be a powerful combination. The use of 3 g HMB and 10-20 g creatine per day for 3 weeks significantly increased lean body mass and decreased muscle damage. Creatine alone could not decrease muscle damage (26).
Similar research found that intake of 3 to 6 g per day HMB for 8 weeks increased exercise performance, lean mass, and reduction in muscle damage in untrained men (27).
Various studies reported the use of 3 g per day HMB for up to 3 weeks showed benefits in lean mass muscle development, reduction in soreness, and increased recovery.
HMB at high doses does not give any additional benefits.
HMB is not present in high quantities in foods. Some food sources such as grapefruit and catfish have small quantities. The most common sources are HMB dietary supplements.
Curcumin is a bioactive compound found in turmeric. Turmeric is a herb belonging to the ginger family, used in cooking as a natural coloring agent in South Asian countries.
Curcumin has a strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory function. Studies show that curcumin can accelerate wound healing and reduce pain (28,29).
Several research studies have shown that the intake of curcumin supplements can reduce soreness after an intense workout.
A study in healthy men used 450 mg curcumin extract as a daily supplement. The intake significantly reduced muscle pain after exercise.
It also reduced inflammation and the accumulation of lactate in the muscle. This resulted in better recovery and a quicker return to the exercise (30).
Another study used commercially available curcumin (Theracurmin) containing 90 mg bioactive curcumin.
Twice daily use amounting to 180 mg curcumin per day for 7 days reduced muscle soreness, inflammation, and improved recovery after an intense workout (31).
Another study used 2.5 g curcumin capsules twice daily 2 days before and 3 days after the intense exercise. The results showed a marked decrease in pain and soreness (32).
Various studies used commercially available curcumin supplements with special delivery systems because curcumin has poor absorption in the body.
More bioavailable curcumin requires a low amount. Studies have used between 0.01 g to 6 g curcumin per day.
For example, one study used highly bioavailable curcumin at 180 mg per day. Other studies used up to 5 g per day to see a reduction in muscle soreness and inflammation.
Turmeric is the source of curcumin. Turmeric powder contains substantial amounts of curcumin.
Curcumin supplements with enhanced absorption are available in the market.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) can hamper fitness progress. Reducing the duration of muscle soreness can accelerate workout progress and give you an edge in achieving fitness goals.
Dietary supplements including caffeine, omega-3, glutamine, tart cherry, HMB, and curcumin have been shown to reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery.
Intake of these supplements in appropriate amounts around the workout greatly improves recovery.