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For those dedicated trainers out there, skipping a work out is blasphemy. It’s uncomfortable and I know some of us simply itch to get back into the gym. But is it advisable to work when you do have muscle soreness and muscle damage? Short answer – “no” with a “but”. Most of us have felt the pain that comes with working out. Our muscles are sore and it hurts to move our limbs. This is especially evident on hard leg workout days where for the next couple of days, we run away at the sight of stairs….well, more of a hobble really. This soreness commonly called delayed onset muscle soreness (or DOMS for short) is a result of muscle damage caused by our intense workouts, especially those involving eccentric contractions. While the exact mechanism of why we experience muscle soreness is not yet fully understood, a common hypothesis is that muscle damage causes an inflammatory response which causes release of chemicals and extra blood and fluid which can impact on our pain receptors and nerve endings.

Muscle Damage & DOMS

Having muscle damage is not necessarily a bad thing as it has been shown to lead to a ‘repeated bout’ effect.1 That is, performing a second bout of exercise resulted in less damage and faster recovery even if that second exercise bout came 6 months after. That having said, another recent study2 showed that a second exercise bout after extensive muscle damage causes a decrease in growth hormone and adrenaline released during the second exercise bout.

GH & Muscle Growth

Growth hormone is a fantastic anabolic hormone which can lead to production of new cells and regeneration of old cells. A lowered growth hormone response during exercise might compromise your ability to achieve muscle growth and other adaptations. So what to do? There’s no doubt in this author’s mind that progressive overloading of a muscle is important especially if you want increases in muscular growth and strength. Progressive overloading will more often than not cause muscle damage and muscle soreness, which has been shown to be able to last for up to 5 days post workout. While some extent of muscle damage is beneficial, excessive muscle damage can be detrimental to recovery and for subsequent work outs. Having muscle soreness can reduce your capacity to work which won’t help with achieving your growth goals. Furthermore, it is important to know that the level of muscle soreness that you experience does not necessarily translate to how much muscle damage you really have. In other words, you could feel relatively little soreness, but muscle damage can in fact be quite severe.10

Supplements & Recommendations for Muscle Damage/Soreness

Here are some of my top recommendations for training and muscle damage/soreness:

  • Avoid working the same muscle group for 2-4 days after your last session.
  • If level of muscle soreness is still quite high even after 2-3 days, avoid overworking and over damaging the muscles by using extra weight.
  • Do perform lower intensity recovery exercise for that muscle group to promote active recovery.
  • Work out other muscle groups during other days to give adequate rest time for the damaged and sore muscles.
  • If you must work out the same muscle group within 2 days of your last workout, ensure that the volume of training is lowered to avoid further damage.
  • Supplement these workouts with adequate nutrition including BCAA’s3, protein4, carbohydrates5, arginine5 and lysine5 to decrease feelings of muscle soreness and as a way to attenuate losses in growth hormone. (See article on “Growth Hormone and Supplements”)

While it is important to maintain your workouts to be able to see results, remember that overtraining and overworking your muscles will not be doing you any favours. You’ve worked hard, so it is important to rest hard to achieve your goals.

1 Clarkson PM, Hubal MJ. ‘Exercise induced muscle damage in humans.’ Am J Phys Med Rehabil 2002: 81(11): S52–S69.
2 Pullinen T, Mero A, Huttunen P, Pakarinen A, Komi PV. ‘Resistance exercise-induced hormonal response under the influence of delayed onset muscle soreness in men and boys.’ Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Oct 7. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010.01238.x. [Epub ahead of print]
3 Shimomura Y et al. ‘Nutraceutical Effects of Branched-Chain Amino Acids on Skeletal Muscle.’ J. Nutr. February 1, 2006 vol. 136 no. 2 529S-532S.
4 Cooke MB, Rybalka E, Stathis CG, Cribb PJ, Hayes A. ‘Whey protein isolate attenuates strength decline after eccentrically-induced muscle damage in healthy individuals.’ J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2010 Sep 22;7:30.
5 Refer to article on “Growth Hormone and Supplements”.
6 Hamilton-Reeves JM, Vazquez G, Duval SJ, Phipps WR, Kurzer MS, Messina MJ. ‘Clinical studies show no effects of soy protein or isoflavones on reproductive hormones in men: results of a meta-analysis.’ Fertil Steril. 2010 Aug;94(3):997-1007. Epub 2009 Jun 12.
7 Martinez J, Lewi JE. ‘An unusual case of gynecomastia associated with soy product consumption.’ Endocr Pract. 2008 May-Jun;14(4):415-8.
8 Messina M. ‘Soybean isoflavone exposure does not have feminizing effects on men: a critical examination of the clinical evidence.’ Fertil Steril. 2010 May 1;93(7):2095-104. Epub 2010 Apr 8.
9 Kurzer MS. ‘Hormonal effects of soy in premenopausal women and men.’ J Nutr. 2002 Mar;132(3):570S-573S.
10 Nosaka K, Newton M and Sacco P. ‘Delayed-onset muscle soreness does not reflect the magnitude of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.’ Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. December 2002:12(6): 337-346.

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