If there’s one thing we’d like less of its sore muscles after a workout! On the other hand, muscle soreness is a sign that you’ve worked your muscles harder than they’re accustomed to. That’s good because challenging your muscles can facilitate growth. But it would be nice to feel a little less stiff and sore after a workout!
The typical soreness you feel when you’ve worked your muscles harder than they’re accustomed to is called delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS and it usually shows up 24 to 48 hours after a challenging workout. Fortunately, you don’t feel the discomfort of DOMS every time you train. That’s because your muscles adapt to the stress that caused them to feel sore and it’s no longer a novel stimulus.
Are there specific foods you can eat or beverages you can sip to minimize those sore, stiff muscles? Studies have looked at whether certain foods or supplements can prevent or minimize delayed onset muscle soreness. For example, studies suggest that a modest dose of caffeine before a workout helps tame delayed-onset muscle soreness. Caffeine even helps performance with some types of exercise. Also, of interest is the fact that certain amino acids may help limit post-workout soreness. As you’ll soon see, one, in particular, has been the focus of research.
Eccentric Contractions and Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
What kind of workouts bring about the most soreness? The type of exercise that’s most damaging to muscle fibers are eccentric contractions, a type of contraction where the muscle lengthens under tension. For example, when you lower a weight during a biceps curl, the biceps shorten or create tension to keep the weight from dropping too quickly. So, eccentric contractions help you control the weight and maintain good form when you do an exercise. You also eccentrically contract your muscles when you run downhill.
Here’s the kicker. Eccentric contractions lead to greater amounts of muscle fiber damage relative to concentric contractions, those where the muscle shortens. So, you’re likely to feel sorer after a workout that emphasizes eccentric contractions. Eccentric contractions also create more structural damage to the muscle fibers and this leads to greater stiffness and soreness. The discomfort of DOMS usually shows up 24 to 72 hours after a workout. Unfortunately, it can stick around for a few days and, less commonly, up to a week. Sometimes, it can be severe enough to make working out difficult.
Amino Acids and Muscle Soreness
Amino acids are the building blocks of muscle protein. Taurine is an amino acid you can get through diet and your body can make. The best sources of taurine are meat, dairy, and seafood, although some plant foods contain taurine as well. Some research suggests that taurine in conjunction with branched-chain amino acids may reduce delayed onset muscle soreness. We know that branched-chain amino acids, including leucine, isoleucine, and valine, are important for muscle hypertrophy. Leucine, in particular, turns on pathways that synthesize new muscle tissue.
One study looked at the effects of taurine and branched chain amino acids on delayed-onset muscle soreness. In the study, 36 healthy, untrained men consumed 2.0 grams of taurine and 3.2 grams of branched-chain amino acid three times per day while others consumed a placebo. The men consumed the supplements 14 days prior to eccentric exercise that involved elbow flexion. The results? Markers of muscle damage were lower in the men who consumed the taurine/branched-chain amino acid combination relative to those who took a placebo.
Another small study found similar benefits. Carried out on 10 healthy young men, the guys took it twice daily 72 hours after a workout that involved eccentric contractions of their biceps. The subjects experienced reduced muscle damage after eccentrically exercising their biceps when they took taurine beforehand. In this study, the guys took it twice daily 72 hours after the workout. This adds to a growing body of evidence that taurine may help alleviate delayed-onset muscle soreness, especially in the setting of branched-chain amino acids.
How Does Taurine Work?
Research shows that taurine has antioxidant properties. As such, it may reduce inflammation in the muscles you’ve just worked and this may reduce soreness. Taurine may have other health and fitness benefits as well. Some studies show that taurine can increase exercise endurance. For example, runners and cyclists were able to go farther without experiencing fatigue when they took taurine. Another study found that taurine may increase fat burning during a workout. Still, other research suggests that taurine helps with blood sugar control and helps lower blood pressure by reducing arterial stiffness. Getting sufficient amounts of taurine is also important for heart health.
How to Get Taurine
If you consume a varied diet that includes meat, dairy or seafood and you get enough dietary protein, you may already get enough taurine in your diet. However, vegetarian and vegan diets are typically low in this amino acid. Studies show that vegans have reduced levels of taurine relative to people who eat a diet that includes some animal products. However, your body can make taurine from the amino acid cysteine and cysteine is found in plant-based foods. So, even if you’re a vegan, you can boost the amount of taurine muscle have access to by consuming more plant-based protein sources. You also find taurine in energy drinks, as an additive, but sipping energy drinks isn’t the healthiest way to get this amino acid. Supplements, too, are available, although the quality of supplements varies due to lack of regulation.
The Bottom Line
Taurine may reduce muscle soreness, although you might have to take a supplement to get the full benefits. Getting enough dietary taurine may have other benefits, especially for the health of your heart. If you eat a vegetarian or vegan diet, make sure you’re eating enough plant-based protein sources that contain cysteine. How about a supplement? That’s something to discuss with your physician.
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