Scientific Nutrition Update 11: What is DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)

This episode is all about that awful feeling in your legs the day after a workout that makes you feel like you may never stand again.  Episode and script are right below the fold.


For today’s episode we are going to talk about DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness.  That’s the feeling two days after a leg workout, when you sit down on the toilet and you’re not sure if you are going to make it back up.  It’s a fun feeling for sure, but it’s also pretty interesting because we are not sure exactly how it works.


First of all though we need to get the definition out of the way.  It is just like it sounds like, muscle soreness that is delayed in onset, often coming on after a brief rest and often peaking 1-3 days after the initial exercise.  It is the force that destroys many people who charge into a weight room intent on restarting a long forgotten workout plan, or even starting for the first time. They fly through the weight room and then the next morning cannot get out of bed.  


So now the question becomes what causes this? And there I’m going to kinda shrug my shoulders.  It’s not well understood what causes DOMS. I remember back in my football playing days I was frequently told that it was lactic acid accumulation, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence to support this assertion.  It seems to be more accurately that the pain is a side effect of the repair process for the muscle fibers you damaged while weightlifting.


Remember weightlifting is basically intentionally damaging muscle fibers so that when they heal they will be stronger.  It seems that this soreness can be a byproduct of this repair process. There is also another theory that in short basically claims that this form of exercise can cause a change in the function of an enzyme, causing a buildup of calcium and inflammation.  Honestly I am disappointed to tell you that neither theory is confirmed, and neither one is fully convincing to me.


The issue with the idea of both of these for me, is that I cannot come up with a reason that this effect would be strongest when beginning a new program and why they would seem to disappear once you have adjusted to a training program.  If either of these mechanisms are true, they are not complete, meaning that they are likely working in concert with other mechanisms in order to cause your pain.


Now you may be wondering what you can do to try to minimize the pain and you do have a few options, although none of them are guaranteed.


  1. You can take oral anti-inflammatories

Drugs such as advil (ibuprofen) can reduce the inflammation in your muscles, and help reduce the pain, however it is important for me to note that there are some studies and things in the literature that suggest doing this may slow muscle growth.  So you are likely going to need to be judicious in your usage of these compounds.


  1. Take an ice bath/use ice packs


Again both of these are ways to reduce inflammation.  And I can tell you anecdotally ice baths used to save my legs during two-a-days for football.  I’ve done them both with and without, and the days without the second practice I would sometimes barely be able to get into my stance.


  1. Get a massage


There is anecdotal evidence of people having success with massages to treat muscle soreness, but it is less than convincing to me.  To me this seems more likely to increase inflammation than reduce it, but you are welcome to experiment with it if you like.


  1. Change your mindset


This is my favorite way to handle the problem.  Now, I may be a little bit biased because I’ve played for multiple no pain, no gain coaches, and have done seriously high volume training before, but I honestly relish the pain.  It is a signal from my body that I am changing and I love that signal. If you can convince yourself you love that pain then you are well on your way to feeling much better about it


If you find any great articles on the science of delayed-onset-muscle-soreness or anything else you think I might find interesting email them to me at  If you have any other questions send me a voice message on anchor and I’ll try to answer them on this podcast


If you want to learn more about intermittent fasting consider checking out my book The Optimized Guide to Intermittent Fasting and if you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review, it helps more than you know.  Thank you for tuning in, and remember live long, live healthy, but most of all live happy


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