Since I sent a tweet out on taking a shot of tart cherry juice and a salt bath to stave off soreness after a tough workout I have been bombarded with question about the how’s and why’s – I realize this is a way oversimplified explanation but hopefully it will provide a basic answer to those questions.
DOMS stands for Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. It is that miserable “Oh my GOD I can’t walk feeling you get the day or two after a hard workout. It is commonly thought of as a result of a build up of lactic acid in the muscle.
Lactic acid is a metabolic byproduct of working out – well, any anaerobic muscular activity and current research indicates that it may have little to do with causing DOMS – but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t related. Lactic acid or lactate is created when the body is forced to produce energy in low oxygen conditions – when you are ‘sucking wind’ so to speak or when muscular requirements exceed the bodies capacity to deliver oxygen – as in an all out sprint as opposed to distance running. Lactic acid is easily broken down and used by the body once oxygen levels return to normal but when the rate of production exceeds the rate of breakdown you get lactic acid build up which will eventually decrease the muscles capacity to work – you know the feeling, when you are lifting weights and the first rep is easy but the last is a killer. With the build up of lactic acid the body is thrown out of balance – but with time it brings itself back into balance and all is well again.
For years it has been thought that this lack of balance was the cause of DOMS – kind of a self protection mechanism to keep the body from compounding the problem before it was back in balance again. The other issue, however, is that the type of muscle work that results in this lactic acid build up also tends to be the type of muscle work that leads to micro damage in the muscle fibers – this how we get bigger muscles – it is called hypertrophy – we break down the muscle tissue and it rebuilds bigger and stronger. These micro tears are no big deal but is damage to the body which stimulates an immune response which includes an inflammatory response as the body initiates a repair response. As a result of the tears there is an elevation of metabolites and cellular material leaks into the interstitial fluid (the liquid that surrounds the cells). The intercellular environment is far different than the extracellular environment and it appears that this imbalance and the subsequent inflammatory-repair response is more closely related to DOMS than lactic acid build up.
The key here is that given time the body can heal just fine on its own but it would be nice if we could give it some help. Help means less discomfort, and less stress on the body allowing for more resources to be spent on things like fighting viruses and other germs or just getting through the day without feeling exhausted.
There are three key things that I feel are paramount to aiding the body after a tough workout.
1. Pranyama – ok, it is a fancy word for deep breathing and while it is far more effective if you do it with some skill it is one of those things that you can without having a clue as to what you’re doing and still have a positive effect. Deep breathing has been shown to be one the best ways to reduce acid levels in the body and is amazingly effective on lactic acid build up. While getting oxygen into the body is important the exhalation is even more important. Allow your breath to come in naturally – don’t force it – but make sure to focus on the exhalation and exhale completely, past what you normally would before you inhale again.
2. Tart Cherry Juice – not the nicest juice to just sip but it isn’t terrible. It is best when mixed with another juice but can be done as a shot just to get it over with. Take about 2 oz 1-3 times a day. It isn’t a bad idea to just do it everyday for no reason but critical after a tough workout. Tart cheery juice not only helps to reduce the bodies acidity but it also has anti oxidants that support the break down of the metabolic waste left over from the micro tears.
3. Salt Baths – I don’t mean a teaspoon of salt in a giant bathtub, I mean a high salt content bath. If you live near the ocean just go jump in and stay there for a bit. If you aren’t so lucky soak in a tub filled with the hottest water you can stand and an entire box of salt for as long as you can stand it – 20 minutes minimum. My two favorites salt choices are the 3 lb box of Morton’s Kosher salt or a 4 lb box of generic Epsom salt. There are all kinds of things that you can add to these baths to make them even more effective but I’ll keep it simple for now. Soaking in salt creates an osmotic response in the body – higher concentration of salt outside the body will cause interstitial fluid to flow out of the body to try to dilute it taking the undesirable metabolites and waste with it. I’m sure you can see the need to drink plenty of water and electrolytes afterwards.
I hope this helps – I look forward to your comments!