Health & nutrition insights.

Muscle Soreness & Recovery Trends

Whether you’re a long-time fitness enthusiast, or a fitness newbie, you have probably experienced muscle soreness after a hard workout. Recovery is one of the most vital parts of a health journey, because it allows you to live with less soreness, have quick turnaround time between workouts, and reduce the risk of injury. In our current culture, there are many trends that promote physical and mental recovery from workouts. Today we are going to break down the reasons why you might experience muscle soreness, how to prevent it, and the trends that tout increased recovery time. Let’s get started!


Listen to our Practical Nutrition Podcast episode on this topic:


Why do I get sore after working out?


Whether you already felt achy before leaving the gym, or you felt fine after the gym but can’t lift your arms above your head by the time you get in bed- both scenarios are normal. As you work out, your muscles break down slightly near the connective tissue ends. This is necessary for them to grow back stronger, but it can be uncomfortable.

There are two types of muscle soreness: acute (right away) and delayed onset muscle soreness (sometimes called DOMS). You can experience either type of soreness after a workout that’s challenging for you. Both types are a good thing — they signal that you’re getting stronger — but they do differ in a few ways. Here’s how: 

  • Acute muscle soreness is usually felt immediately after you’re done exercising. It’s caused by a buildup of certain substances within your muscle, such as lactic acid, during high-intensity exercise. This type of muscle soreness resolves quickly — usually within a couple of hours. 
  • Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) usually starts about 12 hours after your workout and peaks around 48 hours post-workout. Rather than being related to lactic acid, DOMS is caused by changes in your muscles and the resulting repair process your body goes through. 

No Pain, No Gain: It’s a Myth!

It’s important to know that if you’re not sore after a workout it doesn’t mean you’re not getting stronger or that you’re not challenging your body enough. “No pain, no gain” is a myth. 

Don’t Let Soreness Discourage You!

As frustrating as achy muscles can be, try not to let the soreness discourage you. And let’s not forget the silver lining: As you get stronger and your muscles become accustomed to different types of movements, you’re less likely to experience muscle soreness after exercise.

How to Relieve Muscle Soreness

  • Stay active
    • Light activity, such as walking, may make you feel better since it increases blood flow to the area.
  • Massage
    • Massaging a sore muscle can help relieve tightness and increase blood flow to the area, which can help with recovery. 
    • A 2017 study published in the Frontiers in Physiology journal found that a massage within 24 hours of intense exercise helped reduce soreness.
  • Stretch 
    • Light basic stretches that you hold for a few seconds can help increase blood flow to sore areas without overstressing muscles
  • Heat
    • While ice is often recommended to reduce inflammation, heat is often preferred for post-exercise soreness since it increases blood flow to the area.
    • Even a warm bath or hot shower can help.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) creams and gels
    • Look for one that contains menthol or capsaicin, such as IcyHot and Aspercreme, to help ease muscle soreness. 
    • A 2020 study published in the Journal of Strength Conditioning and Research found that OTC creams and gels helped speed up recovery from exercise-induced microtears in the muscle.
  • Compression garments
    • These are typically made from nylon, spandex, or similar material and fit tightly around the skin to apply gentle pressure to certain muscle groups. 
    • A 2016 review published in Physiology and Behavior concluded that they help to decrease post-workout muscle soreness. This is probably due to increased blood flow from compression to the area. 

When to See a Doctor

  • Your muscle soreness lasts for more than a week
  • Your pain is so bad you can’t move or do normal day-to-day activities
  • You are dizzy or have trouble breathing
  • Your sore muscles are red, swollen, or warm to touch 
  • You notice pain in a surrounding joint, over the bones, or in a tendon
  • Pain doesn’t seem to get better with at-home treatments, such as those mentioned above

How to Prevent Sore Muscles During Exercise

  • Warm-up. It increases blood flow to your muscles and reduces the risk of injury. 
  • Think light. Just did a tough workout? While you may want to wait 48 hours before the next one, you still want to do some light exercise that involves the sore muscles. So if you’re sore after a long run, take a short walk or bike ride and focus on strengthening your upper body muscles for a few days instead of vegging out on the couch. 
  • Apply moist heat. Moist heat such as a warm towel or a hot water bottle may prevent soreness better than dry heat sources. 
  • Cool down. Research shows it can help reduce post-workout muscle soreness and aid in recovery.

Nutrition & Reducing Muscle Soreness

  • Drink plenty of water. It helps loosen joints and transports nutrients that your body needs to promote muscle healing.
  • Protein intake. Helps repair damage to muscle caused by workouts. The general recommendation is for 0.8-1.2 grams of protein per kg of body weight. Talk to your dietitian about your specific protein needs.
  • Quality carbs. Helps replace glycogen- the fuel source stored in your muscles.
  • Foods high in antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E and omega-3 fatty acids.. These are found in plant foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean animal proteins, and healthy fats like fish, avocado and EVOO, nuts and legumes.
  • Reduce processed food intake. High in sodium, sugar, and additives that do not help the body feel or perform at its best. Eat whole foods more often!

Recovery Trends:

Muscle recovery is forecasted by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) to be one of the Top 10 Fitness trends for 2023… and it definitely feels that way! Advertisements and media culture have propelled these trends to the forefront of our feed, causing some of us to wonder if we might need them. Let’s discuss three of the most popular trends and break down the science of them, ultimately asking ourselves: Do these even work?

  • Cryotherapy:
      • What is it?
        • The use of extreme cold to treat a condition.
        • Usually found in med-spas, you step into a capsule that encloses your entire body (not your head or face). The capsule surrounds your body with a dry, intensely cold temperature (as low as -230 degrees fahrenheit) for 2 minutes. It works like a convection oven, circulating the cold air around you.
        • Claims to treat a variety of conditions including muscle soreness, pain relief, migraine relief, and auto-immune-induced inflammation (arthritis). 
      • What does the research say? 
        • Cryotherapy is found to be non-harmful, nor linked to any significant benefits in recovery, soreness, pain, blood flow, stress or hormonal activity.
        • Cryotherapy has been WIDELY researched for decades. Results are not cumulative and do not improve performance in any way. 
  • Ice bath/Cold plunge:
      • What is it?
        • Sitting in a bath of water and ice (3:1 ratio) for a specific amount of time (usually 5-15  minutes). 
        • Popular in Scandinavian countries for the general population. Also used by athletes after high-impact sporting events such as football, soccer, rugby, etc.
      • What does the research say?
        • It is proven to enhance circulation via aiding venous return through vasoconstriction and vasodilatation. 
        • Found to be same benefits as dynamic stretching on active recovery day
  • Therapy guns
    • What  is it?
      • Handheld device that delivers percussive pressure to a targeted area. Advertised to improve muscle soreness, blood flow restriction, resistance training, muscle strength, range of motion.
    • What does the research say?
      • The articles determined that handheld percussive devices are effective at increasing ROM for a short period of time, but do not have a significant effect on other conditions.


If you are struggling with muscle soreness, please don’t give up on your health journey! Sore muscles are normal, especially in aging bodies.  Try the tips we talked about today for a few weeks, then reevaluate. If you’re still struggling with muscle soreness that impedes your workouts, talk to us our our PT Kimi about how to heal.