We are all familiar with the feeling of aches, pains, muscle fatigue and stiffness that accompany a strenuous workout or hike. These discomforts, often collectively referred to as DOMS or delayed onset muscle soreness, usually occur a day or two after working out. DOMS can get in the way of our ability to function and may even prevent us from staying consistent with our workouts and negatively impact our overall health.

DOMS and other post-workout symptoms like swelling and reduced range of motion are the result of the tiny, microscopic tears in our muscles that occur when they are subjected to forces during a workout. These tears trigger an inflammatory response, drawing immune cells and fluid into our muscles to try to “repair” the damage and build new muscle fibres. In the process, these immune cells produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) which cause further damage to muscle fibres, exacerbating the pain.

Although we can’t avoid DOMS entirely, there are things we can do to alleviate the uncomfortable symptoms. Here are 5 ways to support your muscles to recover post-workout:

1. Contrast therapy

Alternating between exposing our body to hot and cold temperatures is known as contrast therapy. Contrast therapy can be done by switching between a hot and cold plunge pool or bath or using a combination of sauna bathing and cold water.  As the body is immersed into hot temperatures, the blood vessels near the surface of the body dilate and blood flows towards the skin, bringing oxygen and nutrients to our muscles which help repair damage and regenerate tissues.  As the body is immersed into cold water, these same blood vessels constrict and blood flows in the opposite direction towards the internal organs, flushing toxins out from the muscles. Contrast therapy lowers inflammation and studies have shown that its use post-workout leads to faster restoration of strength and power in muscles and an improvement in recovery from DOMS.

2. Massage

Whether you book in for a sports massage or practice self-massage with foam rollers, there is evidence that a 10-30 minute massage administered 2-6 hours post-workout can significantly reduce DOMS, ease muscle tension, improve flexibility and lower swelling and inflammation.  One of the ways that massage helps with post-workout recovery is by flushing toxins and lactic acid produced during workouts out of the muscles. Massage also improves circulation, drawing oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to the site of muscle damage, to aid repair, and helps relax muscle tone and decrease muscle fatigue.

3. Protein

Protein rich foods such as eggs, poultry, meat, dairy and legumes provide the body with amino acids, which are the building blocks of our cells and tissues. Eating protein before and after your workout can help with recovery by providing the muscle tissue with what it needs to repair damage and rebuild as well as improving muscle protein synthesis.  There are many studies out there exploring the timing of protein intake post-workout and the impact it has on muscle repair and building. Some suggest that the “anabolic window” is an hour post workout and recommend that protein is eaten immediately after exercise to provide muscle repair and rebuilding benefits. More recent evidence is emerging that the timing is not as important, as long as protein intake is spread across 24 hours post-workout. Most studies agree on the amount of protein to eat after your workout – which ranges from 0.3-0.5 grams of protein per kg of body weight. So for a 65 kg female, you’re looking at around 20-30 grams of protein, which is 2-3 eggs.

4. Hydration

Sweating during a workout is the body’s way of regulating its core temperature. As sweat builds up on our skin, the water from sweat evaporates and this helps to cool down the surface of our body. In the process, our body loses water and electrolytes which can lead to dehydration. Dehydration impacts body and brain function and can slow down our recovery. It is important that we maintain our hydration levels by drinking water and electrolytes throughout and after a workout to prevent dehydration and support recovery.  Rather than reaching for an artificial and sugar loaded sports drink, choose natural electrolyte rich drinks such as coconut water or try adding a pinch of quality Himalayan salt or sea salt to your water.

5. Magnesium

Magnesium is a key mineral used by the body to produce energy and help our muscles contract. When we experience chronic stress – whether it’s mental, emotional or physical (working out lots) – our body churns through magnesium leading to deficiencies. Signs of low magnesium include restless leg syndrome, muscle twitches or cramps, muscle weakness, fatigue and anxiety.  Magnesium is a key to post-workout recovery. It works by blocking calcium uptake, which helps muscles relax better after contracting throughout a strenuous workout. It also reduces post-workout muscle cramping and pain. Increase your intake of magnesium rich foods such as green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, avocado and cacao (bring on the dark chocolate!) and look at supplementation with a quality, well-absorbed form of magnesium such as magnesium bisglycinate.


Written by Shaz Andrew, Naturopath and Holistic Nutritionist