The message is clear these days; we need to eat better and exercise more. Yet, you find that a day or two after trekking to the gym, studio or trail, your body hurts. Delayed onset muscle soreness -- DOMS -- is common and happens when you contract a muscle while it is lengthened. That’s right -- the very act of exercising is the culprit. Before you give up your gym shoes, consider the role of helpful vitamins.
Vitamin E is a fat-soluble compound and is found in foods such as almonds, wheat germ oil, spinach, sunflower seeds and peanut butter. It exists in lesser amounts in fruits such as kiwis, mangoes and tomatoes. This vitamin plays a protective role in muscle cells, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, it protects against oxidative stress and muscle damage. It can help the body recover from DOMS.
You probably recognize vitamin C as ascorbic acid, know about its antioxidant properties and associate it with oranges. In addition to citrus, vitamin C is in fresh broccoli, peppers, strawberries and cantaloupe. Some athletes have taken this vitamin in high doses to ward off muscle damage. While researchers at the Exercise and Sport Science Department of the University of North Carolina suggest that vitamin C can reduce muscle soreness, prolonged high doses can be harmful.
Got milk? If so, then you are getting your vitamin D because most of the U.S. milk supply is fortified with this vitamin. It helps the body absorb calcium to build strong bones, teeth and muscle, which means it is an important vitamin for recovery after exercising. The best food sources for vitamin D are salmon, tuna and even mushrooms. You also get vitamin D from sun exposure, about 15 to 20 minutes per day.
Vitamin B12 is associated with energy and endurance. You may notice that some breakfast cereals and energy drinks are fortified with this vitamin. Common foods containing vitamin B12 are fish, beef and dairy. However, the effect on physical performance such as endurance may only be seen in those who have a deficiency, such as vegetarians or those with celiac disease. Without this vitamin, however, your body can't recover from muscle fatigue.
A good way to overcome DOMS is to consider the bigger picture. Rather than focusing on just vitamins, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables daily for a balanced diet that supports the nutritional needs of your body. Carry nutrient-dense snacks in your gym bag such as dried mangoes and almonds, or eat a bowl of fortified cereal with milk after working out. Keep hydrated and stretch after exercising to help your muscles recover.
- U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Nutrition for Everyone
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: Tips for the Savvy Supplement User
- U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Effect of Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage
- U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Effect of High Dose Vitamin C Supplementation on Muscle Soreness, Damage, Function, and Oxidative Stress to Eccentric Exercise.
- U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health: Does Antioxidant Vitamin Supplementation Protect Against Muscle Damage?
Charli Mills has covered the natural food industry since 2001 as a marketing communications manager for a highly successful retail cooperative. She built teams, brands and strategies. She is a writer and editor of "This is Living Naturally," a consultant for Carrot Ranch Communications and a Master Cooperative Communicator.