Achy leg muscles -- whether sudden or coming on hours later in the form of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) -- are no cakewalk. If it's DOMS, it'll plague your muscles with a deep soreness, lasting up to 72 painful hours, and can make other activities unbearable. Unless you have coping tips, this soreness can ruin your fitness goals. If your pain persists or is severe, see a physician.
Walk It Off
While resting your weary legs may seem like a good idea now, you'll pay for it later with stiff limbs. According to the American Council on Exercise's Chief Science Officer, Dr. Cedric X. Bryant, the current medical belief is that microscopic muscle tears cause the deep aching you get from DOMS. This type of muscular damage is more common when beginning a new exercise or increasing the frequency or intensity of your current routine, so be cautious and go slowly. While popping some over-the-counter pain relievers can get you on the road to recovery, hitting the actual road will too. Keep a relaxing pace as you walk for recovery.
Something as simple as being dehydrated can lead to muscle cramps. When you add the extra strain exercise places on the leg muscles -- your calves, quads and hamstrings -- it's no wonder they ache after a hard workout. After all, as you sweat your body is losing valuable electrolytes -- sodium, potassium, chloride -- that help your muscles contract smoothly. The more you exercise and sweat, the more electrolytes you'll need to replace. Staying hydrated, then, is key to preventing leg soreness and dealing with it when it does happen. Make sure you're drinking enough fluids on a daily basis so you're not thirsty. When you're exercising in hot weather or for a longer period, have an electrolyte replacement drink on hand.
There is a reason personal trainers recommend protein shakes after a workout. This nutrition-packed drink provides beneficial ingredients for your taxed, damaged muscles. Yet, protein loading after a run isn't going to erase an ache. Prevention is key. Those who exercise on a regular basis should eat a lean protein-based food at each meal -- aiming to eat 1.5 grams per kilogram of your body weight, notes sports nutritionist Dr. Dan Benardot. Benardot, author of "Advanced Sports Nutrition, 2E," suggests protein throughout the day and after exercise as part of the recovery process. After your next run, chug a protein shake but only after setting the stage with proper nutrition.
Hit The Water
According to Marty Jaramillo, the CEO of I.C.E Sports Health Group, being in a cold bath is akin to being covered by an ice pack. The coldness helps eliminate the waste products built up in your tissue, which some believe are a cause for DOMS. Go slowly. Gradually add cooler water or ice to your water. Do not fill the tub past your chest, and never dunk your head under.
Having studied at two top Midwestern universities, Catherine Field holds degrees in professional writing and patient safety. Writing since 2000, Field has worked with regional newspapers while publishing fiction online. She conducts medical communication research at a Midwestern medical institution and is slated to write a book based on her research findings.