Muscle soreness is an unavoidable side effect of taking care of your body through exercise. It’s incredibly common to experience aching muscles after working out, and even a long walk can bring on symptoms. It even has a name: delayed onset muscle soreness, or ‘DOMS’.
What causes muscle soreness?
DOMS essentially refers to the temporary damage your muscles experience as a result of exercise.1 Strenuous use of your muscles creates tiny micro-tears in your muscle tissue, which the body then repairs during a period of recovery. Despite sounding like something to be avoided, these tiny muscle tears are a good thing as they cause your muscles to grow and become more defined. If you’re exercising at a high intensity, or in a way that uses several muscles at once, you’re more likely to experience soreness as you’ll experience more micro-tears. Similarly, if you’re using a group of muscles you don’t normally use, for example during a new exercise class, you’re likely to feel the burn over the next few days.
DOMS occurs alongside oxidative stress and inflammation within the muscle cells, which as well as causing you soreness and pain, can temporarily impair performance and lead to longer recovery times.
Eating the right foods to promote good recovery is very important, including a wide range of fruit and vegetables. However, blueberries in particular have emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the fight against the pain of sore muscles.
Why do blueberries help relieve sore muscles?
It’s well known that blueberries are an anti-inflammatory food, which goes some way towards explaining why they are so good at helping sore muscles recover.2 However, blueberries have proved superior to other antioxidant-rich fruits in helping relieve muscle soreness.
This might be down in part to phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are compounds found in many plant sources. In blueberries, the phytochemicals include elements called anthocyanins, which is what makes them blue. This phytochemical works as a potent antioxidant which helps neutralise free radicals, which is the cause of oxidative stress in the body.
A study from New Zealand in 2012 examined the effect of consuming regular blueberry smoothies on induced muscle soreness in ten athletes. The researchers used a machine to cause exercise-induced muscle damage in one of their legs, while including blueberry smoothies containing 200g of blueberries into their diets before and after they introduced the muscle micro tears. Blood was then drawn from the subjects following the exercise to measure oxidative stress, antioxidant levels and inflammation. Compared to a second test where the athletes were given smoothies which didn’t contain blueberries, the athletes experienced reduced muscle soreness and faster strength recovery after drinking the blueberry smoothies.3 Scientists think that it might be down to the interactions between particular phytochemicals found in high levels in blueberries alongside other vitamins found in healthy foods.
For best results, eat blueberries before and after exercise to help promote muscle recovery. Using them to make a smoothie, as was done during the New Zealand study, is a great idea and makes it easy to pack plenty of blueberries into one serving. Alternately, you could add handfuls of them to Greek yoghurt, cereal or porridge, or use them in baking.
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.
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- [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/2072832.
- [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22111516.
- [Online] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583121/.