All Posts by Luke Tulloch

Muscle soreness: what causes it, and how to get rid of it

Everyone who gets into weight training will recognise the associated soreness in the days after. Usually it’ll be at its worst 2-3 days after your training, and can persist for over a week in particularly bad cases!

The technical name for this soreness is DOMS - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. There are many claims regarding how to get rid of DOMS, and what actually causes it in the first place, so that’s what we’re going to look at today.

DOMS is essentially the product of metabolite accumulation in response to exercise. In other words, there are a bunch of chemicals that are released as part of the muscle contraction, damage and repair process that causes us to sense pain in that area.


Whenever we cause damage or put the musculature under stress, there is a huge amount of signalling between cells that goes on in the local area. As a result, inflammatory processes, immune system activation, pain signalling substances and chemicals involved in the remodelling process are all present and involved in causing DOMS.


One substance that is unlikely to be a direct cause of DOMS is lactic acid. The common perception is that the burning sensation caused by acid accumulation causes muscle soreness - but according to research this is not the case.


Usually muscle soreness is accompanied by workouts that cause a large amount of lactic acid production because those training sessions simply have a harder/higher workload. It doesn’t mean that the lactic acid is actually responsible for the pain sensation in the following days.


OK - I’m not sure anyone cares THAT much what metabolites are involved with DOMS - you’re probably more concerned with the pain management side of things!


Firstly I’m going to address what definitely doesn’t work - and this might come as a surprise.


Current research is pretty clear that static stretching does not reduce DOMS. The associated movement during a stretching session is probably what gives you relief, if anything. And particularly if you’re doing some light exercise/dynamic stretching combined with the static stretches, you’re likely to see some benefit - however, static stretching by itself is not an effective way to reduce muscle soreness!


Massage is another method, as is contrast baths (e.g. alternating between very cold and very hot water in the shower). The contrast bath method seems to work pretty well, but has had some mixed results and probably suffers just as much from anecdote as static stretching (ie people just take it for granted as common knowledge, and see sports stars doing it in the locker room so they assume it works).


My hot tip for reducing DOMS is to eat properly around your training. It’s been shown that having a dose of BCAAs around training will reduce DOMS in the days following.


Note that I’m not advocating supplementing with them, as I believe BCAAs to be one of the least cost-effective supplements on the market, but rather ensuring enough high quality protein before and after training.


Add to this some lighter training and generally moving around instead of sitting or lying down the rest of the day, and you’re well on your way to mitigating muscle soreness.


At the end of the day you still just have to cop it, though. Wear it as a badge of honour! You’ll find that soreness is bad the first couple of times you train or perform a new exercise, but it quickly subsides after that.

Lastly - do you need to get sore to know you're progressing in the gym?

My answer is: it depends! A body-builder or powerlifter looking to cause a serious degree of muscle damage to promote growth probably should get at least a little sore after most training sessions.​ But everyone has different goals and different needs, and your training should reflect that.

You need to be able to use other outcomes to determine if you're progressing or not - it's pretty straightforward to make yourself ridiculously sore, but this isn't an intelligent way to approach training unless it's a byproduct of proper periodisation and programming.


References

Cairns SP "Lactic acid and exercise performance : culprit or friend?" Sports Med. (2006)

Herbert RD, de Noronha M, Kamper SJ "Stretching to prevent or reduce muscle soreness after exercise." Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (2011)

Shimomura Y, et al "Branched-chain amino acid supplementation before squat exercise and delayed-onset muscle soreness." Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. (2010)

Zainuddin Z, et al "Effects of massage on delayed-onset muscle soreness, swelling, and recovery of muscle function." J Athl Train. (2005)

Zainuddin Z, et al "Light concentric exercise has a temporarily analgesic effect on delayed-onset muscle soreness, but no effect on recovery from eccentric exercise." Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. (2006)


Fat Loss Priorities

There are many approaches to nutrition that work.

Some coaches will tell you that all you need to do is count calories.

Some coaches will tell you the opposite - that calories should never have your focus, and instead you should only pay attention to the quality of the food you eat.

Each point of view - and all the shades of grey in between - has some validity.

Explaining to a client that beer is not paleo.

What we know about fat loss is that your total energy intake definitely matters. The research is irrefutable, and anyone who tells you otherwise is either not familiar with the scientific literature or is lying to you.

Obviously, we can manipulate the energy in/energy out equation by either taking in different amounts of food or expending different amounts of energy through activity.

Fanny previously wrote an article on general movement for fat loss, the goal of which is to improve your general quality of movement, but also to provide a boost to NEAT - non-exercise activity thermogenesis. In other words, the movement you do during the day that isn’t planned exercise.

In this article we’re going to look at the main components involved in achieving fat loss from a nutrition perspective. More specifically, the point of this post is to show you that even though a diet setup might focus on a particular area, it can produce meaningful effects on the other factors involved in fat loss.

This might sound like it’s a bit confusing - after all, most articles you read try to point you to the ONE THING YOU MUST DO TO LOSE WEIGHT.

But actually, it really means that we have a great deal of flexibility with which to set up a diet, and so long as we ensure adherence to the fundamental principles, you can utilise a variety of methods to ensure compatibility to your lifestyle.

This ultimately leads to consistency - the key factor in maintaining your desired weight.

So, let’s dive into it!

Looking at the science, we can say for sure that the most important variable in fat loss comes down to creating an energy deficit, but there are other factors that are important too:

1. Energy balance

2. Macronutrient ratios

3. Food quality

4. Meal timing

5. Supplements

We also have an abundance of evidence showing that there is an optimal protein intake that is conducive to both muscle building/retention and fat loss (and by the way, it’s probably about double the recommended daily allowance).

So, how do we control calorie intake?

You could calorie count, but it’s not strictly necessary. Some people will do really well by trying to hit their numbers every day, and others will fail miserably.

Turns out, you can control calorie intake by focusing on one of the “less important” fundamentals principles in the fat loss hierarchy - like food quality, for example.

The most obvious diet set up that focuses on food quality is the paleo diet - the typical guidelines are to eat foods that are minimally processed, leading to a focus on animal proteins and vegetables.

Unsurprisingly, when you cut out foods that are relatively low in satiety, but energy dense, you automatically regulate your energy intake. I’ve never seen anyone overeat leafy greens, and focusing on whole animal foods provides a huge amount of filling protein.

Even on the starch side of things, potatoes and rice are fairly energy dense, but also come up as some of the most satiating foods available.

So we’re left with a big focus on food quality that intrinsically takes care of the energy balance equation and ensures our macronutrient ratios are balanced.

Let’s tackle another diet setup.

According to the research, meal timing is pretty far down the hierarchy for fat loss compared with energy balance and macro ratios. However, some diet setups focus on timing - such as intermittent fasting.

The typical IF model tends to use a 16 hour fasting window and an 8 hour feeding window. There are lots of variations, but let’s use this as an example. By cutting out your ability to eat for most of the day, you are effectively putting a limit on how much food you can consume.

There are plenty of people out there who will hit their 8 hour feeding window and gorge themselves silly, but it’s really hard to consistently pack away as many calories as you would if you had double the amount of time to available throughout the day to eat.

IF is pretty good, therefore, at controlling snacking throughout the day - as well as the overall volume of food you can fit into each day. So while the focus is on meal timing, the fundamental principle of energy balance is also addressed.

The point I’m trying to make is that although there is a lot of argument for and against each diet regime, in essence most of them will work just fine. In theory, if you stuck to the numbers, you could get shredded on KFC - but, you won’t be able to eat much food (because it’s really energy dense) and you’d feel terrible (because it lacks micronutrients).

I like to think of myself as diet agnostic.​ There are some methods I've more success with than others, but almost anything is workable in some way provided the fundamentals are taken care of.

As a coach, my job is to come up with a setup that addresses the fundamentals in such a way that my clients will be able to stick to it long term - I don’t care if you can count calories like a robot for 12 weeks if all you’re going to do is go right back to what you were doing before.

By the same token, I will never tell someone that they can’t afford to eat a little ‘junk’ food every now and then - because as long as their overall energy balance and macro ratios are correct, they will lose fat regardless!

I’m going to stop there for now - this is obviously a topic that could go on for pages and pages.

Let us know if you’d like to see more articles expanding on the principles involved in diet design!

References

Evans EM, et al "Effects of protein intake and gender on body composition changes: a randomized clinical weight loss trial." Nutr Metab (Lond). (2012)

Farnsworth E, et al "Effect of a high-protein, energy-restricted diet on body composition, glycemic control, and lipid concentrations in overweight and obese hyperinsulinemic men and women." Am J Clin Nutr. (2003)

Golay A, et al "Similar weight loss with low- or high-carbohydrate diets." Am J Clin Nutr. (1996)

Golay A, et al "Weight-loss with low or high carbohydrate diet." Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. (1996)

Leibel RL, et al "Energy intake required to maintain body weight is not affected by wide variation in diet composition." Am J Clin Nutr. (1992)

Loenneke JP, et al "Quality protein intake is inversely related with abdominal fat." Nutr Metab (Lond). (2012)

Supplements for colds

It's coming to that time again...

For half your office to be out of action​...

For your training to be rudely interrupted...

For your sleep to go to hell...

Cold and flu season is fast approaching!​

Before we get to the supplements, please heed the most basic piece of advice you already know, but always ignore.

The most simple way to avoid getting sick is to avoid the bacteria that cause the sickness in the first place!

So, wash your hands, avoid touching hand rails and other items in public places where possible, and keep your hands away from your face.

Also, stay away from that one colleague who seems to constantly be sick. You can find a reason to talk to them again in a few months!​

Your next resort will be making sure your nutrition and general lifestyle is sorted. Read my sleep article again, make sure you eat enough protein (it supports immune function)​ and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

OK - with all that out of the way, let's get to the supplements!

​MOST EFFECTIVE

Garlic

Garlic is a preventative measure, so you should be taking it throughout cold and flu season to avoid getting sick in the first place.

It works by improving the ability of white blood cells to destroy invaders and upregulates the production of some immune cells (specifically, killer T-cells).

Garlic comes in supplemental form​ - look for aged garlic extract, and take around 800-1000mg in divided doses throughout the day.

You can also just eat it! You'd need 2-3 cloves throughout the day to get the same benefit as the above supplemental dosage, though.​

Zinc

Zinc is important to immune system function and research has shown effectiveness in reducing the length of illness for infectious diseases like the common cold.

This is also something I'd recommend taking throughout winter, but you need to make sure you don't take too much as it can interfere with the absorption of other minerals such as copper.​

5-10mg per day is a safe low end for zinc supplementation.

Vitamin D

There is a huge variety of benefits from adequate vitamin D levels, but to focus on the immune benefits, vitamin D has solid evidence backing its ability to reduce the risk of catching the flu.

You should regularly check your vitamin D levels with your doctor, but to gain the immune benefits, you'd be aiming for blood levels of between 50-125mol/L or 20-50ng/mL (depending on the units used in your country). Personally, I like to be in the upper half of those ranges (or the 3rd quartile).

There is a study done in Japan that showed that children taking 1200IU of Vitamin D daily were 40% less likely to get the flu during winter. This should be of note for parents who understand how easy it is to get sickness passed on from your kid!

Your daily dose should be tied to your current levels, but a safe bet is 2000-3000​IU per day for adults.

​LESS EFFECTIVE

Echinacea

Echinacea supplementation has mixed effects in the literature.

Some evidence seems to point to a reduced risk of infection and reduced length of sickness if taken consistently on a daily basis, but other evidence reports no significant effects.

The dosages used in studies range from 1000mg to 1500mg taken in divided doses daily, so this is a good range to aim for.​

Andrographis

Andrographis supplementation also has unclear effects in the literature.

Some evidence shows reduced length of illness as well as reduced severity of symptoms related to the common cold, but most of the research doesn't actually look at andrographis supplementation as a stand-alone. It's very often paired up with another herb (usually some form of ginseng), so it's difficult to say for sure how effective it is.

Still, based on the current human research, I'd say it's worth trying to get over a cold that's already taken root.

One of the other problems in the research and on the shelves is that there doesn't seem to be a standardised extract concentration of the active ingredient.​ This means dosages will vary quite a lot depending on the quality of the supplement.

Dosages should be ​around 5000mg of standard root extract, or 200mg for a concentrate.

African Geranium

This herb has good evidence for use with acute lung infections, and less convincing use for the common cold.

Still, it can help treat illness involving a bad cough.​

Around 50mg per day split up into even doses is recommended​

So there you have it - the major supplements I'd be looking at to reduce your chances of getting sick or prevent the worst symptoms of the common cold.​

Let us know in the comments if there are any other supplements you might have heard of that you'd like to know about!​

Sleep is #1

If you asked me what the number one thing you could do to improve not only your training, but every aspect of your life – the answer is sleep!

Most people pay it off.

Most people think they sleep enough, or they can get through this week ok.

But the fact is that every hour you sacrifice to Netflix, or work, or anything else for that matter counts against you. And it doesn’t matter what the yardstick is – just take a minute to Google sleep + your number one fear in life.

Want to earn less?

Get fatter?

Get weaker?

Feel hungrier?

React slower?

Get sicker?

Feel less confident?

Remember less?

Age faster?

Then keep on sleeping less!

The scariest thing about this is that EVERYONE KNOWS! Everyone knows that they should probably sleep more; that sleep is really important.

Those that think they aren’t affected by getting 6 hours of sleep or less are already affected! Research shows that 11 days in a row with <6 hours of sleep and your cognitive ability will be about the same as if you had stayed awake for 24 hours straight.

By the time you get to 22 days of <6 hours of sleep, you'll be thinking on the same level as someone who has stayed up for 48 hours straight.​ Now you're reacting at the level of someone over the legal limit for alcohol - yes, this was actually studied way back in 1999.

But where’s the action? The fact is that every step you take to improve your life is going to be hindered unless you optimise your sleep.

​So what steps can you take today?

    1. Less screen time – the suprachiasmatic nucleus houses the master clock that your body uses to regulate your circadian rhythm. The ocular nerve ties right into this nucleus and is directly affected by the blue wavelength light that hits your eyeballs – and guess what wavelength your phone, TV and computer screens primarily emit? Take a break from screen 1 hour before bed time.
    2. Get into a routine - yes, even on the weekends!
    3. Limit the caffeine. Having caffeine early in the day is totally fine - but depending on your genetics, you could be seriously disrupting your sleep patterns by having caffeine even 8-10 hours before bed. The ability to metabolise caffeine can vary up to 40-fold between individuals!
    4. Supplement with melatonin – there is a growing body of research linking melatonin supplementation to improved markers of disease, as well as fat loss. This is likely secondary to improving your sleep, but melatonin itself is a powerful antioxidant too. Remember the suprachiasmatic nucleus from #1? It stops producing melatonin when your eyes detect light. Melatonin will help you get to sleep -  working your way up to 5mg before bed is fine.

There are plenty more “sleep hygiene” tips out there, but the bottom line is that action and consistency are the two factors that’ll get you across the line!

REFERENCES

Belenky et al. "Patterns of performance degradation and restoration during sleep restriction and subsequent recovery: a sleep dose-response study." J Sleep Res 2003;12:1-12​

Powell et al. "A comparative model: reaction time performance in sleep-disordered breathing versus alcohol-impaired controls.​" Laryngoscope. 1999 Oct;109(10):1648-54.

​Van Dongen et al. "Systematic interindividual differences in neurobehavioral impairment from sleep loss: evidence of trait-like differential vulnerability." Sleep 2004;27:423-433