As I continue my trek towards the magical Big 5-0, one thing I can say with certainty: Training and racing hurts like the dickens these days. Short of someone discovering the fountain of youth, I imagine more money will be spent this year on various ways to combat muscle soreness than any other item in the triathletes arsenal.
As seasoned as I am in competing, I have had plenty of aches over the years. But last years triathlon season was especially hard on me. If I had been a NASCAR racing vehicle, I would have spent more time in the garage getting repairs than on the track. This was a different pain. One that came on a day or two after the event. It would mean I would need an extra hour in the morning just to get, well, moving.
After some research and asking around, the term 'DOMS' kept repeating itself in everyone's conversations. At first, I thought I was being called 'dumb', and that's probably true. But the term DOMS is nothing to laugh about.
Delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), is the pain or discomfort often felt 24 to 72 hours after exercising and subsides generally within 2 to 3 days. When muscle tissue is injured, it releases a protein called myoglobin. When the muscle injury is more serious, the amounts of myoglobin can be quite high. First sign is the urine is dark colored. Kidney damage and even kidney failure can result.
It used to be thought that DOMS was caused by lactic acid buildup. However, since lactic acid disperses fairly rapidly, it could not explain pain experienced days after exercise, and some concentric-only exercises produce lactic acid, but rarely produce DOMS.
Although the precise cause is still unknown, the type of muscle contraction seems to be a key factor in the development of DOMS. Exercises that involve many eccentric contractions, such as downhill running, will result in the most severe DOMS. This has been shown to be the result of more muscle cell damage than is seen with typical concentric contractions, in which a muscle successfully shortens during contraction against a load.
Another thing that seems to be common amongst DOMS sufferers is the key factor leading to it: Dehydration. In my case, its not that I don't fuel up correctly or not hydrate before an event. It is that I most likely suffer from irritable bowel syndrome and my body does not absorb the fluids and fuel properly.
So, what have I been doing to combat this issue?
Stretching: Stretching before and after exercise has been suggested as a way of reducing DOMS, as has warming up before exercise, cooling down afterwards, and gently warming the area. However, there is also evidence that the effect of stretching on muscle soreness is negligible. Overstretching itself can cause DOMS. Some recommend contrast showers as a treatment, alternating between cold and hot water; it may increase circulation.
I my case, I had to use trial-and-error to determine what worked for me. Stringent yoga with the Mrs. only seemed to make it worse. But so did not stretching. I went back the basics and utilized simple stretching, never staying in one stretch for more than 30-seconds. If it hurt, I didn't push it. Being patient, I began to see more and more flexibility over the course of several weeks. I now spend about 20-mins a day stretching.
Myofascial Release: Soft tissue work, also known as Myofascial Release, also reduces DOMS. This can be done by a massage therapist or with a foam roller or tennis balls. I was introduced to this technique by my current sports therapist. He has used it to essentially heal my Achilles and calve issues. Think of it this way: Just firmly rub the area until the problem area numbs up. Combine any necessary rehab exercises and you will notice the difference.
Drugs: Many drugs have been evaluated in the treatment of the symptoms of DOMS and none have been found to be superior to caffeine. Therefore, I can be seen at my local Caribou Coffee haunt each morning.
This is not to say I haven't taken other drugs. Heck, as a pharmacist, you can be sure I went through a plethora of things to help me through some of the more painful days. Tylenol is not antiinflammatory and will not treat the root case: Inflammation. Advil/Motrin/ibuprofen work wonders for inflammation but will rot your gut. I have been trying some supplements from Hammer Nutrition as follows:
Mito Caps: Hammer promotes it as Anti-Aging Formula with Powerful Athletic Benefits. The unique Mito Caps formula, which incorporates some exciting recent discoveries in cellular physiology, helps mitochondria (the thousands of energy-producing "furnaces" in the cells of your body) work more efficiently and stay healthier. To quote one nutritional expert, "The longer you can stimulate the lifespan or health of the mitochondria, the longer you will live and the better you will perform in endurance events. The athlete who has the most healthy/efficient mitochondria is the athlete who performs at their best."
My thoughts? I've been using for two months. Can't say I notice anything.
Tissue Rejuvenator: Hammer says Superior Joint and Tissue Health. If you're injured and can't wait to get back into action, or if you're trying to prevent joint and tissue injuries, add Tissue Rejuvenator to your order list. It's a powerful, dual-purpose product, supplying your body with nutrients that provide the raw materials it needs to promote rapid tissue repair, while also helping to reduce inflammation, soreness, and pain.
I've used and have reordered. I like it.
Super Antioxidant: Hammer touts Superior Recovery and Free Radical Protection. Super Antioxidant's unique combination of herbal, enzyme, and amino acid antioxidants complements, but doesn't duplicate, the antioxidants you may already be taking. Super Antioxidant is designed to help protect your immune system, enhance circulation, and accelerate recovery, thus preserving all the hard-earned gains you make in training. The harder you train, the more you need Super Antioxidant in your recovery regimen.
Throw away any multi-vitamin/multi-mineral regimen you are currently taking and just keep this on the shelf.
Xobaline: Per Hammer Xobaline will increase Your Aerobic Capacity. Xobaline (pronounced Zo-buh-lean) contains a metabolically active form of vitamin B12plus folic acid in an ideal 1:4 ratio in easy-to-take sublingual tablets. This dual nutrient combination offers a significant advantage over "B12 only" formulas, especially in regards to red blood cell production and the manufacturing/resynthesis of RNA, both crucial components for increased aerobic capacity and muscle repair/building.
I take this each day before my afternoon workout. It adds pop to my step.
Chromemate: Hammer claims put an end to the 3pm fade. The trace mineral chromium has profound effects on both general health and athletic performance. By supplementing your post workout/race fuel with chromium polynicotinate (not to be confused with chromium picolinate or other forms of this mineral) enhances recovery because it helps to increase the rate of glycogen synthesis.
My thoughts? I've been using for four months. I'm giving it thumbs down for now but may revisit. My plan is to go off of it and see if I notice any difference. This is not to say it is not a good product. I do a good job at controlling my blood sugar. But this may be a good supplement for diabetic athletes or athletes with hypoglycemia.
Gear: Lot's of gear is available and I have personally found three things that have helped me through the DOMS periods of the triathlon season.
The Stick: I use the stick prior to my running and cycling workouts. Sort of like having a quick massage session. It helps me through such things as trigger point pain, muscle strain and DOMS. Time needed, 5-10 minutes a day.
The Pro Foam Roller: More than any other product, this roller has helped my IT bands. I have been using on the quads when those post-event DOMS issues seem to creep into the quad region. It works!
SLS3 Compression Sport Sox: There exists quite a bit of debate as to whether compression socks and gear really help or not. To date, testing has not shown that compression socks have any benefit on vascular function in healthy subjects. But that's just results from studies based on vascular function and/or thrombosis. And that's not why we triathletes spend $60 on these socks. Nope, its for recovery. There have been three such studies to date on recovery aspects of compression socks. Here's the key component: All three point to reduced DOMS after exercise as opposed to those not wearing compression stockings. I know I can tell the difference when I wear mine during and after erercise. I made it a point to the Mrs. that I would like another pair to show up in my Xmas stocking this year. And a pair did.
Massage: I saved this for last as it is the most successful weapon you can have in your arsenal to ward off DOMS. I have often joked with the Mrs. that should we ever need to cut the household budget that the maids will go before I would ever do without my massage therapist. And I get no arguments as my wife uses the same person.
I go twice a month for 90-minute sessions. This is not a fluffy kind of massage with scented oils that your trophy wife (or husband) requires when you visit that resort hotel in Arizona. Nope, this is painful. A complete deep-tissue, full-body, bite on a silver bullet massage. There have been some sessions when I've been whincing or slapping the table as she moves into a sore quad or IT band. But I always come back. And I'm always happy to do so.
In fact, last season I added in a pre-race day and post-race day massage into my schedule. Recovery time went from turtle to rabbit immediately.
There you go. One man's view on attacking DOMS. I'd love to hear what others have to say so leave any comments below.