Research has linked antioxidants to prevention of cellular damage that can potentially result in sore muscles, but results have been mixed.
Consuming lots of antioxidants through foods or supplements may not reduce muscle soreness after exercise, a research review suggests.
Researchers focused on “delayed onset muscle soreness,” the type of muscle pain or tenderness that typically peaks 24 to 72 hours after a strenuous workout. Some previous research has linked antioxidants to the prevention of cellular damage that can potentially result in sore muscles, but results have been mixed.
Data for the current analysis came from 50 studies with a total of 1,089 participants, ages 16 to 55. Across all of these studies, researchers didn’t find a meaningful connection between antioxidants in foods or supplements and the amount of muscle soreness at 6, 24, 48, 72, or 96 hours after workouts.
“The findings of our study suggest that antioxidants do reduce soreness, but the effect is so small it may not be meaningful,” said study leader Mayur Ranchordas of Sheffield Hallam University in the U.K.
“People should probably avoid taking antioxidants for recovery,” Ranchordas said by email.
Antioxidant supplements are often marketed in health food stores as a workout recovery aid. The idea that they antioxidants might ease muscle soreness after intense workouts stems from their role in potentially halting or slowing the development of what’s known as oxidative stress, researchers note in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
As the body uses oxygen, it produces by-products called free radicals that can damage cells and tissues. The damage by oxygen free radicals is known as oxidative stress.
Foods rich in antioxidants include a variety of berries like blueberries, cranberries, goji berries and elderberries as well as dark chocolate, pecans, artichokes and kidney beans.
There are several limitations in the current analysis, including the wide variety of exercise types and intensities as well as the range of different types of antioxidant exposure from foods and supplements, the authors note.
Still, the results suggest that it doesn’t make sense for athletes to spend lots of money on antioxidant supplements to help with recovery from strenuous exercise, said Troy Merry, a nutrition researcher at the University of Auckland in New Zealand who wasn’t involved in the study.
“There are certain strategies that athletes use following exercise to improve recovery such as ice baths, massage, ensuring adequate macronutrients (carbohydrate and protein) intake during and following exercise,” Merry said by email.
“However, how much these strategies actually reduce muscle soreness is debatable, and depends on the type of exercise being undertaken,” Merry added.
The approach to recovery should depend on the type of sport as well as the intensity and frequency of exercise.
“It is also important to consider what the goal of exercise you are undertaking is, as soreness is associated with important processes that cause your muscle to adapt to exercise stress and improve its function overtime,” Merry said. “So if you don’t have to perform at your absolute best in the days following an exercise session, then some soreness is probably good.”