The hypothesis that over-acidification of the muscles with lactate causes the pain has been rejected: According to this theory, muscle soreness should occur when particularly high lactate levels can be measured. This is particularly the case with short-distance runners. In practice, however, mostly inexperienced middle- and long-distance runners complain of sore muscles. In addition, lactate has a half-life of only up to 20 minutes. Muscle soreness, however, only occurs with a delay of hours or even a day to the activity. By this time, the lactate has long since been broken down.
Today we know that the cause of the phenomenon of muscle soreness lies in the acute overloading of muscles. This causes so-called microtrauma, tiny tears in the microstructures of the muscles. This occurs, for example, when the individual athletic performance level is increased, the load limit is exceeded during competitions, or during training due to false ambition and overestimation of one's own capabilities.
Injuries primarily occur at the so-called Z-disks, the boundaries of the smallest units of the musculature. The organism responds to this tear formation with an inflammatory reaction. Tissue water penetrates the affected region, edema forms, and the muscle fiber slowly swells and becomes stretched. The perceived stretching pain is muscle soreness.
However, this does not occur until 12 to 24 hours later, when various substances produced during the microtears are secreted from the muscle, then come into contact with the nerve cells, causing the pain. The pain, which can be severe, can last up to a week.
Tips and tricks for sore muscles
In general, in addition to taking an enzyme combination preparation, every athlete should heed the following tips on sore muscles so that the hangover after exercise is less:
The best muscle soreness prophylaxis consists of a good training condition and following a sensibly structured training plan, which helps to avoid muscular overloads.
Once you have sore muscles, stay away from massages and intensive stretching exercises! Excessive massages represent an additional mechanical irritation of the already damaged muscles and thus delay the healing process.
Stretching exercises can be just as counterproductive: The muscles are already under a lot of strain, and intensive stretching after sporting activity can lead to further tears in the muscles. It makes sense to stretch the injured muscles only after five to seven days.
It is better to give the strained muscles enough time to regenerate. Only light training should be on the program during the healing phase. This is because the risk of a more serious injury to the muscles is particularly high during this period.
A pain-relieving benefit for sore muscles is a visit to the sauna or a hot shower. Here the blood circulation is promoted and the pain is relieved. Alternating baths can be just as effective: take a warm shower for 3 minutes and then run cold water over the painful parts of the body for 20 to 30 seconds.
Also from the side of the nutrition something can be done against muscle soreness. For optimal muscle function, the body needs sufficient amounts of calcium and magnesium, which must be supplied through food and beverages. If there is a lack of adequate supply of these minerals, there can be problems with muscular coordination. Drinks containing minerals are mandatory during training and a competition.
Getting better with regeneration
Doing sports is fun and keeps you fit. But regeneration after training is at least as important. After all, if you train every day or even twice a day and are not a competitive athlete, at some point you will no longer feel the positive aspects of sport: tiredness during exercise, heavy legs, a bad mood, restless sleep and no desire to train are the symptoms of a lack of regeneration. Only from periods of rest can the body also derive the desired benefits from training by increasing its energy reserves and boosting organ and muscle strength. However, all this happens only after training, not during it. For this, the body needs time between the individual loads. And the recreational athlete does not have to spend this time lounging on the couch.
Immediately after exercise, it is important to rebalance the body's fluid balance, preferably with water, spritzers or electrolyte drinks. Fast-acting carbohydrates, such as a banana, replenish energy stores, healthy fats like those from nuts and avocados help repair muscle cells, and protein, such as from cottage cheese, helps muscle grow. But there are other ways to help the recovery process: If you've had a hard run, you can take an ice-cold shower on your legs afterwards - this stops inflammatory processes in the muscles. Those who enjoy a massage also regenerate, because the improved blood circulation supplies the stressed tissue with fresh nutrients. This also works with self-massage on massage rollers, which loosens agglutinated muscle structures.
Active regeneration is also possible the day after exercise: a round of cycling, a walk, a hike in the mountains or an hour of yoga are conceivable. One of the most important regeneration factors is often underestimated: sleep! The body uses the time in which one slumbers blissfully to restore damaged structures. Experts recommend about seven hours of sleep, and for those who train very hard, an even greater amount is recommended. And then the body and mind feel like training again the next day.