Vitamin C for Muscle Soreness
Whether you are suffering from mild aches and pains or intense muscle soreness following a bout of demanding physical activity, sore muscles can hinder your enjoyment of daily activities. Vitamin C, commonly known for its immune boosting properties, has been found to offer a range of additional benefits in recent years. With increasing research into the many roles that it plays in the human body, vitamin C may contribute to reducing and relieving sore muscles.
Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness
While sore muscles often accompany physical exercise, delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is not readily apparent while exercising. Instead, DOMS occurs at least eight hours after exercising, with symptoms at their worst within the first two days of a new, particularly demanding physical activity. The soreness associated with DOMS can last for days, potentially limiting your strength, endurance and general physical abilities. Unlike strains and sprains, which are characterized by swelling and sharp, intense pains, DOMS involves dull pain with no obvious physical trauma.
Like the aches that occur while exercising, DOMS was once believed to have arisen from a buildup of lactic acid. In recent years, this theory has lost ground, with the majority of the lactic acid removed from the muscle site shortly after exercise. Instead, DOMS is caused by physical damage to your muscles, with the healing of tiny tears to your muscle fibers contributing to the duration of DOMS symptoms.
While tears to your muscle fibers can occur following any demanding exercise performed for the first time, such tears and DOMS symptoms are more likely following a bout of eccentric exercise. This type of exercise places great stress on your muscles by forcing them to contract while extending. When properly performed, pushups are a great example of eccentric exercise. By lowering yourself slowly, your muscles are forced to contract in order to hold your weight up, meanwhile extending while your elbows bend through the downward motion of the pushup.
Prevention of Muscle Soreness with Vitamin C
In a 2006 study, a team headed by Dr. Declan Connolly at the University of Vermont's Human Performance Laboratory tested the possible role of vitamin C in preventing DOMS. For eight days before an intense bout of eccentric exercise, participants were either given daily vitamin C supplements or a placebo. When comparing these two groups, this team of researchers found that the symptoms of DOMS were neither prevented nor reduced by vitamin C supplementation.
Though not found to be effective prior to exercise, a combination of pre- and post-workout vitamin C supplementation may reduce the symptoms of DOMS. Providing vitamin C supplements for two weeks before and four days after an eccentric exercise session, Scott Bryer and Allan Goldfarb of the University of North Carolina found, in their 2006 study, that muscle soreness was reduced without affecting muscle function.
Effects of Vitamin C Supplementation
While taking vitamin C supplements for a short time before and after exercise may reduce the symptoms of DOMS, regular supplementation may not have such an effect. In fact, much of the research into its effects points out that vitamin C supplementation may prevent your body from adapting to exercise and producing its own antioxidants.
In a 2009 review of this research, a team led by Cian McGinley of the University of Limerick, Ireland explored the effects of regular vitamin C supplementation on muscle damage. Focusing on studies using eccentric exercise, these researchers found no evidence for the prevention and reduction of DOMS. With multiple studies showing that symptoms of DOMS worsen with vitamin C supplementation, these researchers recommend that you do not take vitamin C or other antioxidant supplements when exercising.
- Dr. Mirkin: What Causes Muscle Soreness?
- "Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness"; The Effects of Vitamin C Supplementation on Symptoms of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness; Declan Connolly et al.; September 2006
- "International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism"; Effect of High Dose Vitamin C Supplementation on Muscle Soreness, Damage, Function, and Oxidative Stress to Eccentric Exercise; Scott C. Bryer and Allan H. Goldfarb; June 2006
- "Sports Medicine"; Does Antioxidant Vitamin Supplementation Protect Against Muscle Damage?; Cian McGinley et al.; December 2009
Matthew Lee has been writing professionally since 2007. Past and current research projects have explored the effect of a diagnosis of breast cancer on lifestyle and mental health and adherence to lifestyle-based (i.e. nutrition and exercise) and drug therapy treatment programs. He holds a Master of Arts in psychology from Carleton University and is working toward his doctorate in health psychology.