Muscle soreness recovery after a workout is often overlooked by many fitness professionals, athletes, and bodybuilders.

For many, they place large amounts of focus and preparation on getting to the gym, optimizing supplement timings, pinpointing every meal and macro but then forget to optimize a key pillar in sports performance and muscle growth, their muscle soreness recovery or capabilities.

As a result, many experience intense muscle soreness, also known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which can be painful and affect your workouts for several days. Along with the general discomfort and impact on your workout, it can also lead to increased injury risk, a decrease in your anabolic hormones and lowered immune system.

Along with the general discomfort and impact on your workout, it can also lead to increased injury risk, a decrease in your anabolic hormones and lowered immune system.

It’s clear your muscle soreness recovery is key. At the end of the day, your ability to recover is probably a key factor limiting your progression and ability to train harder, more often and obtain better results.

Another massive factor that can limit your physical progress is your diet, start with our macro calculator to dial in your nutrition.

Here are 6 scientifically proven methods you can apply today to maximize recovery:

1. Examples of Warmup and Cool Down Exercises


To make these tips even more actionable we’re going to take them in order, starting from the last set of your next workout.

Cool down is skipped by most – ultimately, you’ve worked hard and are fatigued, ready to go home for some much-earned nutrition.

Your nutrition is the cornerstone of muscle soreness recovery, our clients rebound well from their workouts with a Macro Blueprint.

However, a cool down can still be important, especially when optimizing muscle soreness recovery and reducing DOMS the next day.

The intensity of your workout will tend to gauge how much time you need to dedicate to a cool down. However, as a general rule of thumb 5 – 10 minutes should suffice.

One reason muscle soreness recovery is important is that it helps remove by-products that accumulate within the body while training; these include hydrogen ions and other markers such as lactate, also referred to as lactic acid.

Lactate production is associated with increases in hydrogen ion, which causes fatigue and gives us that burning feeling when we’re running or lifting weights.

While these processes are completely normal during a workout, it is important to remove these by-products from the blood as quickly as possible after a workout to improve muscle soreness recovery and keep DOMS at bay (1).

How does this affect performance?

As mentioned, this isn’t just the key to reducing DOMS, it can actually help you become a better athlete or improve performance.

Two researchers compared the effects of an active cool down versus no cool down on University soccer players after a soccer match. They showed that the cool down group had better scores on both the vertical and broad jump performance.

Also, in the 30-meter sprint test the non-cool down group demonstrated sprint time reductions 50% greater compared to the cool down group!

Muscle soreness rating 48 hours after were also significantly lower in the cool down group compared to the non-cool down (2).

Applying a cool down is a lot easier than you may think. In the study listed above their cool-down consisted of:

  • 5 min of light jogging
  • 5 min of light stretching
  • 2 minutes lying with their legs raised while another player “shakes them down”

Other ways our clients have applied a cool down include, 5 minutes of light activity on a treadmill, elliptical or another cardio machine.

Lastly, you can even perform similar movements during your workout just at a lower intensity, promoting fresh blood flow without the accumulation of waste products.

If you’re using an IIFYM exercise routine, then adding 20 minutes of low-intensity cardio will fit seamlessly into your cool down. Check out this example here on IIFYM, best cardio for fat loss.

2. Foam Roll To Improve Muscle Soreness Recovery


After you perform your active cool down, another muscle soreness recovery tip you can apply while still in the gym is foam rolling.

Foam rolling has been previously shown to correct muscular imbalances, alleviate muscle soreness, relieve joint stress, improve intramuscular efficiency and even improve range of motion (3,4).

While it is a very common practice, its effectiveness on improving muscle soreness recovery had not been researched extensively until recently.

In one study, the researchers took 20 highly resistance-trained males and split them into two groups. Both groups performed an intense workout bout consisting of 10 sets of 10 reps of squats! The only difference was that one group foam rolled after the 10 sets whereas the other did not.

Alterations in tissue temperature may also reduce muscle spasms, inflammation and even improve range of motion (10,11).

Performance measurements and perceived pain scales were taken for the following three days, showing significantly reduced muscle soreness for those who foam rolled.

They also witnessed improved muscle activation, jump height and greater range of movement compared to the group that did not foam roll (5).

It appears that foam rolling works as a method to improve muscle soreness recovery by decreasing pain and inflammation through increasing blood flow to the muscle-tendon surface. Just perform 5 minutes after the cool down, focusing on the working muscle groups (6).

3. Post Workout Protein Increases Muscle Soreness Recovery


After you’ve cooled down and foam rolled it’s time to improve muscle soreness recovery with some post-workout nutrition.

Whey protein is a staple workout supplement and for good reason, it contains key essential amino acids which are vital for muscle growth and recovery.

It also increases your daily protein intake and takes you out of a negative catabolic state that may have occurred during the workout. In short, when trying to build muscle you must be in a positive protein balance, which is essentially having greater rates of protein synthesis compared to protein breakdown.

When taking your shake after the workout dozens of studies have shown it spikes the key biological driver of growth and recovery, known as muscle protein synthesis and therefore decreases muscle protein breakdown (7,8)!


Recently, a systematic review was conducted where 22 studies were pooled together in an attempt to examine the effects of protein consumption post workout and the subsequent effects on muscle soreness recovery.

The results demonstrated that protein supplementation has a positive effect on recovery, showing an increase in both lean masses (0.69kg) and strength (13.5kg) compared to placebo groups (9).

Try taking 1 – 2 scoops of whey protein around 30-60 minutes after you work out.

Deciding how much protein you need to consume through supplementation and diet is often a misunderstood concept, that could potentially be holding your recovery back. To make it easier for you, we’ve broken it down in a separate article on IIFYM. Check it out here, how much protein is enough while dieting.

4. Contrast Water Therapy to Reduce Muscle Soreness


Contrast water therapy is a relatively new phenomenon that encompasses all of the benefits from similar recovery methods including cryotherapy and cold water immersion.

While methods such as cryotherapy can work well, they are less practical on a daily basis. However, contrast therapy is simple to perform; all you need to do is alternate between cold and warm water immersion, which can even be done at home if you have two baths.

Contrast water therapy may reduce muscle soreness and damage by increasing blood flow and alternating peripheral vasoconstriction and dilation. Alterations in tissue temperature may also reduce muscle spasms, inflammation and even improve range of motion (10,11).

In addition, sleep also affects 2 more positive hormones, Testosterone and Growth hormone, which basically do the opposite, helping your cells repair and helping them re-grow (16,17).

Recently, a meta-analysis was conducted that looked at the effects of contrast water therapy on muscle soreness recovery. These researchers grouped 18 studies together and found that cold water therapy resulted in significantly greater improvements in muscle soreness compared to passive recovery without it.

These researchers also found that contrast water therapy significantly reduced muscle strength loss after intense exercise to a greater degree compared to other methods of recovery (12).

How to Apply?

  • Cold Water Immersion (8°-15°C) 1 Minute
  • Hot Water Immersion (35.5°-45°C) – 1-3 Minutes
  • Alternate for 3-5 times per session

5. Muscle Soreness Recovery Supplements


Along with the basic whey protein, a few other supplements have been shown to aid in muscle soreness recovery.

These supplements include anti-inflammatory and antioxidants that boost cellular repair, remove waste products and drastically reduce DOMS.

A few of the best include Tart cherry juice dosed at 12 oz & Vitamin C & E dosed at 500 mg.

In one study, tart cherry juice and its effects in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage were investigated. 14 male college students drank either a 12 oz tart cherry juice or placebo 2x a day for 8 days.

On the fourth day of supplementation, both groups underwent a damaging exercise protocol. Strength, pain, and muscle tenderness were recorded for the following four days.

At the conclusion of testing, the control group demonstrated strength losses of up to 22%, whereas the tart cherry juice condition only lost 4%. Pain levels were also significantly lower following tart cherry juice supplementation (13).

Of course, the sample size is small, but this study is promising!

To Support Supplementation For Muscle Soreness Recovery

In another investigation looking at the effects of dietary supplementation with Vitamin C & E, similar improvements were noted.

Those who supplemented with vitamin E & C prior to a damaging exercise bout were able to better maintain strength and maximal isometric contractions in the following sessions compared to control (14).

These results indicate that both tart cherry juice and Vitamin C&E may be beneficial supplements to improve muscle soreness recovery.

Try adding these in the evening, a few hours after the workout. It’s best to not take them straight after you train as they may block the positive adaptations we want from our training.

By taking it closer to the night-time you can maximize both positive adaptations and boost recovery. Just as your diet does, optimize it with a Macro Blueprint.

While these supplements have been backed by research, a lot of common supplements on the market today aren’t and may give you side effects. For this reason, we’ve identified 6 side effects a common supplement and how to avoid them. Check it out in this IIFYM article, pre-workout side effects.

6. Sleep More To Improve Muscle Soreness Recovery


Lastly, after you cool down, foam roll, drink your protein and take a couple of baths we have exactly what you were hoping for, a good night’s sleep!

Not only is sleep vital for cognitive function and your overall health, but it is also essential to optimize muscle soreness recovery, hormone production and performance.

Sleep is basically when your body hits the reset button and goes into recovery mode to prepare you for the next day, repairing damaged cells while you sleep.

If you deprive yourself of sleep not only are you impairing cognitive and immune function but also hormonal function (15).

Sleep alters some key hormones such as cortisol, which is often viewed as a catabolic hormone that can impact our muscle soreness recovery, reduce performance, energy and causes chronic fatigue and constant DOMS. We’ve seen clients deal with this issue on multiple occasions due to stress and lack of sleep.

In addition, sleep also affects 2 more positive hormones, Testosterone and Growth hormone, which basically do the opposite, helping your cells repair and helping them re-grow (16,17).

Ultimately, a good night’s sleep helps keep cortisol in a healthy range which ensures your Testosterone and Growth hormone levels are optimized.

As a result of insufficient sleep, your physique and muscle soreness recovery become negatively impacted. Thus, to make sure you’re recovering optimally aim for 7-8 hours of quality sleep each night.

5 quick tips for improved sleep habits

  • No caffeine, pre-workouts or stimulants after 3 pm.
  • Reduce the use of your TV/laptop/phone screens at least 2-hours before bed to block out blue light, which tricks our brain to think it’s daytime.
  • Use blackout shades to make your bedroom pitch black.
  • Drink Bed Time Tea or take sleep aid supplements such as ZMA or Melatonin.
  • Read a non-fiction book for 5-15 minutes before bed.

Optimize Your Muscle Soreness Recovery Today

As you can see from all the research, your workout recovery habits can result in reduced DOMS and increased performance and progress towards your goals.

To see significant and immediate improvements in muscle soreness recovery try adding these six key tips into your routine today:

  1.  Cool down for 5-15 minutes after each workout, this can be light cardio or 1-2 light sets of that muscle group.
  2. Use a foam roller and roll the working muscle group for 3-4 minutes after your cool down.
  3. Drink around 1-2 scoops of whey protein after the gym, ideally within the first 60 minutes post workout.
  4. Try applying contrast water therapy or other cold therapy techniques if you have access to them.
  5. Take certain supplements, including antioxidants such as Tart Cherry Juice and Vitamin C & E.
  6. Make sure you optimize sleep, aiming for at least 7-8 hours of sleep or more if needed.

Lastly, an aspect that seems obvious for muscle soreness recovery, your DIET plan. It plays a massive role in recuperating and restoring energy. We’ve witnessed countless clients recover better once they’ve dialed in their nutrition. If you are struggling in this realm, have one of our coaches build your Macro Blueprint.