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Muscle soreness & protein - is this bro science?


So I’ve started working out more and incorporating a lot more strength work since I got a new opinion from physiotherapy & “graduated”. I saw a trainer for a short time through a school program, and I have a routine from them. I’m really liking it, even though I am still incredibly weak (using 5lb weights and body weight....and I still can’t do a sit-up 😬). I do lots of stretching and use a heating pad, take baths with Epsom salts, etc. But I still get incredibly sore immediately. I’ve been working out with my routine once or twice a week for about 8 weeks (and progressed from 3lb to 5lb weights, and am much more comfortable with body weight squats & lunges than before!!)

My SO who has done real weight training (unlike my “pink weights” workout lol yes I’ve read the MFP forums, no I can’t lift any more for 2 sets I’m really just this weak), tells me this is because I’m a) not having protein immediately after my workout, and b) I’m not eating enough protein overall.

Is this fake broscience, or does protein actually matter for soreness after working out?

My general google search brought up a lot of information supporting that perspective, but I’ve also heard there’s nothing valuable about meal timing and “pre/post workout” supplements. I know protein intake doesn’t actually matter for strength, as long as it’s not like deficient or anything, it’s usually about people who are trying to gain muscle mass in a caloric surplus.

I also suspect being sore immediately and for several days isn’t unusual for people who have been very sedentary for many years, and it’s not really a cause for concern. This just made me curious.
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Replies

  • kshama2001
    kshama2001 Posts: 25,205 Member
    MikePTY wrote: »
    The "anabolic window" is largely a myth. You don't need to have your protein right after a workout.

    However adequate protein intake is important, and if you are not getting that, it could slow your recovery.

    But that being said, it's not uncommon to be sore for several days when you first start with lifting. 8 weeks is a bit long to be feeling this, but if you are only doing it once or twice a week, that's not that much lifting.

    @kiela64 if I take a break from lifting, I'm only sore the first time, if that. I am also female but use much heavier weights on some exercises. My goal is to lift twice per week but sometimes it only happens once.

    Maybe this is a question for your physiotherapist?
  • kshama2001
    kshama2001 Posts: 25,205 Member
    Speaking of the "placebo effect", not sure if "nocebo" is the right word for what happened to me Thursday on the way home from surgery - my pain was about a 6 during the drive - rush hour in Boston, took two hours for us to go 30 miles. (My OH drove.) As soon as I arrived home, my pain plummeted to a 3 and I had to remind myself to take the long-anticipated ibuprofen. (The pain relief was not caused by meds finally kicking in as the hospital had given me nothing.)

    The brain can do the oddest things...I have a neurological condition and found The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science very helpful.
  • AnnPT77
    AnnPT77 Posts: 22,325 Member
    kshama2001 wrote: »
    Speaking of the "placebo effect", not sure if "nocebo" is the right word for what happened to me Thursday on the way home from surgery - my pain was about a 6 during the drive - rush hour in Boston, took two hours for us to go 30 miles. (My OH drove.) As soon as I arrived home, my pain plummeted to a 3 and I had to remind myself to take the long-anticipated ibuprofen. (The pain relief was not caused by meds finally kicking in as the hospital had given me nothing.)

    The brain can do the oddest things...I have a neurological condition and found The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science very helpful.

    I don't think that's nocebo, strictly speaking, but it's certainly an equally real effect, possibly also directly brain-mediated, but possibly (you would know best) the effect of reduced stress (from being home vs. in traffic) on blood pressure and whatnot?

    And yes, that was a good book.

    This is severely off-topic, now (because not focused on placebo/nocebo effect), but if you haven't read any, V.S. Ramachandran's books (Phantoms in the Brain, etc.) are also fascinating, though he repeats some material across multiple books. Also Oliver Sacks, of course.
  • kshama2001
    kshama2001 Posts: 25,205 Member
    kshama2001 wrote: »
    MikePTY wrote: »
    The "anabolic window" is largely a myth. You don't need to have your protein right after a workout.

    However adequate protein intake is important, and if you are not getting that, it could slow your recovery.

    But that being said, it's not uncommon to be sore for several days when you first start with lifting. 8 weeks is a bit long to be feeling this, but if you are only doing it once or twice a week, that's not that much lifting.

    @kiela64 if I take a break from lifting, I'm only sore the first time, if that. I am also female but use much heavier weights on some exercises. My goal is to lift twice per week but sometimes it only happens once.

    Maybe this is a question for your physiotherapist?

    ps - I hope you don't construe this as me belittling what weights you use. My point was that my experience is so different from yours that my best advise is to consult a medical professional.
  • kiela64
    kiela64 Posts: 1,448 Member
    Thanks everyone! I thought I had replied already but I think the app crashed on my phone and it didn't save anything lol.
    kshama2001 wrote: »
    MikePTY wrote: »
    The "anabolic window" is largely a myth. You don't need to have your protein right after a workout.

    However adequate protein intake is important, and if you are not getting that, it could slow your recovery.

    But that being said, it's not uncommon to be sore for several days when you first start with lifting. 8 weeks is a bit long to be feeling this, but if you are only doing it once or twice a week, that's not that much lifting.

    @kiela64 if I take a break from lifting, I'm only sore the first time, if that. I am also female but use much heavier weights on some exercises. My goal is to lift twice per week but sometimes it only happens once.

    Maybe this is a question for your physiotherapist?

    I did totally graduate from physiotherapy (with the caveat that I do have some exercises to continue to do in perpetuity). I am ok to run, do lunges, yoga, literally anything as long as I'm careful not to overextend through my low back in forward bends (which I tend to do all the time in yoga whoops). I went back a couple years ago because my knee was continuing to hurt and swell when I started a more physical job and tried to be more active. It appears that I'm good now, I just had some very tight muscles (calf & IT band) I now know how to address, and I had very weak glutes & core, paired with extra flexible hips & back. I've been doing a lot of exercises pretty regularly, and my knee has not bothered me in ages. I genuinely do not have the ability to contact her anymore (I would need a referral again, and this isn't something I'm medically concerned about). It's definitely muscular and not giving me any warning signs, I just am continuously quite sore for several days (maybe 3 or 4).

    I am thinking maybe once you build up a baseline of fitness the sore once and then not too badly after thing is more usual. I do notice I am somewhat less sore than I was the first week I did the routine (with 3lb weights).

    Getting 'adequate protein' was a new concept to me when I first started using MFP. When I started tracking, I was getting between 40-60g per day, which I think was still functional but maybe not ideal. I started incorporating protein bars as a snack or a backup breakfast, and changed my breakfast to a more protein-dense meal (greek yogurt). I also noticed I did feel better increasing protein, and especially in the mornings I felt less hungry and less of a drive to overeat. I also got fewer headaches overall. Now I usually get more like 60-80g, and when I'm tracking and mostly eating foods I've prepared myself, I can get more than 80g sometimes. It still takes focus and effort, and I haven't been terribly 'on the ball' with my eating lately.

    Because this question interested me, I investigated a few threads about protein intake here, and found a few linked articles with calculators based on current weight & ideal/healthy weight. When I put in my stats I got about the same for both calculations, closer to 100g. I did find the original thread I think, I got it from you @AnnPT77 https://examine.com/nutrition/how-much-protein-do-you-need/ (scrolling down to "overweight/obese" and my closest current weight is 175 (today's weigh-in 174.4, recent lowest 172.4), the range is 95-119. When I followed a few of the calculations I got very similar results, even testing out my healthy BMI goal weight of 130lbs).
    AnnPT77 wrote: »
    If the soreness is generalized over the muscles you're working (not sharp pains at specific points), it's probably normal.

    Getting enough high-quality protein through the day is important, and general good overall nutrition is a good plan for best results.

    Also, how is your hyrdration? It may be a personal quirk, but I tend to feel DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) more if I'm a little dehydrated. Have you tried icing right after the workout for a few minutes, or a cold bath/shower for a few minutes if that's available? (Yup, that last can be unpleasant in itself, so it's a question of relative discomforts and which you might prefer! ;) ). Another thing to try, if you haven't done it, is a short very mild few minutes of cardio (like walking on a treadmill for 5 minutes, say) after the strength workout, to keep blood circulating a little more for a few minutes - a sort of cool-down.

    Please don't deprecate your "pink weights" vs. what other people may lift. "Lifting heavy" means lifting things that are heavy for you. You're working on getting stronger, starting where you are now, and that's all anyone does or can do, regardless of how much poundage is involved. You're doing real strength training and real weight lifting just as much as anyone is, and you can be proud of it.

    If you feel like some extra protein might help you, taking it as a shake or bar or whatever after your workout (even some shelf-stable chocolate milk, if you can tolerate dairy) might be something to try, just to see if you perceive a difference. If it helps you feel better, that's a good thing, whether it's "scientific" or not. Even if it's just the placebo effect, it's still an effect, and if you get it by doing something safe and the effect is useful to you, it's fine to do.

    Personally, I feel like I recover (muscular recovery) better after longer workouts if I have a small carby snack after the first hour or so, but I think that's probably placebo effect, and just a personal quirky thing. (In that scenario, carbs can affect energy level, but I know of nothing that suggests that muscle recovery would be perceptibly affected.)

    (By the way: The "placebo effect" is not just necessarily "all in one's head": There are some physical systems (usually ones that are normally subconsciously mediated by the brain) that can be affected by our mental convictions in surprising ways, ways that can be measured. Many people don't understand that. However, if you find some effect true for you that isn't supported by research on larger population groups, it's not a service to evangelize to convince others to do what you did, counter to the research . . . but you don't seem like that kind of person, really. :flowerforyou:)

    I definitely feel like I'm drinking enough water, I have a large bottle I fill up constantly throughout the day. But it's always good to remind myself, if I don't think of it I can go too long without enough. The placebo and nocebo effects are tooootally interesting, so it might be worth trying just for that lol. Maybe that's where the myth comes from, despite the research to the contrary. (The worst examples of nocebos are usually people in drug trials who experience the physiological side effects when they were taking the sugar pills - luckily I don't think there are any negative side effects with protein or a snack, so it's a pretty safe bet to play with).

    I wasn't really trying to depreciate my workout, just pre-emptively in case anyone felt like jumping on that sidetrack. I've definitely seen it on the forums on occasion. I do feel somewhat ridiculous being the loudest breather struggling with my second set of 5lbs (as with struggling to run on the treadmill for one minute) but it's where I am and it's good to stay there until it's easy so I can keep my form the best it can be. It's already a dramatic improvement over where I was several years ago, so I am happy.

  • kiela64
    kiela64 Posts: 1,448 Member
    swierzbik1 wrote: »
    STOP with the methods trying to get rid of accute inflammation. That "soreness" is necessary for muscle growth. No wonder that you are still weak, you are literally sending misleading signals to your body all the time. It's the chronic inflammation that you should watch out for. I don't care if you are using 1lb,5lb or 10lb dumbbells, if after a week you wouldn't use double that, I would literally quit as a coach and become a bus driver. Whoever is coaching you, they have no idea what they do.

    I know it’s to be expected, people were just telling me it was lasting too long/could be reduced by timing/increasing protein. Wondered what others thoughts were on it.

    You think stretching is misleading? 🤨 why? That’s not something I’ve heard before... usually stretching is a good thing?

    Also the ‘chronic’ inflammation, I’m guessing you’re referring to my knee issues? I haven’t had that swelling since ah maybe 18 months ago now? It really does seem to be gone, to me and the physiotherapist.

    I’ve certainly progressed, btw. I started doing one set with 3lbs and body weight. Now I’m doing 5lb and two sets. Because the next increase is to 8lbs, I’ve been recommended to wait until I can easily do 4 sets. 2 sets is still genuinely gruelling for me, my second set is not easy or nice-looking. There’s a lot of heavy breathing. I have to psych myself up to try again, and sometimes I’m pausing between reps 😶. I’m really still working on form and engaging muscles properly.

    I think what @MikePTY was saying might have more to do with my slow progression- it isn’t a lot of sessions per week. Part of that was soreness, part school, part it’s a lot more than I was doing before! The trainer met with me once a week, and corrected my form and added a couple new exercises every time. She encouraged me to choose my weights & days myself, to stick where I was comfortable and encouraged me to try the next heavier set when she saw I could manage easier. I think I had a really good opportunity, given it was essentially free with the program from school (even though paying for facilities is part of tuition).
  • lynn_glenmont
    lynn_glenmont Posts: 9,245 Member
    swierzbik1 wrote: »
    swierzbik1 wrote: »
    STOP with the methods trying to get rid of accute inflammation. That "soreness" is necessary for muscle growth. No wonder that you are still weak, you are literally sending misleading signals to your body all the time. It's the chronic inflammation that you should watch out for. I don't care if you are using 1lb,5lb or 10lb dumbbells, if after a week you wouldn't use double that, I would literally quit as a coach and become a bus driver. Whoever is coaching you, they have no idea what they do.

    Agree with you on the first part -- true DOMS is more a feature than a bug of effective weight training -- or at worst an unfortunate symptom of effective weight training.

    But asserting that someone you have never met, or people in general, should double their lifts week over week is potentially damaging advice.

    Sorry I should be more precused in regards to 2nd part. What I meant in MY own history as a coach I have never seen a beginner training with ME not being able to get comfortable with doubling the weight of dumbbells in a week if they started at such a low point as 5-10lbs (I do wotk with plenty of older clients).

    Thanks for clarifying. That makes sense. I suspect what is happening in many cases is low expectations, low self-confidence, fear of the unknown, etc., by beginners (i.e., whatever they are willing to lift in their first session really isn't much of a physical challenge for them, however much of a mental/emotional challenge it might be). Good on you for helping them get comfortable with more weight.
  • kiela64
    kiela64 Posts: 1,448 Member
    psuLemon wrote: »
    Your training frequency is, in my experience, one of the main reasons why you are sore. Every person i have trained who follows a system/program like yours suffer the same issues. Increase frequency with increased protein should help. Generally 3-4x a week is ideal. Also, what does your program look like? Its going to be difficult to see strength gains if you are going extended periods (like 7 days) between hitting the muscle groups.

    Also, while DOMS is not uncommon, it also isn't a precursor for muscle growth. I never get DOMS in my upper body and always get it in my lower body and i hit some high volume programs. This has been the case and i have been lifting for awhile.

    Thank you for your input! I hadn't considered that - I often waited because I was sore, so I didn't do eg. a workout the day after, although I would do a yoga class (I intended to do an aquafit class as well but never quite made it). I did have several weeks at 3 but then I had a couple at 1 and I missed a week doing essays so I averaged it out. 3 does seem basically doable, I'll try for that and see if it helps.

    I don't think I have exactly the right language to describe my routine but I will do my best. Currently, I'm aiming for 10 repetitions, and 2 sets. Usually after about 15-20min on the treadmill, walking on the incline in a pyramid increase to warm up, cool down (now trying for some 1min jogs interspersed, currently I've managed only 3 of those).

    I start with lower body and it's all bodyweight. Squats, lunges (I'm very wobbly on lunges, still working on balance & form), bridge with a resistance band - on the 10th I hold and push my thighs out against the band 10x as well, and a kickback on hands and knees.

    Upper body - I have an exercise that is 3 parts, a bicep curl to 90 degrees to above my head then back to 90 and down. I use one weight to reach back and do triceps, trying to keep my elbows forward. Keeping arms straight, I lift to the side, then on the 10th do small circles for 10sec. Arms straight lift forwards, on the 10th hold for 10sec (this one kills me and is very very hard to do twice still). I'm doing "push ups" not on my knees, but still struggling to keep my body straight. She said that was better than doing them on my knees, because my form was almost there. This one is also a struggle, and I'm often pausing between repetitions to psych myself up to try again.

    Core, again bodyweight: I do a 30 second plank. I was encouraged to do a pilates sit-up where you lower back down for 5 seconds, but other than once in the training session I haven't managed to recreate it and do the sit-up part correctly so unfortunately I do tend to skip it. I do the crunches and side crunches to knee. I added side planks as well because I also failed to do the Russian twists.

    I end up being in the gym about 2 and a 1/2h doing this, with stretching and a shower. I'm not sure if I'm just not moving fast enough but it seems excessive.
  • kiela64
    kiela64 Posts: 1,448 Member
    Thanks everyone for your replies, I'm thinking while the protein thing is largely a myth, I have a few experiments to try - increasing frequency to 3 or 4 times a week, and doing a 5min 'cool down' walk on the treadmill after doing the strength work. If I'm increasing frequency, I'll be doing some strength work at home without cardio, but of course I can go outside and walk or walk up and down stairs (more likely with the cold/icy weather) :tongue:
  • mmapags
    mmapags Posts: 8,953 Member
    Protein doesn't necessarily help with soreness. I've never found that to be so. But it is essential for protein turnover and muscle building/ recovery.