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Health & Exercise Forum

Post Exercise Muscle Soreness? Use Caffeine

Mar 28, 2009

Dr. Paul MackareyDid you ever wonder how Lance Armstrong gets back on his bike at the Tour de France every day after several days of intense biking without time for recovery? How can he pedal another day? Aren’t his quads sore? Exercise enthusiasts often inquire about the best method to reduce muscle soreness following intensive training from lactic acid buildup. A recent study in The Journal of Pain found that caffeine can be very effective in the relief of muscle soreness associated with vigorous exercise and training. Subjects were given the equivalent of two cups of coffee 24 and 48 hours after intensive exercise. Caffeine was found to be more effective than naproxen (Aleve) and aspirin. However, it was most effective in those who were not regular caffeine users.

How Lactic Acid Causes Mucle Soreness

Lactic acid accumulates in the muscles when glucose is burned for fuel during exercise when a chemical called pyruvate is produced. If you perform a mild to moderate workout you are able to provide enough oxygen during the activity to convert the pyruvate to carbon dioxide and water which can be removed by the lungs. However, if the workout is very intense then you do not have enough oxygen to allow all of the pyruvate to be removed by the lungs. The excessive pyruvate is converted to lactic acid and accumulates in the muscles and bloodstream. Lactic acid causes a painful burn in the muscle and limits complete contraction of the muscle.

Cause of Lactic Acid Buildup With Exercise

Poor Nutrition
Poor Training
Inadequate Rest

  • not enough sleep
  • not enough recovery time from the last exercise session

Mental Stress/Anxiety
Illness  (flu)
Excessive Competition

  • Without adequate interval of rest or light training

How to Limit Lactic Acid Buildup

A combination of proper hydration, nutrition, and training (interval and endurance) will allow for high intensity performance without the negative effects of lactic acid accumulation:

  • Hydration – before, during and after training – urine should be clear
  • Glycogen Repletion – drink and eat foods rich in glycogen easily absorbed and digested within 15 minutes following exercise - carbohydrate-protein combo
  • Interval Training – 2-3 days per week incorporate high intensity exercise/training bursts to specifically condition your body to buffer the lactic acid created by these intense intervals. Gradually increase training to a 30-60-90-120 second burst to reach a level of oxygen debt. Immediately following these bursts, perform moderate/minimal intervals of low intensity exercise to allow recovery enough for a repeat intensity burst.
  • Endurance Training – long and low intensity training on the other 2-3 days per week
  • Massage – massage your fatigued muscles following exercise for 5-10 minutes 3-5 times per day to mobilize tissue fluids, including lactic acid.
  • Movement – mild movement is good. Don’t sit and crash after intense training. Take short walks for 5 to 10 minute, every hour or two to assist mobilizing your tissue fluids.
  • Caffeine – according to this recent study, take the equivalent of 2 cups of coffee every 24 to 48 hours AFTER intensive exercise. However, continue to hydrate with water or sports drink to avoid dehydration.

Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body. Keep moving, eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly