It is common to experience muscle soreness after physical activity or a workout. The sensation of heavy, tender, or sore muscles (1) is most often felt the morning after a workout. It can be intense enough to persist for one or two days. This post-exercise discomfort is caused by muscle inflammation (2).
While the feeling of exercise-related muscle inflammation is unpleasant, it is your body’s natural response to vigorous physical activity. It indicates that the body is repairing itself after experiencing some degree of wear and tear during exercise. However, too much inflammation over a long period of time can cause damage to your body (3).
The following are frequently asked questions about inflammation, and how omega-3, or fish oil, can help in reducing its occurrences.
What is inflammation?
Inflammation occurs when your body experiences injuries or infections. When this happens, hormones cause your small blood vessels to dilate or widen - resulting in swelling and redness. This allows more blood and immune system cells to reach the affected area and fight off bacteria or repair muscles (4).
Working out puts your body under strain, which can trigger an inflammatory response.
When is inflammation bad?
Acute inflammation occurs when your body needs to recover after undergoing strain such as after a workout. It is not necessarily harmful (3), but can persist for prolonged periods of time. This is called chronic inflammation.
Long-term inflammation causes the body to think that it has to fight off infection or heal injuries consistently even without the need. This causes plaque to build up in the blood vessels, creating the risk of serious health conditions (5). It can also cause fatigue, muscle damage, and increased muscle loss (1).
Some research has found that intense and long exercise can increase the risk of both injury and chronic inflammation (6).
How do I avoid chronic inflammation?
Here’s what you can do to avoid chronic inflammation:
In addition to a host of other health reasons, laying off the cigarettes can help you avoid inflammation (3).
Avoid foods that cause inflammation
This includes white bread and pasta, and processed meat (3). Fried foods and margarine, shortening, and lard may also trigger inflammation (7).
Avoid excessive sugar
This means cutting down on sugary foods and drinks, such as sodas (5, 7).
Eat foods with polyphenols
Polyphenols are antioxidants that can help lower inflammation. They can be found in food like berries, red grapes, cherries, onions, leafy vegetables, and green tea (3).
Moderate exercise, or exercise with resting periods, can help you safely reap the benefits of working out without causing too much inflammation (16). According to a report (16), a moderate, 20-minute exercise session may even help tone down inflammation.
Consume omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 benefits include anti-inflammatory effects. Omega-3 fatty acids come from eating oily, cold-water fish like mackerel, salmon, and herring. It is also found in flaxseeds, flax oil, and walnuts (8). However, if you can’t get enough omega-3 from your food, you can consider taking fish oil supplements.
What are omega-3 anti-inflammatory effects?
Fish oils contain omega-3 fatty acids, which influence chemical changes in the body that promote anti-inflammatory action. They reduce the amount of substances that promote inflammation in the body (9). Due to this, omega-3 plays a key role against inflammatory diseases and in relieving inflammation.
What are other omega-3 benefits from fish oil?
Omega-3 maintains and promotes nervous system function and development. It has been found to protect against neurodegenerative conditions (10). It also helps damaged nerves recover from injury (11).
This is essential for promoting the health of your central nervous system. The central nervous system manages your thoughts, memories, emotions, as well as how you move (12). A healthy nervous system means better movement, coordination, and balance (13).
How can I speed up recovery after a workout?
Reducing chronic inflammation is important to enhance recovery after exercise, and to reduce feeling sore(1). Fortunately, there are things we can do to support quick recovery after exercise (14):
Hydrating after exercise is important for normalising your blood pressure and stabilising your heartbeat (14).
Consume fish oil
Apart from anti-inflammatory effects, fish oil promotes the recovery of muscles, and reduces soreness after exercising. Those who perform vigorous exercise, or are not used to exercise, are recommended to take a higher dose of fish oil to reduce muscle soreness (15).
Get some shut-eye
Rest and sleep lets your body repair muscles that came under strain during your workout (14).
Eat the right kinds of food
The right kinds of food contain nutrients and energy that support muscle building (14). These include whole milk, chicken, and black beans.
Get a massage
Massages don’t just help with muscle soreness. They also help increase blood flow, which encourages faster recovery (14).
Keeping inflammation at healthy levels can help you stick to your daily exercise routine without worry. Watching what you eat, and making sure that you get enough hydration and rest is a good start. Consuming fish oil can help your body get the boost that omega-3 can provide in dealing with inflammation.
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Learn more about other areas that fish oil can help you with, plus other supplements that can benefit in different ways:
*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional. Vitamin and/or mineral supplements should not replace a balanced diet.
1. Wentz, L., "Balancing Exercise-Induced Inflammation". Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietitians Association. Published (n.d.)., on http://www.sportsrd.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Balancing-Exercise-Induced-Inflammation.pdf. Accessed August 15, 2021
2. Krum, L. N., "Understanding Muscle Soreness – How Much is Too Much?". National Kidney Foundation. Published July 2, 2015 at https://www.kidney.org/content/understanding-muscle-soreness-%E2%80%93-how-much-too-much. Accessed August 15, 2021
3. Harvard Health Publishing, " Understanding acute and chronic inflammation". Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published April 1, 2020 on https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/understanding-acute-and-chronic-inflammation. Accessed August 15, 2021
4. InformedHealth.org. "What is an inflammation". Cologne, Germany: Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWiG). Last updated February 22, 2018 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK279298/. Accessed August 15, 2021
5. Mayo Clinic. "How to use food to help your body fight inflammation". May Clinic. Published August 13, 2019 on https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/how-to-use-food-to-help-your-body-fight-inflammation/art-20457586. Accessed August 15, 2021
6. Cerqueira, E., Marinho, D., et. al., "Inflammatory Effects of High and Moderate Intensity Exercise—A Systematic Review". Frontiers in Physiology: Exercise Physiology. Published January 9, 2020, on https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2019.01550/full. Accessed August 15, 2021
7. Harvard Health Publishing. " Foods that fight inflammation". Harvard Medical School: Harvard Health Publishing. Published August 29, 2020 on https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/foods-that-fight-inflammation. Accessed August 15, 2021
8. The Department of Health: "Topic 1: Nutrition basics". Australian Government: Department of Health. Last updated October 22, 2013 on https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/publications/publishing.nsf/Content/nhsc-trainers-manual~topic-1. Accessed August 15, 2021
9. Vitable. "Fish Oil". Vitable. Published (n.d.) on https://research.vitable.com.au/fish-oil. Accessed August 15, 2021
10. Wysoczański, T., Sokoła-Wysoczańska, E., et. al. "Omega-3 Fatty Acids and their Role in Central Nervous System - A Review". National Library of Medicine: National Center for Biotechnology Information. Published August 2016 on https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26795198/. Accessed August 15, 2021
11. Silva, R., Oliveira, J., "Long-Chain Omega-3 Fatty Acids Supplementation Accelerates Nerve Regeneration and Prevents Neuropathic Pain Behavior in Mice". National Institutes of Health: US National Library of Medicine. Published October 2017 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5651013/. Accessed August 15, 2021
12. Cleveland Clinic. "Nervous System". Cleveland Clinic. Last reviewed May 12, 2020 on https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/21202-nervous-system. Accessed August 15, 2021
13. Healthwise Staff. "Nervous System Problems". University of Michigan Health: Michigan Medicine. Current as of February 26, 2020 on https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/nersp. Accessed August 15, 2021
14. SelectHealth Staff. "How to Speed Up Your Recovery After a Tough Workout". SelectHealth. Published (n.d.) on https://selecthealth.org/blog/2019/07/how-to-speed-up-your-recovery-after-a-tough-workout. Accessed August 15, 2021
15. VanDusseldorp, T., Escobar, K., “Impact of Varying Dosages of Fish Oil on Recovery and Soreness Following Eccentric Exercise". National Institutes of Health: US National Library of Medicine. Published online July 27, 2020 on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7468920/. Accessed August 15, 2021
16. Brubaker, M., "Exercise … it Does a Body Good: 20 Minutes Can Act as Anti-Inflammatory". UC San Diego Health. Published January 12, 2017 on https://health.ucsd.edu/news/releases/pages/2017-01-12-exercise-can-act-as-anti-inflammatory.aspx. Accessed August 15, 2021