Sometimes after a long day of dancing, it can feel like your entire body could use an ice bath. Delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS, is muscle pain that sets in 24 to 72 hours after strenuous exercise, due to the breakdown of muscle fibers. Usually, it happens after trying something brand-new or a movement you haven't done in a while.
But if you're getting DOMS from steps you do often, that's a sign that you should look at how you're fueling your body, says Val Schonberg, a licensed dietitian in Georgia who frequently works with dancers. It might mean your diet is due for a rethink.
Staying hydrated and eating the right mix of nutrients can help you reduce soreness. "Inflammation is a natural way for the body to heal, so we don't want to stop the process," says Schonberg. "But you can eat to deal with inflammatory factors, and to preserve the integrity of your muscles."
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The Benefit: Reduces inflammation.
The Foods: Fish (salmon and tuna), walnuts, flaxseeds, canola and soybean oil. "You can take a fish-oil supplement, but I always recommend trying to eat the food first," says Schonberg.
Dinner Idea: Salmon with brown rice and a vegetable side. Schonberg says a proper serving of fish is about the size of your palm.
The Benefits: Help neutralize free radicals, decrease inflammatory reactions and repair cells and tissue.
The Foods: Fresh berries, tart-cherry juice. "In addition to a high level of antioxidants, tart cherry includes other nutrients and compounds that can promote the immune system, better sleep and brain health," says Schonberg.
Mocktail Idea: Dissolve one ounce of tart-cherry concentrate into sparkling water.
The Benefit: Provides energy. "You need to continuously refill the glycogen stores with nutrient-dense sources of carbs," says Schonberg. "Things like pasta and rice will only be stored as fat if overconsumed." Eating carbs throughout the day has also been shown to improve athletic performance.
The Foods: Whole grains like quinoa, oats, brown rice and whole-wheat pasta.
Breakfast Ideas: Nut butter on sprouted or whole-grain toast, or yogurt with granola and berries.
The Benefit: The amino acids from whey protein help to rebuild the tiny muscle tears that cause soreness.
The Foods: Milk, yogurt, cheese and whey-protein powder.
After-Workout Snack Idea: A berry smoothie with ground flax and whey protein