Antioxidants Don’t Ease Muscle Soreness After Exercise

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Many people take antioxidants before or after exercise in the belief that this prevents muscle soreness. A thorough review of the scientific literature has found no solid evidence that it works.

Researchers pooled data from 50 randomized placebo-controlled trials involving 1,089 participants. Some studies looked at antioxidant supplements taken before exercise, some after. The type of antioxidant studied varied — cherry juice, pomegranate juice, vitamins C and E, black tea extract and others in various doses. The studies used supplements as powders, tablets and concentrates.

The pooled data, in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, showed some small advantage for using antioxidants, but none that would add up to a meaningful difference from taking a placebo at any time after exercise. None of the trials measured recovery time — that is, the time it took to being able to exercise again without soreness. Two trials found antioxidants caused mild gastrointestinal problems in a small number of participants.

“Muscle soreness is something you get from unaccustomed or high-intensity exercise, and there are some ways to reduce it — hot baths, cold baths, massage,” said the lead author, Mayur K. Ranchordas, a senior lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University in England. “But the evidence for antioxidant supplements is pretty poor. The effect was so small that in practical terms they really didn’t make any difference.”