Does Protein Help Sore Muscles


Taking protein before or after exercising will not prevent sore muscles or speed up muscle recovery. Despite many health and well-being companies promoting their protein supplement products for muscle soreness, no evidence supports their effectiveness. [1] 

However, there are other techniques you can use to prevent or help sore muscles after exercising.

Read on to find out how protein supplements affect your muscles, the different types of protein supplements available and what you can do to help muscle soreness.

Sore Muscles And Exercise

We all know that feeling of being sore the day after exercise, and sometimes even 2-3 days after if you haven't been exercising regularly. 

This sore feeling occurs because, during exercise, the muscle fibres are under stress and begin to break down. It is generally understood the pain is caused by these microscopic injuries to the muscular tissue. After exercising, as your muscles recover, the individual fibres repair themselves becoming larger and stronger than they were previously.[6] So muscle soreness can be a sign you are getting stronger. 


Protein is a micronutrient essential for muscles and bones. They are responsible for the growth, maintenance and repair of the body, with a special focus on muscle growth and recovery.[2] 

Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins. In general, proteins have many functions and are found throughout the body. [2] 

We need protein in our diet to maintain our muscles and bones. This equates to 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight per day.

  • For females, this is around 45-50g of protein per day (for 60kg average body weight), but you can consume more than this if you choose.
  • For men, this is around 56-60g of protein per day (for 70kg average body weight). 

If you engage in physical activity regularly, it is unlikely you would require more protein in your diet. The only time you may require consuming extra protein is after exercising at an extremely high and frequent level to encourage your muscles to rebuild. [2]

Protein Supplements

There are a few different protein supplement options to choose from, some with slightly different benefits. Most people consume these as protein shakes. You may be recommended one specifically by your personal trainer, but it is important to choose the right protein supplement for you. Please remember that you do not need to consume protein supplements to gain muscle. 

Example supplements include [3,9]:

  • Whey protein. This is great for helping the muscles adapt to exercise. It is derived from cows' milk. It must be noted that products labelled ‘whey concentrate’ are lower-quality sources of protein. Try to opt for whey isolate, whey hydrolysate and casein
  • Branched-chain amino acids. These may be able to delay fatigue associated with exercise.
  • Other naturally occurring animal proteins. Egg protein is a common protein supplement. This type of protein also provides support for muscle adaptation.
  • Plant proteins. It is not advisable to take plant proteins as a protein supplement as they are not complete proteins. This means they do not contain all 9 essential amino acids and are less effective. 

Effects Of Protein On Muscle Growth 

Protein is necessary for muscle growth. After water, it is the next most abundant compound in the body. [2] However, for most people, the amount of protein they consume in their diet is enough for muscle growth, repair and maintaining muscle mass. 

Protein allows the muscles to grow and can increase muscle mass. But for efficient muscle gain, protein alone is not enough. It is important to consider that your caloric intake is not too low and that you are still consuming carbohydrates. This ensures that you do not use the extra protein consumed as an energy source rather than a building block for muscle growth. [4]

People who exercise regularly such as athletes may need to increase their daily protein intake to build muscle and improve their performance.

Effects Of Protein On Performance

Protein is important for performance as it is directly linked with protein synthesis in the muscles and overall muscle growth. Therefore, taking protein supplements before or after exercising may help with resistance exercise and building endurance. [5]

Effects Of Protein On Muscle Damage And Soreness

Protein is necessary to repair muscle after exercise but taking protein does not help with muscle pain. A study in 2014 brought together lots of data on protein supplements and how they affect muscles after exercise. The study found that consuming protein before, during or after exercising does not significantly affect muscle soreness. 

Does Protein Consumption After A Workout Help Recovery?

Protein, as mentioned already, does not help with muscle soreness. Summarising previous sections, taking protein can:

  • Help to build muscle [3]
  • Help your muscles adapt to exercise [5]
  • Can help with increasing endurance to exercise [5]

How To Ease Sore Muscles

Warm-ups and stretching

One of the most important causes of sore muscles is due to not warming up before or stretching after exercising. Many people do not warm up before exercising but stretch after and still have sore muscles. A study by the University of Canberra has shown that warm-ups are as important as stretching after a workout to prevent muscle damage and soreness, as well as help with muscle recovery. [8] 

Applying hot or cold compresses after exercise

Both hot and cold environments can help to repair the muscles while also preventing and treating soreness. [6] However, it is unlikely that this will remove all soreness in the muscles. This method is adopted by many athletes to quicken recovery. 

Ice can be used to reduce inflammation of the muscular tissue once it has been damaged after exercise. In the opposite way, heat can increase blood flow to the muscle to help remove the build-up of lactic acid and other toxins in the muscles that can contribute to recovery and pain. [7,10]

Rest and Massage

Try not to exercise the same muscle group as the day before to allow the muscles to repair themselves. So if you exercised your legs yesterday, either rest or exercise a different area of the body the following day. 

Massaging the sore muscles may also help to increase blood flow and allow the body to begin to relax the muscle and alleviate pain. [7] 


A study by the American Journal of Physiology has found that taking NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can be used to decrease muscle soreness after exercise. [11] This includes:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Aspirin
  • Acetaminophen, which is Paracetamol

As these drugs are used for muscular pain, they can be used to help reduce the pain associated with muscle soreness by decreasing inflammation of the muscles. It must be noted that they do not speed up muscle recovery, and pain medication should not be taken regularly or relied upon. 


Protein and protein supplements do not help sore muscles from exercising, but they can help build muscle quicker. The type of protein you take may alter how well you can build muscle, and your protein supplements must be selected carefully. To ease sore muscles, it is important to engage in stretch exercises and warm-ups before and after engaging in strenuous physical activity to prevent or diminish sore muscles. 

Overall you will always expect a degree of soreness in your muscles after exercise. Ensuring you take effective measures for your body means you can stay active without pain preventing you from reaching your fitness goals.


  1. Pasiakos SM, Lieberman HR, Mcclellan TM. Effects of Protein Supplements on Muscle Damage, Soreness and Recovery of Muscle Function and Physical Performance. A Systematic Review; Sports Medicine 2014; 44; 655-670. 
  2. British Nutrition Foundation. Protein - The Science of Protein [Internet]; 2020. Available from: 
  3. American College of Sports Medicine. Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance [Internet]. Available from:  
  4. Herbalife Nutrition. How to Build Muscle Effectively: The Role of Protein, Diet and Exercise [Internet]; undated. Available from: 
  5. Cintineo HP, Arent MA, Antonio J, Arent SM. Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training. Front Nutr 2018; 5(83). 
  6. National Kidney Foundation. Understanding Muscle Soreness - How much is too much? [Internet]; 2015. Available from:
  7. Family Doctor. Sore Muscles from Exercise [Internet]; 2020. Available from:
  8. McGowen CJ, Pyne DB, Thompson KG, Rattray B. Warm-up Strategies for Sports and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports Medicine 2015;45:1523-1546.
  9. Barbend. Different Types of Protein Powder Explained - Which is Best For You? [Internet]; 2022. Available from:
  10. Britannica. Why Does Heat Relax Your Muscles? [Internet]; undated. Available from:
  11. Effect of ibuprofen and acetaminophen on postexercise muscle protein synthesis. American Journal of Physiology, Endocrinology and Metabolism 2002; 282(3): E551-E556.


McGowen CJ, Pyne DB, Thompson KG, Rattray B. Warm-up Strategies for Sports and Exercise: Mechanisms and Applications. Sports Medicine 2015;45:1523-1546.

This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Laura Preece

BSc Pharmaceutical Sciences and MRes Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences
I am a researcher and medical writer with a passion for pharmaceutics, disease and biological sciences. I am currently researching cellular and molecular biology, investigating the use of vitamin C as an adjunctive therapy for diabetes mellitus.

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