Vitamins for Muscle Repair

Introduction

Our muscles are vital to everything we do, whether that is going for a run, picking up a weight, or even simply talking. Consequently, it is vitally important that we take care of our muscles. Knowing how to allow our muscles to fully recover is an often overlooked but vital part of life.

When thinking about the term ‘muscle recovery’, many think of a post-workout protein shake. Even though protein is undoubtedly a vital part of muscle recovery, many miss out on another key component: vitamins. A recent study conducted on regular gym goers found that 80% of those investigated consumed some form of protein shake, but only 38.3% took vitamin supplements. So why are vitamins so important? And how can we source them?

Muscular damage

The term ‘muscle damage’ refers to any form of damage sustained by the tissue that makes up our muscles. As a result, it is an extremely broad term, meaning it can range from the tiny micro-tears that occur within the muscles during physical activity, as well as more severe injuries such as tears and sprains.

Causes

There is a wide range of factors that can cause muscular damage. Some injuries may develop due to years of exposure to a certain factor, whereas other injuries may be sustained instantly. Below are some of the most common causes of both short- and long-term muscular injuries:

·         Physical activity

·         Inadequately warming up before physical activity

·         Overuse of muscle

·         Incorrect use of muscle

·         Fatigue

·         Low flexibility

·         Chronic health conditions (muscular dystrophy)

Symptoms

The symptoms of muscle damage can differ greatly depending on the type of injury. Below are some of the symptoms most commonly associated with muscle damage, ranging from post-exercise pain to more severe injuries such as muscle tears.

·         Stiffness

·         The muscle feels weaker

·         Soreness or throbbing pain

·         Swelling

·         The area appears red in colour

·         Bruising

·         Spasms

·         Reduced or no range of motion

How long does it take for muscles to repair?

The amount of time taken for our muscles to repair depends on how badly they have been damaged. After exercise, the muscles can take anywhere between 24 hours and three days to recover depending on how intense the session was and the measures an individual takes after their session to aid recovery. 

In more severe cases of muscle damage, such as sprains and tears, the road to recovery can take much longer, with some injuries taking a few months to fully recover.

Vitamins that assist with muscle repair

There are thirteen vitamins which are classed as ‘essential’ for our overall health. While all thirteen should be included in our diet, there are certain vitamins that have been shown to be more effective in assisting the body with muscle recovery. 

Vitamin A

Research has found that Vitamin A is an integral component of protein synthesis, a process in which protein is broken down into molecules.2 Once broken down, our muscles can utilise the protein to repair our muscles by creating new, stronger, and thicker muscle fibres, thus increasing muscle size and strength. As well as supplements, some healthy sources of vitamin A include the following.

·         Salmon

·         Sweet potatoes

·         Carrots

·         Broccoli

·         Fish oils

·         Milk

Vitamin C

Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means that it helps protect body cells from dangerous toxins. A 2006 study identified that consuming higher amounts of vitamin C increased the rate at which damaged muscle tissue was cleansed of toxins such as lactic acid while also reducing the time taken for muscles to recover.3 

Research has also found that consumption of vitamin C promotes the growth and development of stronger muscle fibres and connective tissues.4 This therefore reduces the risk of not only muscular injuries but also increases the strength of our joints, making them less susceptible to injury. Some healthy sources of vitamin C include the following:

·         Potatoes

·         Tomatoes

·         Bell peppers

·         Broccoli

·         Brussel sprouts

·         Strawberries

CoQ10

Like vitamin C, CoQ10 (Coenzyme Q10) is an antioxidant. However, CoQ10 is especially effective in those who regularly exercise. During exercise, inflammation naturally occurs as the body repairs and replenishes the working muscles. 

While this is an important part of the recovery process, the longer inflammation occurs, the longer we feel stiff and sore after we exercise. Studies have identified that consumption of CoQ10 can help muscles recover faster and reduce inflammation, helping prevent those sore legs after a long run. Healthy sources of CoQ10 include:5

·         Salmon

·         Tuna

·         Wholegrains

·         Sesame seeds

·         Spinach

·         Cauliflower

·         Oranges

B Vitamins

Consumption of B vitamins after an intense exercise session can play a vital role in the repair of our muscles. B vitamins have been shown to increase protein synthesis and increase the rate at which amino acids are metabolised, both of which are vital to muscle repair.

In order to begin the repair, the body requires energy to fuel itself.6 Consuming B vitamins can also aid this process.7 B vitamins help break down the carbohydrates, fats and proteins that we eat, all of which can be used to create adenosine triphosphate (energy molecules). Sources include:

·         Salmon

·         Chicken

·         Eggs

·         Legumes

·         Milk

·         Leafy greens

When to be concerned about muscle pain

Muscle pain is something that many of us will experience fairly regularly. After a long day or an intense exercise, it is nothing to worry about. However, in certain cases, muscle pain can be a warning sign for a serious injury, an infection, or even a chronic health condition. If you suffer from any of the following symptoms, ensure to book an appointment with your healthcare provider.

·         Sharp pain

·         Loss of mobility

·         Muscles feel much weaker

·         Change of colour in the skin surrounding muscle (bruising)

·         Persistent swelling

·         Signs of infection

·         Tenderness around muscle

Further tips to aid with muscle repair

Protein

Protein is the building block for muscle. It plays an integral role in both the development and repair of muscles. It is highly recommended that the average person eats 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight per day. A protein rich meal can be consumed to fasten our muscles’ recovery.

Omega 3

As previously mentioned, while inflammation is a key part of the recovery process, it can debilitate our ability to complete everyday tasks and even slow the recovery process if the area remains inflamed for too long. Alongside other health benefits such as reducing blood flow,  arterial plaque build-up, and risk of heart attack, studies have found that omega 3 helps reduce inflammation after exercise, helping our muscles recover quicker.

Hydration

Remaining adequately hydrated is essential to muscle recovery. It is recommended that adults drink between 6-8 glasses of water a day. Water helps transport toxins such as lactic acid away from the muscles, helping maintain their pH levels and therefore reducing the risk of muscle soreness and stiffness.

Sleep

Research has found that 7 or more hours is the optimum amount of sleep for adults. When we sleep, our body and muscles recover. Studies have found that, when asleep, our body releases a higher number of growth and repair hormones, allowing the muscles to repair themselves and build new muscle tissue, therefore supporting muscle growth at the same time.8 

Summary

Knowing how to take care of our muscles is essential for everyone. Ensuring your diet caters to your muscles’ needs help in maintaining their health, reducing your risk of injuries and muscle-related health conditions. 

Many of the example foods also provide an array of additional health benefits, meaning regularly consuming them will aid our overall health as well as the health of our muscles. Finally, if you regularly suffer from muscle pain or any of the more severe symptoms of muscle damage, ensure to book an appointment with your healthcare provider for a check-up.

References

  1. Sampson, David A., et al. ‘Marginal Intake of Vitamin B-6: Effects on Protein Synthesis in Liver, Kidney and Muscle of the Rat’. Nutrition Research, vol. 8, no. 3, Mar. 1988, pp. 309–19. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0271-5317(88)80048-48.      
  2. Kim, Tae, et al. ‘The Impact of Sleep and Circadian Disturbance on Hormones and Metabolism’. International Journal of Endocrinology https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4377487/
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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George Evans

MSc, Sport Science, University of Lincoln

George is a freelance writer with three years of writing experience and first class honours in Sport Science (BSc).

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