Ingredients for managing muscle damage and pain

While tart cherries, curcumin, MSM and CBD are popular supplements to help consumers minimize muscle soreness, the evidence is limited but growing.

Marie Spano

May 8, 2020

3 Min Read
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Muscle soreness can hamper training and competition. Though the efficacious use of specific supplements can help get athletes back in the game, these products should be developed with caution. Tart cherries, curcumin, omega-3 fatty acids, methylsulfonylmethane (MSM), enzymes, amino acids and CBD are popular nutritional approaches for products that help consumers minimize muscle soreness.

How exercise affects muscle

A tough bout of training causes trauma to muscle cells. This triggers an immune system response to repair damage and remove waste products.1 “Tissue injury leads to inflammation (to help aid healing), and this often leads to swelling, stiffness and pain receptors being sensitized—leading to pain,” stated Richard Bloomer, Ph.D., dean of the School of Health Studies and the Center for Wellness and Fitness, University of Memphis. Blood supply increases, which brings immune cells in to clean up damaged muscle tissue, release free radicals (reactive oxygen species [ROS]) and produce proinflammatory cytokines which promote both injury and repair.2,3

“Acute exercise can lead to increased oxidative stress and inflamed tissue, particularly in untrained individuals,” Bloomer said. Over time, the body adapts to recover more quickly, and a person is less sore after doing familiar exercise. Therefore, acute inflammation is not a major concern for most individuals. In fact, throwing anti-inflammatories into the mix to attenuate inflammation can do more harm than good by blunting training adaptations.

However, when soreness interferes with training or competition, consumers can look to supplemental ingredients to help minimize soreness.  

Protecting muscles from excessive soreness

Tart cherry juice is rich in anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants that promote blood flow, support blood vessel functioning,4 and block enzymes responsible for both acute and delayed inflammation.5 In one study, two 12 oz. bottles of tart cherry juice taken daily decreased symptoms of eccentric exercise-induced muscle damage.6 In the randomized, placebo-controlled study, those consuming a placebo experienced an exercise-induced loss of strength of 22% following a workout, while those drinking tart cherry juice lost 4% of their pre-workout strength.

To read this article in its entirety, check out the January 2020 digital magazine, Muscle quest: Developing products to promote lean mass.

Marie Spano, R.D., CSCS, is a nutrition communications expert whose work has appeared in popular press magazines, e-zines and nutrition-industry trade publications. She has been an expert guest on NBC, ABC and CBS affiliates on the East Coast.


1. Charge SBP, Rudnicki MA. “Cellular and molecular regulation of muscle regeneration.” Physiol Reviews. 2004;84:209-238.

2. Hamada K et al. “Senescence of human skeletal muscle impairs the local inflammatory cytokine response to acute eccentric exercise.” FASEB J. 2005;19(2):264-266.

3. Tidball JG. “Inflammatory processes in muscle injury and repair.” Am J Physiol. 2005;288(2):R345-R353.

4. Deley G et al. “An Acute Dose of Specific Grape and Apple Polyphenols Improves Endurance Performance: A Randomized, Crossover, Double-Blind versus Placebo Controlled Study.” Nutrients. 2017;9(8):e917.

5. Wang H et al. “Antioxidant and antiinflammatory activities of anthocyanins and their aglycon, cyanidin, from tart cherries.” J Nat Prod. 1999;62(2):294-296.

6. Connolly DA et al. “Efficacy of a tart cherry juice blend in preventing the symptoms of muscle damage.” Br J Sports Med. 2006;40(8):679-683.

About the Author(s)

Marie Spano

Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, is a sports dietitian, food industry consultant and freelance writer who covers everything from functional ingredients to the latest research on dietary fats. Marie has appeared on CNN, Fox, ABC, NBC and other network affiliates throughout the nation, and is currently working on a nutrition textbook.


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