Does Protein Help Sore Muscles? A Comprehensive Look at Protein Powders and Muscle Recovery Summary

  • The study sought to determine does protein help sore muscles and improve recovery. The study found that protein effectively reduced creatine kinase concentration (i.e., a marker of muscle damage) at 48 and 72 hours post-exercise, indicating reduced muscle damage.
  • Despite popular belief, they have minimal impact on reducing muscle soreness in advanced athletes. However, protein does help with muscle recovery in untrained individuals.
  • Understanding the relationship between protein intake, muscle soreness, and recovery can optimize training outcomes.

Does Protein Help Sore Muscles?

The Role of Protein in Alleviating Muscle Soreness

Muscle soreness, which occurs after intense weightlifting, known as delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), is a common experience for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Many people wonder, does muscle soreness mean not enough protein? It has has long been assumed that muscle soreness was associated with muscle growth, but this has been debunked. Muscle soreness does not mean more muscle growth! When it comes to muscle recovery, a pivotal question often arises: does protein help sore muscles?

Fitness enthusiasts and athletes have long used whey protein for muscle soreness. However, recent research suggests that while these supplements effectively aid muscle recovery, their impact on muscle soreness is not as effective as previously thought. (Pearson et al., 2023) To enhance your understanding, let’s delve into how protein intake affects muscle soreness and recovery and how this knowledge can be applied to improve your training outcomes.

Does Protein Help with Muscle Recovery? Understanding DOMS and Protein Supplements

DOMS typically arises 24-48 hours after unfamiliar or intense exercise and is characterized by stiffness, swelling, and muscle pain. It’s believed to be caused by microscopic damage to muscle fibers during exercise. For example, after intense resistance exercise, muscle soreness and swelling reduce muscle strength capacity by 50%, which may persist for seven days post-exercise. (Farup et al., 2014; Nosaka & Newton, 2002)

Protein supplements, often consumed for muscle repair and growth, have also been hypothesized to reduce DOMS and accelerate muscle recovery. The ongoing debate about whey protein for muscle soreness and its role in enhancing muscle recovery is complex, with mixed findings from various studies. So, when considering does protein helps with muscle recovery, it’s important to look at the evidence.

Best Protein for Muscle Soreness: Studies on Protein Supplements, Recovery, and Muscle Soreness

does protein help with muscle recovery whey protein for muscle sorenessA 2014 study titled “Protein Supplements on Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness in Active Men and Women compared the effects of various protein supplements (whey protein isolate, soy protein isolate, hydrolyzed wheat protein) on DOMS. The significant takeaway was that dietary protein, when consumed before muscle-damaging exercise, effectively decreased the severity of DOMS. Interestingly, the type of protein supplement did not significantly alter the outcome, suggesting that the protein content is critical to mitigating muscle soreness rather than the specific source. (Haub et al., 2014)

Contrary to the above study, a review of the literature titled “Effects of Protein Supplements on Muscle Damage, Soreness and Recovery of Muscle Function and Physical Performance: A Systematic Review” examined markers of recovery and muscle soreness for up to several weeks following endurance or resistance exercise. These authors found minimal evidence supporting the benefit of protein supplementation for post-exercise recovery of muscle function and soreness.(Pasiakos et al., 2014)

The study “Impact of Protein Supplements on Muscle Recovery After Exercise-induced Muscle Soreness” aimed to discern whether nutritional supplements (protein vs. carbohydrate vs. placebo) would differentially affect muscle recovery and rate of muscle recovery post-exercise-induced muscle soreness. Contrary to common expectations, the study concluded that neither protein nor carbohydrate supplements significantly helped muscle recovery after exercises that caused mild muscle damage. This finding challenges the notion that protein supplementation is universally beneficial for muscle recovery. (Burnley et al., 2010)

Whey Protein for Muscle Soreness?

does protein help sore musclesLastly, the study titled “Effects of a Multi-ingredient Beverage on Recovery of Contractile Properties, Performance, and Muscle Soreness After Hard Resistance Training Sessions” explored the effects of a multi-ingredient supplement (including protein) versus carbohydrates alone on muscle function recovery and DOMS. The findings indicated that the multi-ingredient supplement accelerated the recovery of muscular contractile properties and performance to a greater extent. However, it did not significantly decrease DOMS compared to carbohydrates alone, suggesting that a combination of nutrients might be more effective than protein alone in aiding muscle recovery but it does not reduce muscle soreness. (Naclerio et al., 2020)

New Review on Protein Supplementations, Muscle Recovery, and Muscle Soreness

A new review was just published titled, “The impact of dietary protein supplementation on recovery from resistance exercise-induced muscle damage: A systematic review with meta-analysis” by Alice G. Pearson, Karen Hind, and Lindsay S. Macnaughton, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, is a comprehensive review and meta-analysis examining the effects of dietary protein on muscle damage resulting from resistance exercise.


Muscle Soreness and Protein Supplementation:

The study found that protein supplementation has a minimal impact on reducing muscle soreness. Less than half of the trials reviewed reported a benefit of protein for reducing post-exercise muscle soreness at 48 hours

Muscle Strength and Recovery

Protein consumption has beneficial effects on preserving acute muscle strength and blunting muscle-damaging resistance exercise in young males. Reductions in muscle strength were significantly reduced by protein. Nine out of 11 trials favored consuming protein for reducing strength loss compared to control products.

Influence of Training Status and Exercise Type

The study identified that protein supplementation appears more beneficial for muscle soreness in untrained individuals following concentric exercise and with a single day of supplementation. This indicates that training status and muscle contraction type may influence muscle soreness responses to protein supplementation.

Does Protein Help Sore Muscles? Practical Applications

does protein help sore musclesThis study underscores the importance of protein consumption for muscle recovery rather than soreness relief for athletes and fitness enthusiasts. Incorporating protein supplements into a post-exercise nutrition strategy can assist in managing muscle damage and repair processes, facilitating a quicker return to the gym and promoting long term muscle growth. Protein as an exercise nutrition strategy is recommended for muscle recovery, repair, and growth due to its stimulatory effects on post-exercise protein synthesis rates, which are augmented by protein consumption relative to exercise alone.


The belief that protein supplements significantly reduce muscle soreness may be overstated. However, their role in enhancing muscle recovery post-exercise is undeniable. By understanding the benefits of protein supplementation, individuals can make more informed choices about their post-workout nutrition, leading to better recovery and improved performance.


Burnley, E. C. D., Olson, A. N., Sharp, R. L., Baier, S. M., & Alekel, D. L. (2010). Impact of Protein Supplements on Muscle Recovery After Exercise-induced Muscle Soreness. Journal of Exercise Science & Fitness, 8(2), 89-96.

Farup, J., Rahbek, S. K., Knudsen, I. S., de Paoli, F., Mackey, A. L., & Vissing, K. (2014). Whey protein supplementation accelerates satellite cell proliferation during recovery from eccentric exercise. Amino Acids, 46(11), 2503-2516.

Haub, M., Cull, B., Rosett, A., Rosenkranz, S., & Noriega, K. (2014). Protein supplements on delayed onset muscle soreness in active men and women (633.1). The FASEB Journal, 28(S1), 633.631.

Naclerio, F., Larumbe-Zabala, E., Cooper, K., & Seijo, M. (2020). Effects of a Multi-ingredient Beverage on Recovery of Contractile Properties, Performance, and Muscle Soreness After Hard Resistance Training Sessions. J Strength Cond Res, 34(7), 1884-1893.

Nosaka, K., & Newton, M. (2002). Difference in the magnitude of muscle damage between maximal and submaximal eccentric loading. J Strength Cond Res, 16(2), 202-208.

Pasiakos, S. M., Lieberman, H. R., & McLellan, T. M. (2014). Effects of protein supplements on muscle damage, soreness and recovery of muscle function and physical performance: a systematic review. Sports Med, 44(5), 655-670.

Pearson, A. G., Hind, K., & Macnaughton, L. S. (2023). The impact of dietary protein supplementation on recovery from resistance exercise-induced muscle damage: A systematic review with meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr, 77(8), 767-783.

Additional Information

Does Protein Help Sore Muscles?

Does protein help sore muscles? While protein supplements, including whey protein for muscle soreness, play a crucial role in muscle recovery post-resistance exercise, their impact on reducing muscle soreness, especially in advanced athletes, is minimal. However, for untrained individuals, protein significantly aids in muscle recovery.

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