When we exercise, damage is done to the muscles in the microscopic scale. People who exercise regularly can sometimes take this for granted, but whenever a routine is changed the reminder of the muscle damage comes screaming back. We call it delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. Anyone who has experienced DOMS knows it doesn’t just hurt. It can make you want to avoid the gym altogether because of the pain.
DOMS can also affect metabolism and strength. Indeed, the use of glucose in the body and its uptake by the damaged muscle are reduced because of the damage done, not to mention inflammation and oxidative damage at the cellular level. Recently, in a study published in the Nutrition Journal, researchers speculated that fermented milk might just do the trick in overcoming DOMS.
Fermented milk is just milk treated with bacteria, typically of the Lactobacillus variety. Lactobacillus bacteria are so named because they feed on lactose, the sugar present in milk. Generally, if the milk is still liquid as it was in this study, the fermentation process hasn’t been going on for too long. Once it goes on for longer you start to get other fermented milk products like yogurt and cheese. In this study, the researchers used milk fermented by Lactobacillus helveticus, the bacteria that produces Swiss cheese and provides a nutty flavor.
The reason they chose fermented milk is because it possesses some anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, as well as possibly modulating blood pressure. It also carries some nutrition, including protein and carbohydrate. This particular test was done with a fat-free version.
The researchers’ suspicions were correct. When compared with regular milk that was adjusted to match the same nutrient profile, the fermented milk reduced soreness and beneficially altered glucose metabolism, which allowed the muscles to uptake sugars and respond to insulin better. Essentially, the fermented milk made the exercise-induced muscle damage closer to what happens once an athlete becomes accustomed to a routine.
Now this is great for people who live in Japan, where the study was conducted and where fermented milk is more common. However, if you aren’t in Japan you might still be able to find fermented milk in specialty food sections at a well-stocked grocery store, or in Asian markets. As an aside, I wonder if other fermented dairy products might have similar benefits and will be keeping an eye out for further studies. As mentioned earlier, Swiss cheese uses the same bacteria, and other fermented dairy products using different types of Lactobacillus bacteria are very common outside of Asia.
Also, since these results were only studied for DOMS, the effects of fermented milk may only be applicable in certain situations. If you are planning an upcoming change to your workout, or starting a workout again after a layoff, it might be wise to keep fermented milk on your radar.
1. Masayo Iwasa, et. al., “Fermented milk improves glucose metabolism in exercise-induced muscle damage in young healthy men,” Nutrition Journal 2013, 12:83.
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