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Fitness & Health

16th Jan 2019

Taking painkillers after a workout can reduce muscle growth, study finds

Popping a post-workout pill could hinder your progress. Swedish researchers discovered that taking ibuprofen after training can blunt muscle growth

Alex Roberts


Popping a post-workout pill may seem tempting after a tough workout, but it could be hindering your progress

According to research conducted by Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, ibuprofen inhibits muscle growth in response to weight training.

Unless you’re suffering from a specific injury or illness which require painkillers, it’s not worth jeopardising your gym progress.

No pain, no gain

DOMS (delayed-onset muscle soreness) is completely natural and a common after-effect of training. DOMS can last between a day and three days.

For the gym newbie, DOMS are a regular occurrence. However, a more experienced lifter is more likely to experience a niggle after a spell on the sidelines or a switch to the usual routine.

When your muscles are required to work harder than the norm, microscopic damage is caused to muscle fibres. This can lead to muscle soreness and stiffness. 

Many people respond to DOMS by popping painkillers such as ibuprofen, but the Karolinska Institute’s findings are proof this is hasty.

Don’t pop that pill

  • Scientists tested the effect of ibuprofen on gym goers who took part in an eight-week weightlifting programme
  • These people popped around 1200mg of ibuprofen each day, which was classed as a high level

It was found that ibuprofen hindered the natural production of cyclo-oxygenase, an enzyme with responsibilities including muscle growth and the repair of muscle tissue. This is not a post-workout process you want to endure if building muscle is high on your agenda.

Ibuprofen is part of a group of drugs referred to as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Although quashing inflammation after training is generally advantageous, avoid doing it through ibuprofen.

There are far more effective recovery methods which can limit inflammation without a cost to your muscle gains:

  1. Sleep it off: getting a solid six to eight hours sleep a night will prompt your body to release natural testosterone and growth hormone. This will aid recovery and new muscle growth.
  2. Sauna sessions: contrary to some reports, ice baths aren’t necessarily best for post-workout recovery. Instead, heat therapy such as a sauna is better if you’re trying to gain size. The improved circulation  experienced in a sauna will deliver blood, oxygen and nutrients into muscle cells, which is where you want them to be after training.
  3. Prioritise protein: when your muscle cells are fatigued after training, they require amino acids in order to build and repair. Ensure you’re consuming 20-30 grams of protein per shake or meal.

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