NSAIDS and Protein Synthesis
Recovery. That’s a huge part in how we get stronger. When you come to CrossFit West Houston for a workout, you are making your muscles work against all kinds of different challenges that break them down and cause damage. You can often feel this damage, through muscle soreness. However, in a way, this damage is a good thing. Your body works hard to repair the damage, over and over, until you become stronger. No pain, no gain! Or is it, know pain, know gain? What do you do when you’re sore?
Hopefully, you do some good recovery (mobilize, good nutrition, sleep/rest, etc.). That’s why I made it the first word in this article. It is VITAL to strength gains. You must repair the muscle that you break down when lifting, and we like to repair that muscle quickly so we can get back to training. But, could you be doing something that could be hindering your muscle growth?
I’m talking about taking NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). Aspririn, Celebrex, Ibuprofen, Naproxen, are just a few examples. You may be taking them for other reasons, such as headaches, a cold, arthritis, or if you are at risk for a stroke or heart attack. Let’s be clear about one thing right off the bat: I AM NOT A DOCTOR. I’m just a dude that likes to lift and has a good amount of knowledge and training in athletics, and this is a reflection of some research I’ve done on my own. If you are prescribed NSAIDs for medical reasons, don’t read this article thinking I said to stop taking them. Do some research, and make an informed decision with your doctor.
So, what do NSAIDs have to do with gaining strength?
First, you need to understand how your body builds muscle. For the more visual learner, here is a video that explains what makes muscles grow: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2tM1LFFxeKg
When your body responds to exercise, muscle protein synthesis occurs. This is basically the process of your body repairing the damage that occurs when you work out. This can lead to muscle hypertrophy, which is the increase in size of skeletal muscle through its component cells. There are some things we can do to assist this process. Having a good supply of amino acids, and not doing things to hinder testosterone (one of the body’s major growth hormones) development can help. There are also things that can deter this process; one of them, some studies suggest, is taking NSAIDs.
It kind of seems like something you should do when you get sore. You have some inflammation and soreness, take an anti-inflammatory and pain killer. Duh. However, there is a chemical process going on in our bodies that is working to repair your muscles so that it can adapt to the load and make you stronger. Now, I could go into everything about the DNA and tRNA and all this science mumbo jumbo; but, I prefer to keep things simple and use layman’s terms.
So, you’re working out and causing micro-tears to occur in your muscles. This allows calcium to escape from the muscles, and if not repaired can cause further injury to the muscle fibers. Your body calls in for “reinforcements” to repair this damage, which can sometimes lead to pain and swelling. These things called prostaglandins are the mediators of this inflammatory reaction. They have been shown to play a large part of anabolic signaling (or when your body says, “Make me grow!”) Prostaglandins help carry out the pathways responsible for muscle protein synthesis to occur. So where does taking NSAIDs tie in to all this? Well, NSAIDs reportedly interfere with prostaglandin production.
How do NSAIDs work?
They reduce inflammation by reducing these prostaglandins and block COX enzymes (the enzymes that produce prostaglandins). Since the enzymes are blocked, it reduces inflammation, pain, and fevers, when present. So, it blocks the body’s natural recovery process.
There are many studies on this matter, and some are contradicting. Most that I found stating that NSAIDs didn’t have an effect on muscle growth were done on either A) the elderly, or B) people new to exercise. But, if you work out on regular basis, like most of us do, it is very likely that NSAIDs could be reducing your ability to gain muscle. Taking one every now and then may not be a big deal, or affect much of your training. Some people may need it. It depends on the individual and their background. However, if you are chronically taking them just because you are sore from working out, you may just be blocking your gains that you’re working hard at the gym to make.
A good alternative to taking NSAIDs? Curcumin, magnesium, and a good amount of aminos teamed up with a good diet and rest can definitely be helpful. Also, check out the Mobility Class on Saturdays at CrossFit West Houston.
Remember, you only spend one hour at the gym. The other 23 you should view as recovery/repair mode. Help your body heal and become stronger, faster, and BETTER.