Each and every time we head for a workout (gym or otherwise), we go with intention to make improvements. I don’t know too many people that are performing regular exercise out who aren’t trying on some level to get better, whether it be a better physique, better health or better performance in a sport. Better muscle equals a better physique, better health and better performance! Therefore, at least some of your workout time is dedicated to developing muscle, even if you don’t think so. Those who never lift a weight and focus on cardio training are still developing some level of muscle efficiency, even if not a larger muscle. To recap, if you’re training in the gym or in a sport, you NEED better muscle. With this in mind, I want to explain why one of the things you may be doing very often can be absolutely sabotaging your muscular improvement.
First, let’s have a short lesson on muscle physiology. Anytime we subject our body to intense training, we are actually inducing a level of trauma to the muscle. While this sounds like a bad thing, I promise you it’s good for improvement. This damage then activates parts of the muscle cell called “organelles” to activate “satellite cells” located on the outer part of the muscle cell membrane. The satellite cells then head on over to the site of muscle damage, where they work on repairing. Often, the satellite cells give rise to immature myoblastic cells that may fuse together with the existing muscle fiber, causing a certain level of cellular growth, which is called hypertrophy. They can then further increase muscle cell cross sectional area by differentiating (turning) into myofibrils and create new nuclei. Finally, satellite cells also can create new muscle fibers in response to resistance training, which is called hyperplasia. The end result of a few more complex processes is that the muscle becomes more effective at contracting and further repairing, thus making a stronger and more efficient muscle! The take home message is that satellite cells are pretty important in muscle repair, recovery and improvement!
What are you doing that is disrupting with this process? Look no further than your medicine cabinet to find the answer. It’s your pain reliever. The typical way that athletes deal with pain is to pop a few Advil, Tylenol or Aleve. Why is this a problem? The satellite cell pathway described above relies on the presence of growth factors. One of the growth factors are inflammatory prostaglandins. NSAIDS like ibuprofen, acetaminophen and naproxen inhibit the cyclooxygenase (COX) enzyme and therefore inhibit prostaglandin synthesis. Other studies have shown that the COX-1 and COX-2 pathways are specifically related to satellite cell activity. Bottom line, those little pills you take are NOT helping you recover. They may dull some pain, but don’t count on them helping you become a better athlete. In fact, they may indeed DESTROY your otherwise good results!
What should you do then? Fantastic alternatives to NSAIDs for pain relief are some of the things I often talk about.
Hopefully, you will take this information into consideration the next time you reach to the cupboard for that “quick fix” for pain. I didn’t touch on the negative side effects to the liver, kidneys or stomach that NSAIDs are known to have, but if your goal of training is improvement, do I really need to?
References (A couple of many):
Local NSAID infusion inhibits satellite cell proliferation in human skeletal muscle after eccentric exercise – Journal of Applied Physiology November 1, 2009 vol. 107 no. 5 1600-1611
High doses of anti-inflammatory drugs compromise muscle strength and hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training in young adults – Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2018 Feb;222(2). doi: 10.1111/apha.12990. Epub 2017 Nov 30.