Inflammation : For Muscle Growth
Deal With It For Gains
Surely, somewhere along the line you have injured yourself here or there, perhaps bruising a quad, cut your hand or fried your legs a little too well on leg day and experienced the nasty word: inflammation. While you may be familiar with chronic inflammation, there’s much more to cover when it comes to acute inflammation such as we just described. Out of habit and from what has been pounded into your head since you were young from well-meaning coaches or your mother, you throw back some anti-inflammatories and apply an ice pack. It’s what everyone does and has done for years and who isn’t guilty of such practices? Well, with time comes knowledge and have you ever thought that maybe self-medicating and icing isn’t the best approach?
Root of Necessity
Let’s be clear, without inflammation, wounds wouldn’t heal and the most simple of injuries like a paper cut or even a common cold would last for years. Additionally, without acute inflammation, the often forgotten aspects such as the muscle you have been looking to build might never grow and it may not strengthen as much as it potentially could.
Before we move on, it’s important to understand what inflammation is. It occurs when the body senses a stimulus (injury/infection) and in response, it releases cytokines. These are simply chemical messengers that cause the expansion of blood vessels resulting in the increase of blood flow to the area. This dilation causes the tissues to swell and in turn causes pain due to the increased pressure on the local nerve endings. This reaction also causes the local cells to be more ‘sticky’ essentially allowing white blood cells to attach; releasing substances that further increase inflammation. This temporary inflammation is a normal part of life and it allows a large amount of immune cells to rapidly move to the damaged area, preventing any invading microorganisms from causing infection and begins the healing process.
Acute & Chronic: Jekyll & Hyde
In short, acute inflammation is the type that occurs after an aforementioned event such as an injury such as a bruise, getting a cut on your hand or even the resulting aftermath of when you tear down muscle in an intense workout. It’s also related to short term. It’s generally not something that is long lasting, it’s localized to the area of trauma and the body can deal with it in a fairly expedited manner, bar any outside circumstances.
However, longer lasting inflammation is the chronic variety. It is typically a low level but long lasting version that is the response to your body reacting from a smaller stimulus, such as common allergies or cardiovascular related. Additionally it is the resulting inflammation of the body attacking its own tissues such as the case of arthritis, diabetes, etc. The big difference is that chronic inflammation doesn’t stop and continues until the causative factors are addressed, while acute inflammation generally is sorted out by the body.
Is Inflammation A Star in The Role of Muscle Growth?
Now, as stated earlier, acute inflammation is a good thing and definitely plays one of the larger roles in the normal muscle growth process. When inflammation occurs following training, macrophages which are a type of white blood cell that engulfs and digests cellular debris, foreign substances and microbes flood the area. They are released soon after the fibers are damaged from training, reaching the highest concentration around the 24 hour mark and dissipate around the 48 hour mark.
Additionally, more macrophages bathe the damaged muscle tissue with all sorts of goodies like IGF-1 which helps the muscle grow and recover. Last but not least, there is also a release of the aforementioned cytokines which result in the healthy inflammation and also decrease myostatin (a protein that puts the brakes on muscle growth).
With this in mind, it is obvious that acute inflammation is crucial for muscle growth, and just to note, chronic inflammation can raise the aforementioned myostatin. Therefore, too little inflammation and it will result in growth and recovery that is less than optimal; however, chronic inflammation can also have the same effect. The key lies in the magical ‘sweet spot’ of having a healthy level of acute inflammation, while making sure to not let forms of chronic inflammation get started.
You’ve Got to Live With It
Non-steroidal-anti-inflammatories, also called NSAIDs such as Aleve (naproxen sodium), Advil (ibuprofen) treat and reduce inflammation from an over the counter, pharmaceutical level. Ice after injury also reduces swelling to the localized area and has been common practice. Both of these are methods used for treating inflammation, however, the unfortunate thing is that many have been instinctively treating both acute (good) inflammation the same as they do chronic (bad) and is counterproductive to muscle growth and recovery.
The misguidance of this practice is mediated with the association of pain to automatically wanting to treat it, almost in a panic like fashion. The root of this is our natural avoidance of pain, in this case nociceptive pain. This particular type of response is when the pain receptors in the body react to stimulus such as stretch, temperature or swelling. In this case, tissues that are trained are stretched and swollen and this causes them to press against the nerve endings causing pain and discomfort. When pain is sensed, anti-inflammatories are popped and ice is applied, essentially trading cessation or relief of pain for impeding healing as you aren’t letting your body’s natural mechanisms do their job to repair and rebuild your body.
The DONT’s of Treating Acute Inflammation…
Next time you’re having acute inflammation, whether it be from a brutal leg workout, injuries or even minor surgery, avoid taking NSAIDS. They may help temporarily quell the pain by reducing the inflammation related pain, but they will also impede the healing process and when it comes to your gains, they can interfere with growth, Don’t worry, the occasional use of an NSAID here or there shouldn’t pose much of a problem, but the repeated, regular use as has seemingly become common place will impede optimal growth and recovery.
Surprisingly, also consider nixing the ice that many have preached for years in terms of recovery and treatment. The old school practices such as RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) has been a bit under the microscope as of late. The initial, flawed thought process was under the guideline that since there was only internal injury, there was no risk of infection, therefore any need for inflammation. Now that we understand the importance of inflammation in the recovery process, we know that likely ice will potentially interfere with the process as well.
…and the DO’s of Treating Acute Inflammation
Now, if you insist in popping some form of pain medication following acute inflammation from an injury or extremely intense workout and it’s unmanageable, consider using Tylenol (acetaminophen). It only has minor anti-inflammatory effects and reduces pain primarily rather as an analgesic.
Another alternative for taking an NSAID is using a natural anti-inflammatory product such as curcumin. Not only does it provide additional anti-oxidant benefits as well as helping with acute and chronic inflammation, but it treats a few pathways of inflammation to a reasonable amount rather than the pharmaceutical method of blocking a pathway completely.
Move On & Conquer The Smart Way
With a more thorough understanding of what inflammation is and how it works, we also now know how it plays a vital role in your muscle recovery and healing in general. NSAIDS are bad news for your muscle recovery process and surprisingly healing in general so use a smarter approach if at all possible and only use them if necessary. Also don’t underestimate the benefits of your peri-workout nutrition. Prime your muscle to prevent muscle breakdown boy optimizing glycogen with an easily digestible carb such has cyclic dextrin. Use BCAA during your workout to maximize protein synthesis, and following up with a protein supplement or better yet whole food protein source and you will stack the deck of recovery in your favor.
No one wants to compromise their progress, regardless of goal, so next time you’re thinking of reaching for that ibuprofen or ice pack immediately after killing a workout, think a bit, dig deep and tough it out through the recovery process. Mark Wahlberg and the Rock had it right with their movie title: Pain & Gain. While you may not be starring in a blockbuster, you’ll now be a rock star at recovering the optimal way.
Want to continue Learning? Check out this article on INSULIN SENSITIVITY