Do you take Ibuprofen before your workout?

I was surprised to hear that many active people use the painkiller ibuprofen on a regular basis. In some surveys, up to 70 percent of endurance athletes report that they down the pills before every workout or competition, viewing the drug as a pre-emptive strike against muscle soreness.  This had me concerned and I looked up a valuable study released a few years ago reflecting the growing evidence that anti-inflammatory painkillers taken before a workout do not offer any benefit and may be causing disagreeable physical damage instead.

The most common side-effect of ibuprofen is gastrointestinal damage. A study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showcased this damage to the intestines but also suggests that in the long term, bones and tissues become weaker and may be less able to withstand the next workout. Research also shows if you take ibuprofen prior to exercise, you can disrupt the production of collagen to your tissues, tendons, and bones – you actually decrease your exercise benefit.

Studies have already shown that strenuous exercise alone commonly results in a small amount of intestinal trauma. (Makes me agree with the yogic perspective of nothing in the stomach 4 hours before exercising as opposed to the western advice of at least half a banana before a workout).  Physiologically, during prolonged exertion, digestion becomes a low priority and blood is diverted to the laboring muscles instead. Starved of blood, some of the cells lining the intestines are traumatized and start to leak.

This damage is short-lived and the stressed intestinal tract returns to normal function within an hour but researchers found that when exercising and taking ibuprofen, higher levels of a protein in the blood called I-FABP—a marker of intestinal damage – remain elevated for several hours.  The bacterial leak from the intestinal cells into the blood stream results in “higher levels of systemic inflammation” and can inhibit the muscle’s ability to repair itself after strenuous exercise. In another study, athletes who took pain killers before a workout actually showed that taking pain killers before a workout did not result in altered muscle soreness.

Short-term use of ibuprofen for injury is generally considered appropriate and fine if used as recommended. But regularly taking these pain pills before exercise to preempt things like muscle soreness could be doing more harm in the long term. Instead of taking pills for minor aches, try stretching and warming up to get your heart rate up which gets the blood flowing to sore joints and muscles.
Journal of Medicine and Science in Sport Exercise
Study in National Center for Biotechnology Information

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