Inflammation is a real buzzword these days, and whether you turn on the news, look in the newspapers, in health magazines or online blogs, it's being talked about.
But what is inflammation even, and what does it mean for our progress when trying to build muscle or loose weight?
What is inflammation?
Just saying the word "inflammation" in and of itself tastes horrible and immediately has you thinking about how terrible of a thing it is, but it's actually something that all humans need in order for their body to function and to survive.
Inflammation is the body's way of communicating to the immune system that it needs to pay attention to a certain area, e.g. if a foreign substance enters the body. Inflammation is also activated when tissue is damaged. When you break down muscle fibers by lifting weights in the gym, inflammation functions as our body's signal to start repairing the muscle tissue and start growing.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY
1) - Inflammation Can Help Your Progress
Inflammation does have certain benefits and drawbacks to it, so why not take the good one first?
Inflammation is essential for your body to elicit both muscle growth and adaptation.
There are several scientific studies that suggest some of the mechanisms we rely on to regulate muscle growth actually rely on inflammation. So it's not inherently a bad thing - especially when inflammation also has a fairly important role in terms of muscle repair.
A recent human study seems to support this. The study found that young, active men who were taking a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs in short - e.g. Ibuprofen) for 8 weeks reduced their resistance training-induced muscle growth by about 50%.
So these guys were on a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug for 8 weeks and they only gained about half of what they could have. Inflammation has been suggested as part of the muscle growth and repair process, and we can see clearly that long-term use of an anti-inflammatory may slow down your growth response in weight training.
2) - Inflammation Kills Your Training Frequency
So now we can talk about the downsides there are to inflammation.
Inflammation is one of the factors that contribute to you feeling delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS. It's also what causes your joints and connective tissue to hurt if you've ever had any experience with that.
It's known that training volume is one of the biggest components of muscle hypertrophy, so when we are debilitated from soreness, our opportunities for lifting are limited in terms of frequency.
NB: this DOES NOT mean you should use an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen to not get sore; that is NOT healthy and can lead to serious side effects.
What this essentially means is that your training should be thoroughly calculated, and you should use your muscles effectively and not elicit a massive inflammatory response.
3) - Inflammation Won't Let You Go Full Beast Mode
Inflammation impacts how often you can train, it makes you sore, and it can also reduce the intensity at which you can train.
This simply means you should make smart decisions on what exercises you perform and how hard you train when performing them. Your body can't recover from such a huge inflammatory response, so working on slowly adapting it and not testing your personal records every day will allow you to grow. The tricky part is, there is a certain level of intensity your body needs to elicit any muscle growth.
The take-home message here is to find the right combination of frequency and intensity that works with your body.
4) - Too Much Inflammation Is Bad For Your Progress
An excessive amount of inflammation has been shown to be catabolic. Excessive inflammation hurts your progress and can ultimately cause multiple diseases. Some studies even suggest that inflammation plays a role in muscle loss as part of the ageing process, even for those who remain physically active as they get older.
Inflammation seems to be critical for muscle repair and growth, but too much is not good. Studies suggest that small, short bursts can induce growth, but not so much that it hurts how frequently or what level of intensity we can train at. This is why managing levels of inflammation is crucial to making progress in the gym.
Maintaining an active lifestyle, eating healthy and nutritious foods as well as eliminating bad habits that cause inflammation such as smoking, drinking, and drug use, are all things that make sure inflammation is at optimum levels.
Wrapping It Up
You can't get around muscle soreness by taking anti-inflammatory medication to build more muscle - studies show you are leaving your progress behind badly if you do. Limiting your training frequency and intensity helps reduce your inflammation by making sure it stays under control.
My best piece of advice is to keep a journal that you update on a daily basis, including your food, exercise, and sleep, noting how you feel throughout the day. This will help you get a clear overview of what's helping your body, what's hurting it, and what you can change to improve.