As part of our Biohacking Masterclass Series, we will explore a number of different techniques and practices to improve your daily performance. This series will range from obvious subjects like exercise and nutrition to fringe subjects like breathing techniques and sleep hygiene. Consult your physician before implementing any of these topics. We are not your physician. Note: This post may contain affiliate links to the products we use.
How are two common ways of dealing with soreness impacting your performance results?
Whether strength or endurance focused, training is about forcing your body to make adaptations. Those adaptations make it possible to run faster, lift more, or outperform your old self in the next competition. At some point, athletes load their muscles with enough force to cause small tears in muscle fibers.
It sounds worse than the reality. Those little tears enable muscles to grow back bigger and stronger. In other words, they enable hypertrophy.
Between the first (healthy) tears and the end-result of bigger muscles, important processes unfold. One of those processes is the dreaded “i” word; the figurative antichrist often targeted by your local health shop: inflammation.
With the newest anti-inflammatory “this” and anti-inflammatory “that” hitting your feed every day, you may have been conditioned to fear inflammation. Sure, soreness (one possible symptom of inflammation) is unpleasant at times. Delayed-onset muscle soreness (aka DOMS) can serve as a constant reminder of when that barbell kicked your ass (three days ago, remember?).
At their peak, these post-training episodes seem to make pretty good arguments for those anti-inflammatory compounds. In some cases, you may even think of the old-school recommendation, “Just take a couple ibuprofen.”
“Certainly ibuprofen, something classified as a NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug), is made for this, right?”
In my years in collegiate locker rooms, I’ve seen this thinking play out in real time. I’ve seen soreness and inflammation collectively become enemy number 1.
If you can relate, I urge you to reconsider your stance on inflammation. In fact, I argue for inflammation (in the right settings and on the right timeline).
Inflammation is one of the crucial steps in making strength, endurance, or muscle mass gains.
Plenty of people jump to ice to take on that inflammation and soreness. Last week, we broke down how cold tubs hinder your training gains. For example, not getting in a cold tub led to a 56% improvement in overall strength.
Researchers have gone on to investigate the effects of anti-inflammatory compounds like NSAIDs on training. One study subjected two groups of young and healthy participants to an 8-week resistance training program (a program designed to build strength and muscle mass). One group took a dose of ibuprofen (the NSAID found in Advil) and another took a low dose of aspirin.
At the end of the 8 weeks, the ibuprofen group saw nearly 4% less muscle volume than control. Further, improvements in strength metrics were greater in the control group, including 9% more peak power than subjects taking ibuprofen. 
Obviously, if you are injured or experiencing significant pain post training, talk to your physician. If you’re simply a little sore or you’re taking ‘preemptive’ measures, consider this study’s findings first.
You might wonder what you should do instead.
When we’re sore, we walk through a checklist of actionable items, including:
- How much are we sleeping? If we’re sore, we need more sleep. Read the complete toolkit on taking your sleep to the next level here.
- How are we eating? Heavy lifting requires dense eating. We periodically count our calories to ensure we have sufficient fuel. If you eat carbohydrates, post training is a great time to take advantage. We include our daily Stack in our recovery diet routine.
- Are we hydrated? We aim for about 0.75 ounces of water/fluid per pound of body weight. For example, at 210 pounds, we drink about 155 ounces of water/fluid per day. This volume is equivalent to 1.2 gallons or just under 20 8oz glasses of water.
- How much are we stretching, doing mobility for, or ‘massaging’ those muscles? Smashing those muscles with a foam roller or Theracane does wonders for next-day performance. If you don’t have one, we use this Theracane (<$30). For foam rollers, investing in high quality pays off over time when they maintain their sturdiness and don’t get soft. We’ve enjoyed this one, this one, or this one.
- Lilja et al. High doses of anti-inflammatory drugs compromise muscle strength and hypertrophic adaptations to resistance training in young adults. Acta Physiologica. 2018.