NSAIDS and Exercise: Bad for your gains?

NSAIDs and Exercise

What are NSAIDS?

The term NSAIDs refers to Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, a form of pain relievers also helpful in reducing inflammation, lowering fevers, and preventing blood from clotting. NSAIDs are also the most prescribed medications for treating conditions such as arthritis.

The most well known NSAIDs are the common over-the-counter nonprescription drugs ibuprofen and aspirin.

NSAIDs and exercise

Many people take NSAIDS before exercising, in order to limit soreness and enable them to work out more intensely.

NSAID use is especially widespread among athletes in strenuous endurance sports like marathon and ultra marathon running. In fact, by some estimates, as many as 75 percent of long-distance runners take ibuprofen or other NSAIDs before, during or after training and races.

NSAIDs work by inhibiting the activity of an enzyme called cycoloxygenase (COX), which is crucial in the formation of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins play a role in the generation of pain and in the inflammatory response.

Negative effects of NSAIDs

While NSAIDs can be helpful in limiting pain, they may be doing a lot more harm than good.

Research has shown that when NSAIDs are used to block the production of prostaglandins within the muscles, fewer stem cells became active, fewer new cells are produced, and the muscle tissue (even after healing) is not as strong and springy as in it is in tissues that have not been exposed to the drug.

Several studies have also found NSAIDs increase intestinal permeability, which could allow toxins and other byproducts from bacteria to seep into the blood stream.

In terms of long-term effects, NSAIDs are known to damage the lining of the gastrointestinal tract, which can result in bleeding and ulcers over time. This combined with the fact that strenuous exercise itself can also harm the lining, makes the combination of NSAIDs and strenuous exercise even more dangerous.

How do NSAIDs affect your recovery and gains?

All in all, over-use of NSAIDs has the potential to seriously limit your body’s ability to recover.  And while most people take them to improve their performance level, it can actually be doing the exact opposite. NSAIDS have the potential to limit your muscle gains, as anti-inflammatory painkillers can slightly impair muscles’ ability to regenerate and strengthen after hard workouts.

Furthermore, many health professionals warn that the pain-masking nature of anti-inflammatory drugs can lead to increased risk of injury.

In fact, some research has shown that taking ibuprofen before exercise may actually increase the risk of musculoskeletal injuries and delay healing by impairing the synthesis of collagen (a key component of muscles, bones, and connective tissue).

So next time you’re hitting the gym, skip the painkillers. Listen to what your body is telling you and try healing naturally. Every once in a while using anti-inflammatory drugs is ok, but try limiting your usage to avoid long-term damage.


“Ibuprofen Before Exercise?” @Berkeleywellness, www.berkeleywellness.com/fitness/exercise/article/ibuprofen-exercise.

Reynolds, Gretchen. “Bring On the Exercise, Hold the Painkillers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 July 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/07/05/well/move/bring-on-the-exercise-hold-the-painkillers.html.

“The Influence of NSAIDs on Physiologic Processes and Exercise.” The Influence of NSAIDs on Physiologic Processes and Exercise - Physiopedia, www.physio-pedia.com/The_influence_of_NSAIDs_on_physiologic_processes_and_exercise.​​​​​​​

“What Are NSAIDs.” What Are NSAIDs?-OrthoInfo - AAOS, 1 Jan. 2009, orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00284.