Post-workout…ibuprofen?

Posted on March 13, 2011

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A topic I’ve seen come up every so often is the effects of ibuprofen on exercise. The times I’ve seen this come up is in the bodybuilding community where discussions of whether taking ibuprofen on a consistent basis will diminish the potential for muscle gains.  In my experience this is normally brought up by the beat up kind of lifter who refuses to acknowledge that having a chest day consisting of benching 6 different ways and then a shoulder day of 8 exercises (2 days later) is unnecessary.

My response to this type of person nowadays is if you need ibuprofen just to get through your workouts then you probably shouldn’t be doing that regimen any more.

Anyways, this is something I had interest in myself because during high school and college while playing football my teammates and I popped ibuprofen like it was candy.  I was actually more concerned with one of us causing ourselves an ulcer but the topic of muscle was in my mind as well.

I hadn’t thought about it in a long time but then I saw some people discussing this recent research:

Timing of ibuprofen use and bone mineral density adaptations to exercise training.

For those of you who recoil reading abstracts here is a quick summary: The study had three groups, one took ibuprofen before exercise, one didn’t take it at all, and one took it after exercise. The group that took it before lost bone mineral density ( -0.2%),  the one that didn’t take it at all gained bone mineral density (0.4%), and the one that took it afterwards gained the most bone mineral density (2.1%).

This made it pretty clear for the bodybuilder type wondering if taking ibuprofen on a regular basis would hinder their gains.

Note: No, bone mineral density isn’t the same as measuring muscular hypertrophy but they go hand in hand.

That answer being it depends: Take it before exercise and hinder yourself, take it afterwards and help yourself out.  Now not only can I tell the proverbial stubborn lifter who refuses to adjust his program that he needs something different, but taking ibuprofen before his workouts is actually causing him to regress.

When I saw this research that old query in my mind was finally answered but I also looked at it in a different light. Having a decent amount of older clients now, maintaining and increasing bone density is something that often comes up as a request or reasoning for hiring a trainer. Going with that, after getting better acquainted with some of my older clients, specifically the ones that had had previous surgeries or injuries that were many years old, I realized a couple of them take ibuprofen on a fairly consistent basis.

For example, I have a client who had arthroscopic knee surgery many years ago and despite losing over a 100 pounds (!) and having very good technique on lower body exercises she still says after some workouts, or even after a long walk, standing for a while, etc. her knee will act up on her. Nothing major, maybe a little swelling or soreness, but if she takes some Advil those days she is pain free.

She used to take it more often but as she lost more weight she took it less and less to where now it’s around maybe once every week or two. (Losing 100lbs tends to make everything feel better.) However, it took a good 8 months or so for her knees to be just about completely asymptomatic. That’s a long time to take ibuprofen multiple times per week and a lot of training sessions she could have potentially been making futile.

Please don’t underestimate the importance of this. Use the above client as an example. This person is a middle aged female who is doing everything she can so she can partake in activities like playing with her grandkids and see them grow up more years than she might have otherwise i.e. she made a massive lifestyle change that helped her lose over 100 pounds (!!!) and yet something as simple as taking her daily Advil before working out could actually increase her chances of breaking a hip.

On another note: If you are a trainer who has some older clients this is something to really look for. For those clients who come to you looking to get stronger and or gain some muscle make sure you know if/when they are taking ibuprofen otherwise you could be making your job more difficult. Of course, hopefully after having them for sometime they won’t be needing ibuprofen on a regular basis anymore, but that’s for further posts.

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Posted in: Pain