Myth: Ibuprofen helps you recover better.
Truth: Over-the-counter doses of ibuprofen and acetaminophen may actually work against recovery. Current thinking is that they interfere with the ability of your muscles to repair themselves and get stronger after hard workouts, says Todd Trappe, Ph.D., professor at the Human Performance Lab at Ball State University who has researched the compounds’ effects on muscle.
Normally, “your body’s rate of protein synthesis goes up 50 to 100 percent after exercise,” he says. But in one of his studies, “when people took the maximum over-the-counter doses, the drugs eliminated the ability of the muscle to turn on the protein synthesis response. If you kept taking these analgesics day after day, there’s no way you’d get muscle to grow or adapt.” Plus, other research suggests that these drugs may mess with healthy muscle adaptation by affecting the production of compounds like collagen that help give tissues strength.
Too addicted to the relieving effects to give them up? Think again. In Trappe’s study and others, there was no difference in soreness between people who took the drugs than in people who took a placebo—although it’s possible that the achiness was too great for the drugs. The caveat: In a small study that shocked even the authors, Trappe and his team found that OTC analgesics in people over age 64 didn’t turn down muscle building after exercise—they raised it. Stay tuned for more if you’re in the masters group.