Inflammation: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

Incline-Dumbbell-Press1Ever since I began writing about pre, intra and post training nutrition for fat loss and muscle-building especially, I have had inflammation on my mind. That isn’t to say that my brain is in fact inflamed, but rather I have been thinking about it. I originally drew the conclusion to delaying having your post-training shake based on some studies I had seen that showed that lessening the inflammation after training was in fact detrimental to recovery. It was therefore logical to assume that pouring a shake down your throat the minute you are finished training would have the same affect as blood would need to be diverted from the muscle in order to begin digestion. From that point I began to think about what inflammation is, and how it is both a good thing and a bad thing for our muscles. Allow me to explain.

Weight training, or any type of exercise will cause inflammation, while at the same time reducing inflammation. That means that it’s a good idea to cause inflammation when we go to the gym in order to reduce inflammation, right? Wait, what?

What I mean to say is that I have seen numerous studies (5 or 6. I don’t footnote and I’m not going to start, but if you ever need proof of anything I say I’ll always provide a source. I prefer writing from memory as opposed to writing like I’m being forced to turn in a paper for a grade) that all show that any form of exercise reduces markers of inflammation. In the cases of the studies I saw it was C-reactive protein that was the marker that was lowered as the result of exercise.

I thought inflammation was a good thing, you may be asking, because that’s why you said to delay protein_shakedrinking my protein shake? Well, some inflammation is absolutely necessary if things like growing your muscles are important to you. In fact, it is necessary for basically every fitness goal. Increased work capacity, increased stamina and increased strength are all dependant to some degree on inflammation; almost just as much as hypertrophy is. The reason being is that our bodies adapt to the inflammation and grow stronger in an attempt to prepare for the next round of inflammation that is caused in a similar manner.

The method that we must use to keep inflammation beneficial and not detrimental is to use a stimulus that is brief, but strong enough to elicit a powerful inflammatory response. This means that an effective training program will include many intense sessions followed by long breaks that are full of nutrients to allow for total recovery. I’m sure I just described everyone’s training plan. This is how we can keep inflammation our friend.

There is of course a similar program that eventually results in injury. I know this method a little too well. The cause of this is when we train our muscles too frequently. When a muscle is not fully recovered and we then further add more inflammation, this causes an overlap and it slowly leads to chronic inflammation. This is often referred to as a training plateau. No further progress can take place until the body is allowed sufficient time to heal. If you are extremely stubborn (cough, me, cough), and have for prolonged periods of time adhered to a chronic dieting lifestyle that is preventing you from recovering (more on this in a post later explaining my current decision to continue bulking, or at least not seriously cuting, for at least a full year for the first time ever for me), and just refuse to back off and continue to PoppingPills1train through the pain until eventually something goes pop and you are forced to take a prolonged break. This is the example of how our friend inflammation can become our enemy.

How do you know if you are doing the right thing? Acute inflammation caused by weight training, or whatever you love to do, be that running or crossfit, is resolved quickly when given an adequate break. Conversely, if that nagging back pain, or shoulder pain, or whatever it is, never ceases, then the smartest thing as far as your long-term lifting career is concerned is to take a break. That my friends can be a hard decision to accept. To understand that taking a week off is going to benefit you going forward never makes sense at the time. The desire to push for more progress usually wins in the argument that takes place between our intelligent mind and our ego.

Happy Lifting!

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6 comments for “Inflammation: The Good, The Bad And The Ugly

  1. March 19, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    Another great article, Matt! In my 20’s and 30’s I never valued recovery enough; now we finish every 90-day cycle with 2 weeks of heavy powerlifting workouts and then a week off. When those 4 1-week breaks a year are already written into your training cycles they’re much easier to accept – especially once you’ve experienced the difference they make on your next cycle!

    • March 19, 2013 at 5:00 pm

      That’s a smart and tidy system you have set up Doug. One day when I’m finally wise enough I hope to be able to do something like that. Really good idea Doug.

  2. March 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm

    Great info Matt, and something I’m sure most people (myself included previously) never think about.

    • March 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm

      Thanks Colin. I say on FB that you mentioned I didn’t specifically mention ibuprofen etc. Perhaps I’ll have to write about that as well…

      • March 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm

        Yeah I just threw that out there (hope you don’t mind.) But like we talked about before the two definitely tie in together. It was actually the first thing I thought of when you initially mentioned post workout inflammation being a good thing.

        • March 19, 2013 at 4:58 pm

          Of course I don’t mind. I just have a tendency with my posts to eventually bring everything full circle and may revisit that information again. Who knows, I’m just writing about what is on my mind at the moment, so I don’t necessarily have any series planned. Kind of unusual for me…

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