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Inflammation And Muscle Growth: A Primer

15th January 2021

15th January 2021

By Shivraj Bassi

When you’re sore the day after a hard workout, it makes sense you’re happy your effort has had an impact on your body. If you’re looking to make muscle gains, it’s truly a no pain, no gain situation.

But have you ever wondered about the mechanism behind what causes your muscles to become inflamed and sore, and if you’re dealing with it in the best way? Muscle inflammation is crucial to your fitness journey, but too much of it can knock you off track. Here, we investigate what inflammation is and why it’s both crucial and detrimental to muscle growth

What is muscle inflammation?

This one’s fairly simple - inflammation is an immune system response to tissue damage, and its purpose is to remove any cellular debris from the location where the damage occurred and initiate tissue repair. 

Firstly, blood accumulates at the damage site, causing the symptoms of swelling, stiffness and heat. Secondly, white blood cells called neutrophils flock to the area and absorb the debris of the cells which are damaged. The last stage is when cells called macrophages migrate to the site to complete the clean-up process and stimulate the regeneration of tissue. 

Inflammation helps muscle growth

Inflammation is important and probably even essential for gaining muscle mass. Several studies point to some of the mechanisms that regulate muscle growth relying on inflammation to be effective. It also plays a critical role in muscle repair. Every workout causes microscopic damage to your muscle fibres and the inflammation process repairs this during your recovery period, which lasts around 48 hours after you finish your workout. Inflammation also promotes bodily adaptations such as satellite cell proliferation, which is an essential step in developing larger and stronger muscle fibres. 

A study in which young and active men took a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory for eight weeks reduced resistance-training induced muscle growth by around half of what it would otherwise be. This shows that inflammation plays a key role in building muscle, and that taking anti-inflammatories in long term could lessen your response to training. 

Photo by Alora Griffiths on Unsplash

Inflammation hurts muscle growth

We’ve established that muscle inflammation goes at least some way to supporting those muscles you’re working so hard for in the gym. But it can also contribute negatively to your progress in several ways. 

Firstly, it’s that feeling we all know so well - delayed onset muscle soreness, or DOMS. Inflammation is the culprit behind all those times you’ve worked too hard during leg day and found yourself unable to walk up the stairs without a helping hand from a friend the next day. If you’re too sore to train, you’re not making gains, as simple as that. And as established, taking anti-inflammatories to push through the pain will result in you likely not gaining as much muscle as you would like. 

This means you should structure your training not about going as hard and fast as you can, but taking considered steps towards your goal, increasing the intensity of your workouts in slow increments. It’s all about balance. While you have to reach the level of training intensity that will elicit swole muscles, pushing too hard too soon will reduce not only the frequency with which you can go to the gym but the intensity at which you’re able to train. 

Excess inflammation is also something to watch out for. If you’re training hard seven days a week (you certified freak), the inflammation naturally caused by each workout won’t have time to resolve itself, and your muscles won’t heal between workouts. If this pattern persists, the body can enter a cycle of persistent tissue damage and chronic inflammation which can also affect your joints, as the pain from DOMS can change your normal movement patterns, placing unaccustomed stress on your joints and increasing the risk of injury. Injuries such as runner’s knee stem from this. In addition, as you grow older, evidence suggests that inflammation plays a role in muscle loss even if you’re physically active. 

How to use muscle inflammation to your advantage 

Inflammation is critical for muscle growth, but too much of it is bad and could even cause serious injury. The takeaway from this is that training should always be approached gradually, in short bursts which induce growth and strength without reducing the amount of intensity at which you can train. Rest is also critical to growing strong and healthy muscles, so don’t think that skipping your rest day means you’re lazy or are making slower progress - the opposite is true. 

To manage muscle inflammation a whole-body approach is required to not only maximise muscle gains, but to maintain them as you get older. To do this, we look to the usual culprits of staying active, working out, eating healthily and cutting down on things which can contribute to chronic inflammation such as drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. 

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The New Nasal Breathing Technique To Improve Breathing During Exercise
Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. That’s what they say, right? Well, there’s been some research to suggest that nasal breathing during exercise is the new go-to, and there are some pretty impressive nasal breathing benefits, if we do say so ourselves. Do you breathe through your mouth or nose? Think about it. Right now, how are you breathing?  Typically, for everyone it’s different, and this is generally the technique that is more comfortable for you. The fact is though, better oxygen intake means greater energy levels: which by the way, you can also get from The Energy Booster. A lot of people ask us questions around breathing during exercise, such as how to breathe when jogging, sprinting and rowing. Well, here we go… nasal breathing is the new way to go.  What is nasal breathing? It’s probably good to get this technique defined, so that you can start implementing the breathing exercise on your next run, or when you next pop to the gym. Nasal breathing involves slow, controlled, and deep breaths through your nose whilst exercising. The aim of the game here, is to breathe in deeply enough so that you fill your lungs with air. As much as possible, actually. Not only does this breathing technique increase your oxygen intake, but the strategy slows down your breathing and heart rate, conserving energy. Thus, improving your athletic performance. Voila.  What is mouth breathing? We’d say that the clue is in the name, but we thought we’d clear up the difference anyway. This is when you breathe through your mouth. However, you may be surprised that mouth-breathing introduces some risks.  So, if you’re a so-called “mouth-breather” (as horrible as that name is), it might be time to listen up and change your ways.  Chronic mouth breathing can lead to growth issues in children such as crooked teeth and facial deformities, and in adults, breathing solely through the mouth can cause bad breath, chronic fatigue, irritability and even snoring. Woah. Nasal breathing benefits Nasal breathing engages the lower lungs This means that you’re pumping out more oxygen, which travels around your body. This is great for your cells, which means healthy organ functioning, great cell growth and a happy body. Improves your diaphragm use Breathing through the nose means that you are helping your diaphragm (the major muscle involved in respiration) to work properly and efficiently. Sounds pretty helpful. It increases your production of Nitric Oxide Nitric oxide sounds pretty harmful, but it is a vasodilator. A vasodilator is used in the widening of blood vessels, and are often used in the treatment of high blood pressure. An introduced production of Nitric Oxide (NO) can improve your oxygen circulation, again improving organ and cell functioning. Filters out harmful allergens The nose is carefully constructed to prevent foreign items, allergens and other nasties from entering our respiratory tract. This means that engaging in nasal breathing techniques (as opposed to breathing through our mouths), means that the number of harmful germs, foreign bodies and other unwanted items is greatly reduced. Thank goodness. Promotes smoother oxygen entry This sounds pretty sophisticated, but what we mean by this is, breathing through your nose both warms-up and moistens the air you breathe in. This is particularly advantageous if you’re exercising in cold weather (as breathing in the cold is harder in itself, anyway), and means that the air we breathe in has more opportunity to warm up before reaching your lungs. Warm air means greater dilation of the bronchial tubes. What does that mean for us? Yeah, better oxygen intake. You guessed it. The science behind the nasal breathing technique Now you may be thinking, that’s all well and good. But is there evidence to support this? Stop right there, we’re way ahead of you. This advice hasn’t come from nowhere. It’s been found that nasal breathing actually stimulates the nervous system – more specifically, the area that prioritises rest and recovery, as well as digestion. This means that nasal breathing promotes relaxation, and a sense of calmness – one that is definitely welcomed when you’re mid 10k run, hoping that the next 5k go way faster than the last. Research conducted by the International Journal of Kinesiology and Sports Science revealed that whilst this nasal breathing technique does not increase our ability to intake oxygen, nasal breathing techniques decrease respiratory rate, ratio of oxygen intake to carbon dioxide, and even breaths per minute. The study involved both male and female runners and required the runners to use the nasal breathing technique for a period of six months.  So, in our eyes, it’s a pretty well-rounded, balanced study, and definitely shows that there is scope to introduce this into your workout routine for improved athletic performance. Techniques for breathing after exercise Whilst we’ve covered the technique for breathing whilst jogging, skipping or whatever your exercise of choice is, we thought it would be helpful to give you some advice when it comes to warming down. The thing to prioritise here is your posture. Sit upright, or lay down flat on the floor, to ensure your spine is as flat and straight as possible. Another way to do this – depending on where you’ve worked out, is to lie flat on the floor and place your legs at a 90-degree angle to the wall. This gives you the ability to fill your lungs to full capacity, and promotes oxygen flow, recovery and enhances your oxygen levels. All essential for your post-exercise routine. Summary If you’re someone that exercises frequently, and you’ve noticed that you primarily breathe through your mouth – give this nasal breathing technique a go. Not only will you stop yourself becoming victim to the risks of mouth-breathing that we outlined above, but you’ll reap the benefits when it comes to your athletic performance, too. Read more

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