icon-account icon-glass

Join the community!

We'll keep you up to date with interesting news, product information and offers so you never miss out.

No boring newsletters and we'll never share your address. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Popular Products

The Lean Protein
Whey protein powder for weight-loss.
The Energy Booster
Pre/intra-workout powder with BCAAs.
The Glow Booster
Collagen supplement for skin.

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. 

Product Spotlight

Need Expert Advice?

Other Insights

7 Expert Gym Tips to See Faster Results at the Gym
From the Bedroom to the Gym: Is Your Sex Life Affecting Your Workout Performance?
The relationship between sex and workout performance is one that’s long been debated by scientists and fitness fanatics alike. It’s complicated and multifaceted, so answering the question of whether your sex life is affecting your training is difficult. That said, today we’re going to take a look at a variety of evidence, both academic and anecdotal, as well as several different scenarios and at least try to reduce some of the mystery around the subject. First, it helps to understand what’s actually happening to the body, both physically and psychologically, during both activities.   The Effects of Sex on the Body Sexual activity causes several changes to occur in the body:   Physical Changes That Occur During Sex During sexual activity and the lead up to it, the human body undergoes a process known as the sexual response cycle. This is the case for both males and females, though the cycle can be highly individual and may not be the same each time for each person. Describing the full sexual response cycle is beyond the scope of this article, however it consists of 4 phases: Desire Arousal Orgasm Resolution Factors such as elevated heart rate, increased blood flow and pressure and heightened muscle tension all come into play. If you’d like to read about the sexual response cycle in more detail, check out this great article from Cleveland Clinic.   Psychological Changes That Occur During Sex Several psychological changes occur both during and after sex. Most notable are the release of endorphins and oxytocin, which are associated with improved mood and a better sense of wellbeing. These are also responsible for reduced stress levels, which brings a multitude of additional benefits that are of particular interest to those of us participating in regular training and exercise. Cortisol, the hormone responsible for stress, is catabolic in high levels, meaning it can cause the breakdown of lean tissue. So, whilst it is unclear whether sex itself affects workout performance, the reduction in stress levels it may bring is definitely beneficial for preserving our results!   The Effects of Exercise and Training on the Body Exercise and training also cause the body to undergo a number of changes. These occur both during and after the physical activity. There are in fact a number of similarities in changes that happen during exercise and sex:   Physical Changes That Occur During Exercise The physical changes that happen in the body vary based on the type of exercise being undertaken, however, there are some that are common to exercise in general: Increased heart rate Increased blood flow, especially to the muscles Faster, deeper breathing due to additional oxygen needs Heightened activity within the circulatory, respiratory, musculoskeletal and endocrine systems A full summary of the changes that occur within these systems can be found here. More aerobically demanding exercise will, of course, place greater emphasis on the circulatory and respiratory systems as well as causing fat to be metabolised as an energy source. Resistance training, which often relies more heavily on the lactate and creatine phosphate energy systems, instead promotes greater muscular and endocrine (hormone) activity. Note the common physical changes between sex and exercise here, as they do crossover!   Psychological Changes That Occur During Exercise The psychological changes that occur during exercise are similar to those experienced during sexual activity and are mostly related to the release of endorphins and other ‘feelgood’ hormones. These help to regulate mood, and it is common knowledge that frequent exercise and leading an active, healthy lifestyle promotes a feeling of wellbeing.   Does Sex Affect Our Workouts? This is where things become complicated. Though extensive studies have been done on the subject, the results of these have varied massively. We must also take into account the experience of individuals, and this anecdotal evidence again has huge variance. Let’s look at both:   Sex and Training: What the Science Says Scientific studies on the relationship between sex and training are contradictory at best. There’s no denying the positive benefits of both activities, particularly from a psychological perspective, but as for the effect of sex on actual performance in the gym the results are inconclusive. A study, published in April 2021, by Kirecci, Albayrak and co. examined the effects of sexual activity of 50 men in the 24 hours prior to training on lower body strength. The study measured effects by having the men perform 3 separate squat sessions, each at the same time of day. Each of these sessions occurred after participating in or abstaining from sexual activity the night before. The men performed 5 sets of 5 repetitions of their maximum squat weight during these sessions and the difference in weight lifted was observed. The study concluded that ‘sexual intercourse within 24 hours before exercise [has a] detrimental effect on lower extremity muscle force, which suggests that restricting sexual activity before a short-term activity may be necessary.’ Aside from this study, most others found either no notable relationship between sex and athletic performance. A meta-analysis of 9 crossover studies, conducted by Zavorsky and Brooks and published on 16 September 2022, confirms this. The analysis concluded that ‘The results demonstrate that sexual activity within 30 min to 24 h before exercise does not appear to affect aerobic fitness, musculoskeletal endurance, or strength/power.’ This is perhaps more notable, because these studies incorporated different types of exercise and were not restricted purely to a strength/power based activity like squats.   Anecdotal Evidence: What About the Experiences of Real Gym Goers? The anecdotal evidence is, as expected, highly individualised. However, there tends to be a bias against the results of most studies, particularly in those participating in sports involving strength and aggression. For example, many fighters claim that they perform better when they abstain from sex in the days leading up to a contest. Similarly, bodybuilding forums are full of debate on this topic and many claim they note a significant decrease in motivation to train at maximum intensity after sexual activity. It has been hypothesised that this may be due to a downregulation in testosterone production after sex; during orgasm the mineral zinc is released in the body and this is also a precursor for natural testosterone production in the body and may, therefore, provide some reasoning as to the experience of many trainees.   Key Takeaways The relationship between sex and workout performance will always be a complicated one. The effects of one on the other in terms of physical fitness and, in particular, mental wellbeing, are clear, but when it comes to actual performance this appears to be highly individual. We’d advise doing what feels best for you but not worrying too much about it. Instead, prioritise your nutrition and make sure you’re fuelling your workouts properly. While you’re here, why not take a look at the Innermost range? We’re proud to be completely transparent about the ingredients in our products and we always ensure they’re of the highest quality. Check us out, and be sure to get in touch if you have any questions! Read more