If you’re a newcomer to resistance training, or if it’s just been quite a while since you’ve maintained a regular weight lifting routine, chances are you know what dealing with delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is like.     

The reality is that when your muscles are unaccustomed to the types of stress associated with lifting weights, it tends to cause a lot of damage to the impacted muscle tissues.  The good news is that the more damage you cause, the more muscle building potential you have. The bad news is that lots of damage can also lead to pain and soreness in your muscles, which can complicate the recovery process.  

Ultimately, that’s why many people experiencing DOMS end up taking medication like Tylenol, Motrin, or Advil in the hours and even days following an intense workout.  However, one double-blind, placebo-controlled study demonstrated that taking analgesic drugs following a workout may actually prevent your muscles from reacting and adapting to your training.

The Study

The study, published in the American Journal of Physiology in 2001, recruited 24 healthy young men to participate in a 16-day high-intensity, eccentric-focused resistance training program.  All participants in the study were sedentary or lightly active and had not participated in a weight trained program for at least 6 months prior to the start of the study.

Each participant’s diet was closely controlled over the course of the study.  Meals were provided for each individual based on their particular caloric needs.  The researchers determined each participant’s caloric needs by calculating their total daily energy expenditure (TDEE), which is essentially an estimates how many calories the body burn off in a day.   

On top of that, study participants’ diets also adhered to a standardized macronutrient split.  Each individual was provided with 1.2g of protein per kilogram of body weight each day.  The rest of the participants’ calories were split up between carbs at 55% of total daily calories and fat at 25%.  

Training Protocol

Participants were tasked with a knee extensor exercise on the day blood and muscle samples were collected.  The maximum amount of weight each subject could lift concentrically (think pushing up on the bench press) was measured as their 1 rep max (1RM).  

From there, the researchers had participants focus only on the eccentric portion of the movement.  You’re significantly stronger on the eccentric part of a lift (think lowering the weight to your chest on the bench press) so, researchers had each participant working at 120% of their 1RM.   

All test subjects complete a total of between 10 to 14 sets consisting of 10 reps, with 60 seconds of rest in between each set.  Again, the participants were only performing the eccentric portion of the movement, which is why they were able to do so many sets and reps.  

Dosage

Participants were placed into 1 of 3 groups, with each group consisting of 8 people.  One group was given daily doses of ibuprofen, one group acetaminophen, and the final group received only a placebo each day.   

Each of the 2 analgesic groups was given the maximal daily dosage for their respective over the counter drugs.  For ibuprofen, that equated to 1,200 mg per day split across 3 doses. For acetaminophen, it was 4,000 mg per day also broken up between 3 different doses.    

Study Results

The study predominantly examined isotope enrichment as a means of evaluating protein metabolism and breakdown.  All of the muscles in your body are actually made up of proteins, which are going through a constant state of turn over.  Physical activity like weight lifting breaks down some of the proteins in your muscles, which your body must then repair/replace.  

This general process is known as muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and in order for your muscles to grow, the amount of protein synthesized within them must be greater than the amount that’s broken down.  So for this particular study, the researchers attempted to evaluate protein metabolism by looking at the amount of available protein in the participants’ muscles both before and after they exercised.        

The researchers found that the amount of available protein in the muscles only increased in the placebo group following intensive exercise.  The study ultimately concluded that analgesic medication like ibuprofen and acetaminophen play an inhibiting role during protein metabolism.  In other words, over the counter drugs like Advil and Tylenol may prohibit your body from reacting and adapting to exercise-induced stimulation.  

Takeaway

If lifting weights is causing soreness in your muscles, you may want to think twice before taking analgesic drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen in order to alleviate the pain.  Research suggests that over the counter pain medications like these may actually negate some of the positive effects of weight training.

While you might not want to take Advil or Tylenol if you’re trying to build muscle, there are several other things you can do to prevent delayed onset muscle soreness.  BCAAs in particulars have been demonstrated in multiple studies to help decrease the amount of pain and soreness people experienced following intensive training.