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How Do Pain Meds Affect Muscle Growth?

If you’re trying to build muscle fast, sore muscles are part of the territory. But overdoing pain meds may keep you from maximum muscle growth.

“No pain, no gain” may keep you motivated during an intense workout, but what happens when you can’t move the next day? If aspirin or Advil are on your mind, first take a look at what these pain meds may be doing to your muscle growth.

First off, pain meds aren’t all bad. Sore muscles after a workout come with the territory, especially if you’re tackling new types of exercises. Dulling the pain a little can help you get back to the gym and push through your next workout.

Long-term use of some pain relievers, though, can damage your liver and lead to headaches—and they might also be stunting your muscle growth.

To get a grip on the downsides of NSAIDS (non-steroid pain meds like aspirin and ibuprofen), Brad Schoenfeld, author of The MAX Muscle Plan, provided a breakdown of the latest research, in an article published in Sports Medicine. Here’s what you need to know:

  • For recreational athletes: Occasional use of NSAIDs according to package instructions is not likely to have any negative effects on muscle development, says Schoenfeld, and regular use shouldn't affect muscle growth over the short term. 
  • For elite athletes or those looking to maximize your muscle growth: Long-term use of NSAIDs could keep you from hitting your muscle targets.

So, if long-term use of pain meds are out, what’s a guy to do? Try relieving the pain with massage or a hot tub, or "acclimate your body by gradually increasing the duration, intensity, and effort of training over time,” said Schoenfeld. 

It takes patience, but that's the best way to optimize the gain—without too much pain.

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