A long training day or race day usually comes with some sort of preparation ritual, right? Clothes? Check. Shoes? Check. Watch? Check. Ibuprofen, because today is going to hurt. Check.
There’s a problem with that last check, though.
Ibuprofen, commonly known as Vitamin I, and sold on the shelves as Advil or Motrin, was designed as a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug to reduce inflammation, relieve pain and lower fevers. Vitamin I should be an athlete’s best friend then right? Reducing inflammation caused by exercise. Relieving pain caused by exercise. In general, it counteracts what we are voluntarily going to do to our bodies that we know will hurt in the future. So we should be saying “Thank you!” to Pfizer for making Advil right?
Not so much, actually.
What ibuprofen doesn’t do is almost as worrisome as what it does do. Before or during exercise, ibuprofen actually may impede positive adaptations caused by exercise. It doesn’t reduce any muscle damage from exercise. It doesn’t have any ergogenic (meaning performance enhancing) effects. And studies have shown it may not even reduce the amount of pain felt when compared to placebos. What it does do for you is actually increase levels of inflammation, and it can create major GI problems if you’re a habitual, high-dosage user.
Now, that’s not to say that ibuprofen is a terrible thing, and every user is wrong, and there’s a conspiracy going around. Ibuprofen has its place, and that place may be AFTER your exercise is over. Studies have found ibuprofen to reduce the pain felt by DOMS (delayed onset muscle syndrome) and from minor injuries. It does reduce inflammation. It does reduce fevers. It is not a preventive medicine, but rather a reactive one. It works best for the athlete’s body after all of the damage has occurred. Remember to always consult with your doctor, especially if you have other health issues, before taking any medication.