We’ve all been there: trying to push beyond our limits, doing way too much for way too long. And then we find ourselves paying for it; feeling the burn for days to come. To help you understand that burn and what it means for your #gymgoals, we’re going to take a look at what inflammation is and the role it plays in muscle growth.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is the natural process our body goes through to remove cellular debris from damaged muscles and initiate repair. But does inflammation help build muscle?
Yes, it does. The first thing to remember is that inflammation is needed for muscle growth, although most of us are unaware that there are two distinct forms of inflammation: acute and chronic. The former is beneficial, while the latter is harmful. Athletes should learn how to distinguish between them as well as how to reduce their impact, especially the latter.
Acute vs. Chronic Inflammation
Acute (or short-term) inflammation (the good one) increases blood flow to an area of the body, providing nutrients for tissue repair and muscle growth.
Chronic inflammation, over the long term, is counter-productive. Excess swelling can impede the flow of blood and nutrients, slowing the healing process and, in some cases, leading to permanent injury.
If you stress your muscles too much (or don’t give them time to rest), you can go from acute inflammation into chronic inflammation or worse—chronic injury.
Body pain, constant fatigue and insomnia, weight gain, frequent infections, and gastrointestinal problems such as acid reflux and diarrhoea are common signs of chronic inflammation.
If you have these symptoms, it may be a good idea to undergo some blood tests to see if you can get a better picture of what’s going on.
How to Manage Muscle Inflammation
If you want to reduce inflammation while continuing to build muscle, aim for balance. For instance, if you’re feeling unusually achy or tired, try balancing your workout with some gentler sessions.
In addition, sleep – as with everything in life – is crucial. Quality sleep is the all-important secret weapon when it comes to fighting inflammation. Aim to get 7-8 hours a night. Similarly, a consistent meditation or mindfulness practice can drastically lower inflammation too.
If you’re feeling brave, nothing beats inflammation like an ice bath or cold water immersion. Just add a bag of cocktail ice to a cold bath to feel the benefits. Or, if you’re feeling adventurous, you could try your hand at wild swimming.
How Diet Affects Muscle Inflammation
Diet plays a major role in controlling inflammation. In fact, fats and sugars, such as those found in energy drinks, actually increase inflammation.
Unprocessed foods, on the other hand, like bananas, salmon, eggs and watermelon are great for reducing inflammation. These all contain anti-inflammatory vitamins and minerals that will help your body to heal.
In addition, certain supplements can help too. For instance, fish oil, turmeric and Vitamin E all pack a punch. Root ginger has also been proven to be both antibacterial and anti-inflammatory, actively helping the body to suppress inflammation.
Avoid relying on NSAIDs like ibuprofen and aspirin as a crutch. These medicines, while helpful in the short term, hide the long-term consequences. Research shows that NSAIDs (non-steroidal inflammatory drugs) may actually inhibit muscle synthesis. 
In summary, muscle growth is complex and multifactorial. It's important to understand the role of inflammation in muscle growth, because it can be a great indicator of how your training program is going. Inflammation has both positive and negative effects on muscle growth: too much or too little inflammation can slow down progress!
The goal with any workout routine should be to create an optimal level of inflammation so that you'll get the most out of your workouts. Balance, as ever, is key. If you’re feeling the burn a bit too often, mix things up – pour yourself a ginger tea, add a few supplements to a healthy diet and maybe go for a dip in the river!
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