by Josh Hodnik
The human body is a complex machine that has an amazing ability to heal itself. When an injury occurs, the body responds immediately by beginning the process to repair the damage. The body heals itself as part of normal, everyday life without any thought or effort on our part. Healing takes place without us even being aware of it most of the time. Other times, the symptoms may not be so subtle, and we are aware that something is going on.
A muscle injury, such as a strain or tear, show us very clearly that something is wrong from the pain and inflammation. The inflammation is the result of the body’s immune system sending direct healing resources to the site of the injury. Without inflammation wounds and injuries wouldn’t heal.
For most active and healthy individuals, inflammation is not something that’s even thought of unless a major injury or illness occurs. That is when the inflammation process is most needed. Prolonged inflammation can lead to chronic inflammation, and this can result in a shift in the type of cells present at the site of inflammation. Chronic inflammation involves simultaneous destruction and healing of the tissue from the inflammatory process. Chronis inflammation wont always give obvious symptoms that it’s taking place. Its certainly much more subtle than a broken leg or torn tendon. Many times, chronic inflammation may seem as stiffness or aches and pains associated with hard work at the gym. Some times this is the case, but many times it is not.
Chronic inflammation should be of particular concern to bodybuilders, powerlifters, and anyone trying to stay fit and healthy. Chronic inflammation slows down and disrupts metabolic processes that are critical to building lean muscle and burning fat. In particular, it can disrupt the anabolic signals that initiate muscle growth.
Like other stressors in our lives such as lack of sleep, poor nutrition, excess body fat, and emotional duress, exercise can directly affect the body’s complex immune system and produce a cascading effect of inflammatory responses. We’ve always been told that exercise is the key to optimal health, but any athlete who pounds his or her body week in and week out with PR’s, 1RM’s, triples and doubles, and the list goes on, is inflamed in some way. Not only do these activities initiate increases in strength, muscle growth, and increased endurance, they also increase the amount of inflammation in the body. This inflammation could be from stress and the subsequent cortisol release in the body. the swelling of joints, or the breaking down and building back up of muscle tissue. When the body’s immune system gets stuck in overdrive, too much exercise can amplify the inflammation cascade.
Research shows that high-intensity (greater than 70% of max effort) exercise sessions lasting longer than 20-30 minutes or low-intensity (below 50-70%) efforts lasting longer than 75 minutes can flood the body with stress and inflammation biochemical markers. According to most studies, exercising at the 70% effort level for up to 60 minutes can actually reduce inflammatory markers, increasing positive neurotransmitters and improve brain chemistry. Moderate intensities also stimulate the growth of new brain cells, neurons and capillary growth to muscle and neurons. This can all have a positive impact on new muscle growth.
Its been proven that chronic inflammation is powerful enough to be considered life-threatening. Its been shown that those with more copies of the genes called CD33rSIGLEC, which is involved in fighting inflammation, have a longer life span. Chronic inflammation is seen as a hallmark of aging. Many pharmaceutical drugs treat chronic diseases by fighting inflammation. There is no doubt that chronic inflammation negatively impacts the body. When left to run rampant, it can drastically reduce the body’s ability to increase muscle mass and strength, decrease body fat, and it lowers the ability to recover properly from training.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to improve your body’s ability to recover and reduce or eliminate chronic inflammation. First, the majority of chronic inflammation cases are linked to an unbalanced or unhealthy lifestyle. This can include poor diet, lack of sleep, excessive alcohol, high stress environment, and overtraining in the gym. If any of these conditions apply to you, then take the necessary steps to address the issue immediately. Here are several steps you can take to improve your body’s ability to manage inflammation.
Eat a Healthy Diet: A poor diet is directly linked to chronic inflammation. Eat a healthy diet with lean protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats. Make it a point to avoid the following:
Hydrogenate Oils and Trans Fats- Found in many processed foods, trans fats increase levels LDL’s while lowering HDL’s in the body. They have also been shown to promote inflammation, obesity, and insulin resistance.
Fried Foods – French fries, potato chips, and onion rings are highly cooked products due to deep-frying. This produces glycotoxins, which are known to be highly inflammatory.
Sugar – Sugar raises insulin levels in the body that in turn triggers an inflammatory response.
Dairy Products – The body often has issues with lactose, resulting in an inflammatory response.
Alcohol – Overconsumption can be a burden on the liver and promote inflammation in the body.
Get Enough Sleep: This is one of the most all-around healthy things you can do to improve your physical and mental well-being. Getting 7-9 hours of sleep on a regular basis will help the body recover and will keep inflammation in check.
Exercise Regularly: The body thrives from exercise. Keep sessions at or below 70% of max effort most of the time, while limiting sessions to 60 minutes. Throw in a deloading phase occasionally to let your body heal and catch up. This will help to keep unwanted inflammation to a minimum.
You can take things a step further and supplement with the following supplements to fight inflammation: Tumeric, Ginger, Willow Bark, Fish Oil, Grape Seed Extract, Probiotics, and Bromelain.
A blood test can measure acute levels of C-reactive protein, a protein in the blood that rises in response to inflammation. CRP levels range from 1 to 10mg per liter. A level below 1mg is ideal; above 3mg indicates high levels of inflammation.
Taking these simple steps will keep your body in good working order, and will minimize inflammation. By doing this, you greatly improve your capacity to build muscle and burn fat.