Is Ibuprofen Safe for Runners?

I’ve heard many runners over the years talk about using ibuprofen and other NSAIDs before, during, and immediately after races and hard workouts. The theory is that the drug will do its job at masking the pain, allowing the runner to push a bit harder. Runners also use it post-race to help deal with the pain of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) and even decrease inflamation. So, is it effective? And if so, at what cost?

A recent study by Dr. David Nieman shows surprising results, specifically for the ultrarunning community. Nieman specifically studied competitors in the 100-mile Wester States Endurance Run, and tracked the large number of athletes that were using ibuprofen. In a nutshell, he found that ibuprofen was not only completely ineffective on a number of measures, it was also potentially harmful. But there is a surprising ending.

Dr. Nieman’s study showed that ibuprofen users and non-users experienced the same amount of muscle damage and soreness. Plus, the ibuprofen actually caused an increase in inflammation from colon bacteria leakage into the the bloodstream! Test subjects between the ibuprofen and non-ibuprofen groups showed no difference in performance and no difference in perceived exertion. And the bad news doesn’t stop there. A different study of Ironman triathletes found that ibuprofen caused an increased risk of hyponatremia, a lack of salt in the blood which leads to cramping and more serious health issues (if you consider death serious) because of the drugs affect on the liver.

So if you are taking ibuprofen or other NSAIDs in the hopes of staving off DOMS or improving your performance, the proof just isn’t there. But there is some good news.

Dr. Nieman has been studying plant extracts that can provide a decreased incidence of DOMS and are not harmful. Falvinoids that are found in fruits and vegetables are showing great promise in anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Blueberries, cherries, green teas, and juice cocktails all contain large concentrations of flavinoids. So if you are seeking an effective and safe way to decrease DOMS and inflammation, it seems mother nature provides the best solution.

To read the complete article, see Ibuprofen and Running