Racing with Vitamin I

800px-Ibuprofen_3D_ModelA recent New York Times article asked the question, “Does Ibuprofen Help or Hurt During Exercise?”

The short answer is no, unless your suffering from “inflammation and pain from an acute injury.”

The article discusses ibuprofen use at the Western States 100-mile run.

Those runners who’d popped over-the-counter ibuprofen pills before and during the race displayed significantly more inflammation and other markers of high immune system response afterward than the runners who hadn’t taken anti-inflammatories. The ibuprofen users also showed signs of mild kidney impairment and, both before and after the race, of low-level endotoxemia, a condition in which bacteria leak from the colon into the bloodstream.

These findings were “disturbing,” Nieman says, especially since “this wasn’t a minority of the racers.” Seven out of ten of the runners were using ibuprofen before and, in most cases, at regular intervals throughout the race, he says. “There was widespread use and very little understanding of the consequences.”

Endotoxemia? Ah, no thanks.

Years ago another runner shared a supposed racing secret: Taking a couple ibuprofens before running a marathon helps reduce inflammation during the race.

I tried it before running Boston in 2002. Although I ran well, my muscles were no less sore than after other marathons.

I took ibuprofen before a few more running races but eventually stopped. There was nothing to gain and research was showing that taking it could slow the body’s natural recovery process (also noted in the NYT article.)

But there’s also another danger to popping ibuprofen. If you become dehydrated, you could suffer from renal failure where your kidneys  shut down. This is really stressed at the Leadville races since dehydration is more likely during endurance events at high altitudes.

Near the end of this year’s Leadville run, I did take two acetaminophen (Tylenol) for my ankle injury/inflammation. Acetaminophen can also produce the renal failure when dehydrated so I made sure my system fully hydrated.

After the race I relied more on ice to reduce inflammation. It seems to work far better than ibuprofen or acetaminophen — and it doesn’t help put bacteria in your bloodstream.

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