When you hear ‘inflammation’ most people think oh no, that’s not good and most times they are right. But when it comes to muscle growth, inflammation is a key part of the hypertrophic process.
Inflammation occurs when an area in the body needs attention, it’s like when you highlight something in your notes that you need to remember. This is often what happens when you eat something your body can’t digest, you have an infection or when you cut your knee. It’s your body’s way of saying hey immune system, can you give me a hand?. Normally, the immune system then sends antibodies to the inflamed area to help it heal, but in some cases inflammation remains high, which can be bad.
In terms of its role in muscle damage, when you do an intense lifting session you are damaging muscle tissue. You cause micro tears to the muscle fibers that causes a spike of inflammation in the muscle. One key cytokine that spikes after a workout is called interleukin-6, acting as a sign of inflammation as a response to the repetitive muscle contractions.
Studies show that high resting levels of this cytokine are reflective of chronic inflammation, a risk factor for disease. Another study that was published in the journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 2017 found that high levels of inflammation was associated with a reduced ability to grow and retain muscle mass.
That being said, some inflammation is important. A study published in 2009 by McKay and colleagues found that significant spikes in interleukin-6 correlated with muscle repair and cellular growth. McKay et al found that the higher the inflammatory spike, the more muscle was able to grow and quicker. However, this needs to be a spike, rather than a chronic inflammatory state: a key difference, as shown in a 2013 study.
If you think inflammation is always bad, think again. It’s necessary and desired for optimal muscle growth and recovery post training, but if your inflammation is constantly elevated it’s going to have a negative affect, a spike is all you want.