The work that a certain muscle is able to produce depends on how well it is equipped with oxygen-rich blood. If it lacks oxygen, milk acid is accumulated which, in turn, disturbs the pH balance and microdamages appear. In order to fix the damages, many biochemical processes are started in the organism. One of those processes is the increase of blood to the damaged muscle and the activation of the cells which remove waste materials out of the organism, called macrophages. Macrophages accumulate around the damaged muscle so that they can remove the damages. They increase the concentration of nitrogen oxide which leads to the widening of blood vessels and the transport of matter that helps to build and regenerate the muscle. If the muscle is better equipped with blood, the transport of oxygen and nutrients will be better, leading to a faster growth of the muscle.
During inaction, the body receives 70% of its energy from fat and 30% from carbohydrates. However, as the intensity of the physical activity increases, the need for ATP (adenosine triphosphate, a molecule rich in energy which is also the basic and only source of energy) goes beyond our body's abilities to deliver the adequate amount of oxygen. In that case, the muscles produce energy via an anaerobic way, i.e. without the use of oxygen and they use glucose as a main supstance in order to gain energy. By further decomposing glucose, a final product called pyruvate is made.
If there is not enough oxygen, the anaerobic threshold is crossed where the intensity of the activity is high and the speed at which the pyruvate is made overcomes the speed of oxidative phosphorylation (getting the ATP in an aerobic manner). Once this threshold is crossed, the lactate concentration in blood is significantly increased compared to its amount during inactivity. Pyruvate enters the anaerobic mode of disintegration which product is the lactate (milk acid salt) which can be transferred to milk acid. This mechanism of gaining energy results in a pH drop in blood and an overall acidity of the organism which is interpreted as pain or fatigue.
One of the most common misinterpretations is that lactates in blood or milk acid are responsible for muscle inflammation. However, many research show that the only negative effect connected to the accumulation of lactates (or more correctly, milk acid) happens because of an increased concentration of hydrogen ions. Muscle inflammation has nothing to do with the accumulated lactates, but is exclusively a by-product of an increased concentration of hydrogen ions that the organism is not able to remove via its buffer system (buffers – solutions that have a certain pH level in order to neutralize, i.e. offer resistance to a certain amount of acid). Also, mechanical damages on the muscle that appear during intense activity (microtraumas, bleedings and liquid intrusion into the Z plate muscle) add up to the feeling of muscle pain.
The highest concentration of lactates in blood is approx. 5 minutes after completing a physical activity. Lactate concentrations go back to their normal levels in under an hour since the physical activity has ended. Mild activity after training helps with a quicker lactate drainage.
The most common reasons why muscle inflammation occurs
The reasons why muscle inflammation occurs among sportsmen who train martial arts are varied. One of them is the planned and programmed training process which needs to be in function of one's health needs. In order for it to be after the training phase in which the athlete is preparing for a competition, as well as after the competition itself, a phase of rest and relaxation, i.e. a phase of psychological and physical rest needs to take place. Only after a bigger or smaller pause from a serious and more difficult training does the athlete need to continue with a new series of preparations for a competition.
One of the reasons why muscle inflammation occurs among athletes is a pause from training due to illness. This may happen because of a regular cold, some seasonal allergies, an inflammation (e.g. inflammation of the eye, ear, tooth) or some other illness after which one needs a longer recovery and has to take a break from training.
In martial arts, athletes can injure themselves during training (because of inattention, irregular use of equipment, insufficient warm up etc.) as well as during a competition. No matter how successful an athlete during a competition may be, there is always a great chance that he/she may injure himself/herself. Depending on the severity of the injury, the athlete will have to rest and rehabilitate according to his/her doctor's recommendation and will be able to return to training once he/she is feeling better. This is also one of the reasons why muscle inflammation may occur.
Muscle inflammation can also happen if a sportsman changes his/her mode of training or performance of certain exercizes (i.e. once an MMA athlete after boxing exercizes switches to practicing wrestling, judo, ju jitsu techniques etc.). A sportsman who, after practicing with a certain weapon, switches to techniques with another weapon that is usually heavier (e.g. if after practicing with a stick he/she switches to a katana or sai daggers etc.) can also experience muscle inflammation.
An acute or short-term muscle inflammation is one which happens near the end or immediately after training. Your muscles swell and you feel tiredness and tension, as if they were pumped up. This sensation is present because blood vessels expand and water is retained in the muscles. This type of inflammation receds after a couple of hours so the expert's advice is to drink as much water as you can. Apart from drinking water, it is important to stretch the muscles well. Take 15 minutes of your time and the inflammation will shortly go away.
Many persons who experience muscle inflammation usually take painkillers (analgesics such as aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) why is a big mistake. By taking analgesics you will rid yourself from pain, but you are stopping a series of chemical processes in the body (especially the macrophages – you are stopping the cells that take away the waste material) that lead to repair, recovery and growth of the muscle. This is how you get a counter effect which leads to the muscle being stagnated and damaged.
Three types of muscle inflammation are known.
The first one is a very mild, i.e. comfortable pain during which we feel the muscle and a slight tension within it.
The second level is a bit more intense and it occurs 24-48 hours after exercize and can last from 3-5 days. During this time, the whole organism acidifies (the pH levels of the blood drop). This level is not bad for the organism if it is occasional. Oftentimes, during this level, persons take analgesics in order to relieve themselves from a feeling of discomfort. On the other hand, athletes let natural processes to do their job in the body.
The third level is a real muscular fatigue during which it stops to function entirely. Average trainees rarely experience this type of fatigue. It usually occurs among professional athletes (e.g. among top athletes in many martial arts such as boxing, wrestling, MMA, judo, karate, tae kwon do, muay thai, sambo, jiu jitsu, sanda kung fu, etc.). Apart from physical pain, it can manifest as nausea, dizziness, general weakness and even regurgitation. If this type of inflammation occurs, the athlete is recommended to rest for a couple of days.
There are a couple of ways to relieve inflammation, such as:
- a massage, light cardio training, showering with warm and cold water (all of this stimulates the lymphatic system and a quicker excretion of the milk acid our of the organism)
- placing cold compresses (this has an analgetic effect)
- stretching (mandatory after training)
- taking in a lot of liquid (lactates are easily dissolved in water so, if we are hydrated, there is a smaller chance that we will feel a burning sensation which they cause during training)
The other way is to eating certain alkaline foods that neutralize the body's acidity, such as:
Scientists have discovered that cherry (sour cherry) juice has a significant effect on the reduction of pain (a cup of juice a day or before training can help relieve joint pain and muscle inflammation). Experts believe that strong antioxidant compounds found in (sour) cherry juice reduce the damages found in the athlete's muscles (those being the damages that normally occur when the muscles are used to their maximum) which helps them to recover faster.
Retaining approx. 27 grams of powerful proteins per cup, cottage cheese is a perfect "snack” after training. It is one of the best sources of casein protein. This slowly-digestible protein is a fantastic way to rejuvenate painful muscles while you are sleeping. You can eat it in combination with fruit, nuts or in a smoothie.
Cinnamon and ginger
Add a bit of these spices in your coffee or oatmeal. Namely, these spices contain ingredients that relieve muscle tension and pain. If you are experiencing muscle pain after your training session, massaging the area with cinnamon oil will also help.
A research about the active ingredient in turmeric has shown that adding it to one's nutrition helped reduce muscle pain.
Research has shown that a moderate amount of caffeine (around 2 cups of coffee) has a better effect on one's muscles than on one's level of stimulation (awakening). Before each training session, drink a cup of your favourite coffee and you will reduce the risk of muscle inflammation for almost 50%. Apart from that, caffeine will increase your level of endurance so you will be able to exercize better and in a more intense mode.
Rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, antioxidants and proteins that build up muscles, salmon is a perfect food to take in after training. Research about its consumption suggests that it can prevent muscle inflammation and pain after training (postpone the muscle reaction to physical activity).
One study has shown that watermelon juice containing L-citrulline amino acids speeds up the process of cleaning out excess milk acid from the muscles. Scientists also belive that L-citrulline is responsible for speeding up muscle recovery. Around 120 grams of watermelon contains 150 mg of citrulline, which is more than any other fruit. Natural sugars will also help in controlling proteins in muscles and will supplement a low amount of glycogen, while a high amount of water is important to prevent muscle dehydration.
Adding a source of protein such as eggs during or after an intense endurance training can help reduce the risk of a subsequent potential muscle inflammation. Just like cottage cheese, eggs are an unbelievable source of leucine which is connected to muscle regeneration.
Bananas are one of the best source of potassium which can relieve muscle pain. It also protects muscles from spasms and its carbohydrates give you enough energy to endure a strenuous training session.
What should you definitely try to avoid
One study showed that frequent drinking of various carbonated drinks increases inflammatory markers. Other refined carbohydrates (e.g. white bread) can have a similar effect.
Alcohol, even in very small quantities, can cause pain after training or even increase the risk of injuries. Alcohol dehydrates the cells which, in turn, results in pain, spasms and a potential inflammation.
Also, try to avoid the consumption of meat products, some dairy products and sugars that considerably acidify the organism.
Muscle inflammation is a completely normal and natural phenomenon, of course, if it is now chronic. Moderate muscle pain is a sign that the body is waking up and that you are shifting your boundaries. If it never takes place, it can mean that your physical exercise is not very efficient. People who train and never experience muscle inflammation do not cross their physical potentials and use exercise as a mode of psychological satisfaction rather than a way to develop their muscles, improve their health or reach a certain sports result. Although it is proven that certain muscle growth can be reached without muscle inflammation, an athlete will need significantly more time in order to reach it.
In martial arts, a person who is inactive, i.e. someone who doesn't train and is not in shape – doesn't exist as an option. An athlete who doesn't train is, simply, not an athlete. A martial arts master who constantly doesn't train can no longer be a master (he simply doesn't have the necessary skill any more).
This is why all martial arts trainees need to constantly train and should welcome muscle inflammation with a smile on their faces.
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