Beware of using the drug prednisone or less potent over-the-counter anti-inflammatories like aspirin because they can cause muscle protein breakdown and a blunted anabolic hormone response to training. A new study in the journal Hormone and Metabolic Research shows how using these drugs can be dangerous, particularly when exercising.
The study tested the effect of giving trained females 50 mg/day of prednisone or a placebo for a week and then having them perform a moderate-intensity aerobic exercise trial. Results showed that growth hormone levels were about 60 percent lower during exercise in the prednisone condition than the placebo. The hormone DHEA, which is a potent tissue building hormone in females, and is the precursor testosterone in both men and women, was also significantly lower throughout the prednisone trial than the placebo.
The depressed hormone levels from the prednisone suggests that the body’s ability to regulate homeostasis in response to exercise was thrown off. Normally, the hypothalamic-pituitary axis that releases hormones to allow the body to reach peak performance levels would secrete large amounts of growth hormone and DHEA to aid in protein synthesis and energy use, but this didn’t happen due to the daily prednisone intake.
Instead, researchers found that blood amino acid levels, especially levels of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) were significantly elevated following the prednisone trial, which means muscle and tissue were being broken down to supply energy for the body. In the long-term, taking an anti-inflammatory could lead to muscle loss, and would almost certainly mean blunted protein synthesis with strength training. Of course, this study tested the effect of an anti-inflammatory during aerobic exercise, not strength training, but it highlights possible effects of such drugs on hormone response to anaerobic-style training.
No known studies have been done testing the effect of prednisone-like drugs on hormone response in strength or power athletes, but there is evidence that over-the-counter NSAIDs that are less powerful than prednisone can get in the way of long-term tendon or muscle repair because they reduce activity of the cells to regenerate. In the short-term, such drugs decrease swelling and adhesions on muscle and tissue but in the long-term they inhibit tissue regrowth.
Take away an understanding about how anti-inflammatory medications can alter hormone levels and cause protein loss during exercise. Use these drugs with caution and avoid taking ibuprofen and related pain killers due to minor pain from training. Instead, take BCAAs and essential amino acids to avoid soreness and support tissue repair.
Thomasson, B, Rieth, N., et al. Short-Term Glucocorticoid Intake and Metabolic Responses During Long-Lasting Exercise. Hormone and Metabolic Research. 2011. 43, 216-222.