Is It Safe To Take Advil Before Exercise? What To Consider

Working out usually requires some amount of motivation. You don't always feel like pumping out intense reps at the gym when you're tired at the close of the day and you definitely don't feel like exercising when you're having a headache. This is when you might be tempted to pop an Advil and get on with it. 

Some people even take the pre-workout Advil route in the hopes that it might ease the severity of sore muscles after a workout. "Many marathoners and other endurance athletes take NSAIDs preventively to reduce pain and possibly improve performance," shared associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School Dr. Robert H. Shmerling with Chicago Health. Is it safe to do this? Yes and no, depending on your particular situation. 

Advil is the brand name of the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) ibuprofen. When compared with the non-opioid analgesic acetaminophen (brand names: Tylenol, Acephen, and FeverAll), ibuprofen reduces inflammation in your body, in addition to reducing fever and pain. Small doses of ibuprofen taken for short periods of time are perfectly safe, per Harvard Health. "However, as is true for any drug, NSAIDs can cause trouble. Upset stomach, intestinal bleeding, kidney injury and increased heart attack risk are among the most important side effects," shared Dr. Shmerling. 

Probably the most quoted research pertaining to the negative effects of taking ibuprofen before exercise is a 2017 study published in the Emergency Medicine Journal. Let's take a look.

Ibuprofen linked to kidney injury in ultramarathoners

The study considered 89 ultramarathoners split into two groups — one that took 3-4 doses of 400-milligram ibuprofen (that's two Advil pills) every four hours toward the end of the race and one that took a placebo (via Harvard Health). The races lasted seven days and the athletes started taking ibuprofen on the fifth day. 

What researchers found was that the group that took the NSAID showed more evidence of kidney injury at the end of the race (over half of them showed signs). But this doesn't mean that there was no stress on the kidneys for those who took the placebo (one-third of them showed signs). In fact, 44% of all these endurance athletes had significant kidney injury when the race was done.  

However, the fact that the study was done on ultramarathoners makes it hard to apply to everyone who engages in some form of physical exercise. Most of us don't push our bodies to this limit. "The potential kidney side effects of NSAIDs are specific to endurance/cardiovascular exercise in which blood flow is being pulled away by multiple other systems," explained professor of physical therapy at the Indiana University School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, Stuart Warden (via SELF). So, while popping an Advil might be unsafe for serious endurance athletes, the same cannot be said for recreational exercisers who occasionally take ibuprofen before a workout. Endurance training in itself (Advil or not) can be hard on your kidneys, per experts. Adding an NSAID into the mix makes it worse.

Can Advil reduce post exercise muscle soreness?

If you don't enjoy the soreness that comes with exercise, you might be considering taking an Advil before a workout to prevent that. According to Dr. Todd McGrath, a sports medicine physician at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, ibuprofen can't do for you (via Well+Good). "There is a thought that NSAIDS may alter the discomfort associated with exercise and thus improve exercise performance; however, this is not true. The pathway by which exercise-induced muscle soreness happens is not significantly altered by NSAIDS," shared the sports doctor.  

Additionally, you might even be doing your process of muscle recovery a disservice by taking ibuprofen before exercise. By hindering the normal pattern your body takes to repair muscles after a workout, you will be risking the safety of your gut, kidneys, and heart health, shared Dr. McGrath. Stuart Warden added to SELF, "NSAIDs taken prior to exercise have the potential to reduce how well tissues adapt in response to loading."

So, the takeaway here seems to be that while it's okay to take an Advil every now and again if you're having a headache when you start exercising, there's no real benefit to consistently taking it in the hopes of aiding muscle recovery. In fact, regular NSAID intake should be monitored for effects on your kidneys, gut health, and heart. Dr. Robert H. Shmerling told Chicago Health, "If you have significant kidney disease, a history of stomach ulcers or bleeding, you should probably avoid NSAIDs (other than a baby aspirin) altogether."