Need to recover more quickly? Then you’d better add proteases to your pillbox. Proteases such as bromelain, derived from pineapple, apparently work by blocking inflammatory metabolic reactions. Another protease, papain, derived from the papaya plant, is a component of meat tenderizers. Inasmuch as your goal isn’t to “tenderize” your meat, let’s instead look at the effects of protease supplementation on muscle soreness and recovery.
A recent study had test volunteers perform isokinetic extension and flexion of the quadriceps muscles on a Biodex machine, followed by testing of aerobic power. They were randomly assigned to groups that took 5.83 grams daily of either a cellulose placebo or a proteolytic supplement containing fungal proteases, bromelain and papain for a period of 21 days. After the supplementation period subjects donated blood samples before performing a 45-minute downhill run.
The downhill run emphasized negative, or eccentric, muscle contractions, which typically produce a high degree of what is known clinically as delayed-onset muscle soreness. Here’s what they found: The group that took the protease supplement recovered better, as measured by a higher force production after the run. The authors concluded that “protease supplementation seems to attenuate muscle strength losses after eccentric exercise by regulating leukocyte activity and inflammation.”1
The study confirms earlier research that examined the effects of a protease supplement on muscle damage and delayed-onset muscle soreness. In that clinical trial all subjects were tested for unilateral isometric forearm flexion strength, hanging joint angle, relaxed-arm circumference, subjective-pain rating, plasma creatine kinase activity and myoglobin concentration. The testing occurred before, immediately after and up to 72 hours after a bout of eccentric exercise. During the tests one group got a protease supplement, and the other took a microcrystalline cellulose placebo.
Overall, isometric forearm flexion strength was 7.6 percent greater for the protease group than for the placebo group. Clearly, those findings show that the protease supplement may be useful for reducing strength loss immediately after eccentric exercise and for aiding short-term strength recovery.2
So what’s the best protocol for protease supplements? Using a five-to-six gram dose of bromelain and papin for at least three weeks seems to be an effective strategy. If you combine those enzymes with a protein-containing shake postworkout, not only will you enhance force recovery, but the protein you take in will also increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis needed to foster gains in muscle fiber size.
Interestingly, those enzymes have had a long medical history. Some have claimed, for instance, that bromelain can “treat” arthritis, menstrual pain and autoimmune disorders. Papain can be found in teeth-whitening agents. Imagine that: whiter teeth to go along with enhanced muscle recovery.
Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., is the CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (www.theissn.org); also check out his site www.TheWeekendWorkout.com.
1 Buford, T.W., et al. (2009). Protease supplementation improves muscle function after eccentric exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. In press.
2 Beck, T.W., et al. (2007). Effects of a protease supplement on eccentric exercise-induced markers of delayed-onset muscle soreness and muscle damage. J Strength Cond Res. 21:661-7.