Sensible medication advice for marathon runners!

So, you finish a marathon pre training workout and as you head to the shower you look into the medicine cabinet to consider your options . . . you reach for the painkillers and down two pills in a single gulp without a second thought. It’s hard to pinpoint what percentage of runners regularly take non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, but surveys show that 70 percent of marathon runners take a painkiller before a long distance event. Likewise, surveys on Ironman triathletes found that nearly 60 percent take an anti-inflammatory in the three months leading up to the race. You don’t have to be a super-stud to want to silence a creaky knee. Unfortunately, the usage we see in competitive athletes trickles down to recreational athletes too. People assume they are safe because they are sold over the counter painkillers, but these too can be risky.

However, it has been proven that runners who take painkillers before a distance event hoping to boost their pain tolerance are making a big mistake. In a recent study, athletes were given ibuprofen (600 mg and 1,200 mg the day before and during the race, respectively). They then compared their performances to a group that took no meds. Results found no statistical difference between the groups‘ race times, muscle damage, perceived effort, or reported soreness. But some members of the medicated group did have one big consequence. The ibuprofen disrupted the integrity of the lining cells of the colon and there was a leakage of bacteria into the bloodstream. It has been proven that this can cause a condition called endotoxemia, which can lead to septic shock in extreme cases. What runners are more likely to experience is amplified inflammation and oxidative stress (the breakdown of certain cells), which can increase soreness and delay recovery.

Of course, these meds do help runners manage aches and pains. So, here are a few scenarios and how to take the medication safely.


Problem: You twisted your ankle on a run, or you ran a hard half marathon and walking down stairs makes you wince.
Pros: Relieves swelling and aches by blocking an enzyme that creates inflammation in the body.
Cons: Can impair kidney function, more so if taken before or during a run. Can cause GI distress, more so if taken pre or mid-run.
Advice: Take 1 pill (200 mg) 2-3 hours post run (once you are rehydrated) for an acute injury or severe soreness. Don’t take for more than four days.

Naproxen Sodium

Problem: You twisted your ankle on a run or you ran a hard half marathon, and you have a family history of heart disease.
Pros: Inhibits the body’s inflammatory response. Provides longer-lasting relief than ibuprofen. NSAID associated with lower heart-attack risk.
Cons: Can impair kidney function, especially if taken before or during a run. Can cause GI distress, especially if taken before a run.
Advice: Take 1 pill (220 mg) 2–3 hours post run (once you’re rehydrated) to relieve an acute injury or severe soreness. Don’t take for more than four days. 


Problem: You woke up with a killer headache and have a killer workout on tap. Or your foot hurts but you’re set on racing anyway.
Pros: Acts as an analgesic but is not an anti-inflammatory, meaning it relieves aches without impacting the stomach or kidneys.
Cons: Can have a detrimental effect on your liver if taken frequently or in large doses.
Advice: Take 1 regular-strength pill (325 mg) before or after a run. Skip the booze. Alcohol increases the med’s liver toxicity. Don’t take for more than four days.


Problem: You are on a daily low-dose aspirin regimen prescribed by your doctor.
Pros: Anti-inflammatory that inhibits blood-clotting to protect against heart disease and stroke. 
Cons: Can cause GI distress if you’re not accustomed to it. Even a low 81 mg dose can impair your blood’s ability to clot.
Advice: Safe before a run if you are on a regimen. Trail runners may want to skip due to risk of bleeding. Can also worsen swelling and bruising.

Moves to help you get stronger, avoid injuries:

Quercetin & Polyphenol

Problem: You’re after a big goal and want to reduce the general aches and soreness that come with a long, hard training period.
Pros: Diets high in quercetin (found in onions, apples, berries) and polyphenols (found in grapes, plums, coffee) reduce inflammation in athletes.
Cons: Supplements should be discussed with your doctor and not overdosed.
Advice: Eat foods rich in these natural anti-inflammatories. During particularly hard training periods, you can opt to take a supplement to enhance the benefits.

If you are still unsure about what you should take, then please have a chat with us in store.