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When you are after rapid gains, not only do you need the drive to train harder, but you also need the tools to recover faster. A few great recovery supplements come to mind, like creatine, whey protein, and HMB. Now a new player is being put to the test for its ability to help you recover faster after a demanding workout. Methylsulfonylmethane, better known as MSM, is found in grains, fruits, and green vegetables and is also a naturally occurring metabolite in our bodies. Cow’s milk is probably the most abundant source of MSM in the average diet, but it’s also found in coffee and even beer.
MSM has both anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties and has traditionally been sold as a remedy for joint pain and inflammation associated with osteoarthritis. A study led by Dr. Doug Kalman from Miami Research Associates, and in coordination with the University of Memphis, explored the possibility of using MSM as a recovery aid after resistance exercise. This makes sense as the soreness and muscle damage associated with resistance exercise is exacerbated by oxidative stress and inflammation.
The study was a pilot study, meaning it involved a relatively small number of test subjects to test the hypothesis before spending tons of money on a shot in the dark. Eight healthy men who were considered to be “moderately” trained (i.e. work out less than 150 minutes per week) were randomly assigned to receive MSM at either 11⁄2 grams per day or three grams per day for 28 days before and for two days after a test work-out. Before and after the 28-day supplementation period, subjects performed 18 sets of leg extensions in an attempt to induce muscle damage. Sets 1–15 were performed at a pre-determined weight for 10 repetitions each, while sets 16–18 were performed to muscular failure using 70% 1RM. Muscle soreness (self report), fatigue, blood antioxidant status, and blood homocysteine levels were measured before and afer exercise, pre- and post-supplementation. Exercise performance (i.e. total work performed) was also measured pre- and post-supplementation.
As expected, muscle soreness increased following exercise and a trend was noted for a reduction in muscle soreness with three grams versus 11⁄2 grams of MSM. Fatigue was slightly reduced with MSM supplementation. Blood antioxidant status increased significantly following exercise with three grams of MSM only, while homocysteine levels decreased following exercise for both dosages. No significant effects were noted for total work performed during leg extension testing.
The results of this pilot study with MSM weren’t earth-shattering, but it needs to be kept in mind that this was a pilot study using only eight subjects. It’s difficult to detect statistical significance with such a small subject pool. Nevertheless, the results were encouraging and future research was recommended. New research would include more subjects, a placebo group, and most likely a more strenuous exercise protocol to really elicit muscle damage. Given the known properties of MSM and the results of this pilot study, I would expect greater benefits to be demonstrated in future studies.