When training, doing that ‘one-more-rep’ can be a mental, physical and emotional battle. During a competition, sometimes keeping focused and pushing through the pain and exhaustion takes everything you have.
And then you get to the hard part.
Muscle pain and soreness are part of athletics. If you train and compete, you get sore. It’s just that simple. If you suffer an injury, the recovery journey can be even harder.
Recovery represents one of the biggest challenges facing professional and amateur athletes, and even those who train and/or compete just for fun. It’s no surprise then that there are a lot of strategies and products to help improve recovery. Of the many out there, recent research may have uncovered one of the simplest. This therapy is also completely natural, making it ideal for anyone competing where drug testing is a consideration.
What is it?
They are systemic enzymes.
How Systemic Enzymes Improve Recovery
Systemic enzymes play a vital role in your metabolism, including muscle and tissue recovery. (You might see these enzymes also called metabolic enzymes or proteolytic enzymes.)
In fact, every process in your body from muscle function to immune response, from thinking to energy creation, relies on systemic enzymes.
The role of systemic enzymes in healing has been known for years. Recently though, researchers began to explore whether they could help improve recovery time from intense exercise. Studies completed done so far show that systemic enzymes:
- Relieve exercise-related pain, and
- Reduce inflammation, encouraging faster healing.
Less Pain Always Benefits Recovery
Pain causes stress, and stress slows healing. Scientists have determined that “success in the later stages of wound repair is highly dependent on initial events.”[i]
Soreness, aches, and pains associated with muscle recovery after intense exercise may sometimes only be a nuisance, but athletes know the discomfort can vary – a lot.
Pain relievers may be good for pain relief, but they don’t address the problem. Systemic enzymes appear to do both.
- In one small study, 20 men were divided into pairs. Starting a day before the intensive exercise portion of the trial, one in the pair received an enzyme while the other received a placebo. The following day they did downhill running at a -10% grade for 30 minutes. The men received additional enzymes or placebos on the day of the test and for the two following days as they recovered. Those who took the enzyme recovered full muscle function faster with much less muscle soreness.[ii]
- Participants in another study were given a supplement featuring systemic enzymes. They experienced significantly less muscle pain and tenderness after their exercise than those who had received the placebo. Furthermore, their muscle performance returned to normal faster.[iii]
Systemic Enzymes Improve How Fast You Recover
Inflammation is needed for healing. Too much, though, causes problems and slow healing. This is where systemic enzymes come in.
When the body gets injured, inflammatory molecules play an important role. They help limit infection, speed blood flow to the area and kick-off the body’s repair process. This is good as that is the purpose of inflammation.
The longer it takes to control that inflammation – breaking down the inflammatory compounds for a start, the longer it takes to heal. This is one reason pain and its resulting stress are such problems for healing. They slow your ability to break down these compounds.
Research indicates systemic enzymes also reduce inflammation. Blood tests show those who take systemic enzymes have lower levels of inflammation following strenuous exercise. [i]
Bromelain – the “pineapple enzyme” – has shown significant anti-inflammatory effects by helping to regulate the immune system.[ii]
A 2016 BMJ (British Medical Journal) Open Sport & Exercise Medicine reported systemic enzymes reduced inflammation, boosted metabolism and supported immune response for those doing endurance and strength training.[iii]
In one study, researchers observed that participants who received systemic enzymes regained full muscle performance faster! [iv]
In fact, Bromelain supplementation was specifically identified as an effective way to improve recovery in a 2019 study titled, “Nutritional and Supplementation Strategies to Prevent and Attenuate Exercise-Induced Muscle Damage: a Brief Review.”[v]
Admittedly, the studies done have had relatively small test groups. Yet, the pain relief and anti-inflammatory effects shown by systemic enzymes are not surprising at all. It’s what they do.
What Systemic Enzymes Do
There are two types of enzymes: digestive enzymes and systemic enzymes.
Digestive enzymes are needed to digest food. They break down proteins, carbs and fats, making it possible for your body to “unlock” and absorb the nutrients present in food.
Systemic enzymes are required for every other metabolic process. They’re needed to:
- Produce the energy your muscles use
- Break down viruses, bacteria, and fungi
- Clear the blood of fibrin, a component in clotting
- Remove toxins and waste from the blood
- Regulate immune response, including inflammation
The list could go on and on and on. In short, every chemical reaction in the body requires a systemic enzyme to make it happen.
Recovery of any kind increases your body’s demand for these systemic enzymes. Yet, the body still needs to perform all the other functions too. Enzyme availability, healing and the many factors surrounding your health that can impact this balance are complex processes.
Quite simply, the more systemic enzymes you have, the better your ability to recover.
The Best Systemic Enzymes to Take for Recovery
Although your body makes thousands of different systemic enzymes, as we can see from the research it is possible to supplement.
There are two types of enzymes one can take – those from animal sources and those from plant sources.
Bromelain, for example, is from pineapple. As the research has shown, when taken it acts as a systemic enzyme, supporting the body’s response to inflammation.
A couple of other well-known plant enzymes include:
- Papain, from papaya, known for its ability to break down even the toughest protein fibers
- Nattokinase, found in fermented soy, breaks down fibrin
So, you could eat a lot of pineapple, papaya, and natto to get these beneficial enzymes. Realistically though, you’re going to have to eat a lot to get the amount you could from a supplement. Plus, a supplement offers the benefit of a wider variety of systemic enzyme types.
Of course, this prompts the question:
Which is the best type of enzyme supplement to take for workout or injury recovery?
Plant-sourced enzymes have many benefits over animal-sourced enzymes, including:
- They can handle acidic environments (like the stomach) better, meaning they are more likely to survive digestion.
- Plants sources like pineapple, papaya, and soy are readily available and easy to grow.
- Proteases sourced from plants are likewise easier to produce.
- Enzymes from plant sources are more stable, meaning greater flexibility combining them with nutrients like probiotics and algae.
- Greater availability of plants means a lower cost.
Life Infused’s Metabolic Infused, for example, combines eleven systemic enzymes including bromelain, papain, nattokinase, serratiopeptidase, seaprose, and proteases with rutin, a fiber known to break-up blood clots, to support reduce inflammation and recovery.
If you’re training, recovering from injury or looking for a way to improve your workouts, systemic enzymes may well be worth a try as a way to improve recovery and ease muscle pain and soreness.