Enhance Muscle Gain, Strength, Endurance, and Recovery with Red and Near-Infrared Light Therapy
Red/NIR light with exercise makes a potent combination. Not only does red/NIR light help you recover faster, but it also seems to amplify everything that happens with exercise—increased muscle gain, fat loss, performance, strength, and endurance.
Studies show that both red and near-infrared light therapy can powerfully repair muscle tissue and help people perform better. It also helps the body get more benefits from exercise—both in terms of muscle gain and fat loss.
There is also research (albeit from animal studies) showing that red and near-infrared light may help prevent muscle loss that occurs with ageing.
Muscle tissue has more mitochondria than almost any other tissue or organ in the human body. So muscle tissue is particularly responsive to red and near-infrared light therapy. The muscles are packed with mitochondria, because ATP is needed for every muscle twitch and movement, no matter how insignificant.
Through their effect on ATP production and cellular healing mechanisms, red/NIR light help individuals to recover more quickly from strenuous and resistance exercise, and even helps to prevent muscle fatigue during exercise.
Studies provide evidence that red and near-infrared light therapy powerfully help prevent muscle fatigue, enhance muscle strength and endurance, increase fat loss responses from exercise, increase muscle growth responses from exercise, and promote faster recovery. Not too shabby for one simple treatment that takes only a few minutes, right?
How does red and near-infrared light affect muscles—what is it actually doing to cause these benefits? It works through several important mechanisms in the body:
- Red and near-infrared light help promote the production of internal antioxidants by your cells, which prevents oxidative stress and damage to the muscle tissue (when light is applied before exercise).
- Red and near-infrared light help reduce inflammation that will lead to cellular damage (and fatigue) in the muscle tissue as well.
- Protect damaged muscles from secondary damage from further exercise.
- Pre-conditioning: By using the light prior to exercise, it creates a “pre-conditioning” effect where the muscle cells suffer less damage from the exercise, as well as display higher strength/stamina in subsequent exercise following the initial bout of exercise.
- Red and near-infrared light decrease lactic acid production by muscles.
- Red and near-infrared light improve mitochondrial function during exercise.
- Increases acetylcholine receptors on muscles (this is the neurotransmitter released from nerve cells that stimulates muscle contraction).
- Red and near-infrared light increase the production of specific types of heat shock proteins that protect cells from oxidative damage, stress, and apoptosis (early cell death).
- Red and near-infrared light also enhance muscle growth, as well as increasing strength significantly.
- Red and near-infrared light therapy promote the development of muscle stem cells, myosatellite cells, which develop into specific varying types of muscles.
- Red and near-infrared light also have the profound benefit of increasing mitochondrial adaptations and mitochondrial biogenesis (the creation of new mitochondria) following exercise.
One study looked at the number of reps that 34 athletes were able to perform on a leg extension weighted exercise as well as the amount of lactic acid their muscles produced, in placebo treatment (sham red/NIR light therapy) vs. 30, 60, or 90 seconds of real red/NIR light therapy. After receiving 60 or 120 seconds of light therapy, the number of reps the athletes were able to perform went up by 27%. And in the group that received 120 seconds of light therapy, their lactic acid levels were also significantly lower—indicating less muscle strain while actually performing better.
Another study by Vieira et al. examined levels of fatigue in leg muscles after endurance exercise and found that using light therapy immediately following significantly reduced fatigue scores relative to the control group. The researchers concluded “The results suggest that an endurance training program combined with LLLT leads to a greater reduction in fatigue than an endurance training program without LLLT. This is relevant to everyone involved in sport and rehabilitation.”
Leal-Junior et al. performed a review of the relevant research in 2015 to examine the effects of phototherapy on exercise performance and recovery. They compiled data from thirteen randomized control trials and examined the number of repetitions and time until exhaustion for muscle performance, as well as markers of exercise-induced muscle damage. The researchers concluded that pre-conditioning the muscles with red/NIR light (i.e. using the light prior to exercise) improves muscular performance and accelerates recovery.
Another study looked at use of LED red/NIR therapy lights in male athletes who performed 3 intense bouts of exercise on a stationary bike. The athletes who were given the LED light therapy prior to the exercise had significantly lower levels of creatine kinase (a marker for muscle damage) compared to the sham light therapy (placebo) group.
A recent 2016 review of 16 studies by Nampo et al. looked at research using both laser and LED therapy on exercise capacity and muscle performance of people undergoing exercise compared to placebo/sham treatments. They found an average improvement of 3.51 reps, a 4-second delay in time to exhaustion (i.e. people were able to exercise longer before exhaustion), increased peak strength, and a significant reduction in lactic acid production.
A 2015 study by Baroni et al. 349 looked at 30 healthy males who were randomised into 3 groups:
- Control group—remained sedentary
- Training group (TG)—did an 8-week exercise program
- Training + light therapy (TLG)—did the same 8-week exercise program plus also did a light treatment (total dose of 240J) using a near-infrared light (810nm wavelength) before each training session.
- The training group improved strength by about an average of 14% while the group that included light therapy improved by nearly 25%.
- The training group improved muscle size of the quadriceps muscles by about 10% while the group that included light therapy nearly doubled that improvement!
As you can see, red and near-infrared light also have the ability to increase your strength and endurance adaptations to exercise, decrease muscle damage from your workouts, help you recover faster, and even increase muscle gains.