Can a sulfur compound speed recovery after exercise?


The Ache: A hard workout can result in days of stiffness, pain and fatigue.

The Claim: A bitter-tasting sulfur compound used as a treatment for knee arthritis can also speed recovery of muscles and lessen fatigue after exercise in elite athletes and weekend warriors, say companies that sell it. MSM, as it is known, is available in capsule form, as powder or flakes that dissolve in smoothies or juice, and in a new sports drink.

The Verdict: Methylsulfonylmethane, or MSM, was found in a 2008 review in the journal Osteoarthritis and Cartilage to have “positive but not definitive” evidence as a treatment for knee arthritis. For athletic recovery, a newer area of research, several studies have failed to show a statistically significant benefit on key measures, such as soreness and return to full muscular force.

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“I’m not convinced,” says Brent C. Ruby, director of the Montana Center for Work Physiology and Exercise Metabolism at the University of Montana, in Missoula. The methodology of the studies is solid, but the positive effects appear to be weak, if there are any at all, he says.

Others take a more positive view. “It’s pretty promising” but more data is needed—particularly on what doses are required and how it will affect different types of athletes, says Jonathan Mike, assistant professor in the exercise science program at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo. Dr. Mike, an exercise physiologist and competitive strongman, says he tried MSM for a couple months and didn’t notice a difference in his recovery.

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