Red Light Therapy For Workout Performance And Recovery

High-level athletes are always looking for the next best thing that will give them a competitive edge in their sport.

Athletes from NFL players to UFC fighters have adopted red light therapy as part of their training and recovery program to boost their performance and enhance muscle recovery.

Whether you're a weekend warrior or a professional athlete, light therapy treatments show significant benefits for reducing muscle soreness, combatting muscle fatigue, and can healing injuries faster.

In this article, we'll have a look at what the current research says about red light therapy, how it works for sports performance, and if at-home devices compare to the results of costly wellness center treatments.

What Is Red Light Therapy?

Red light therapy is a safe and non-invasive therapy popular for cosmetic, physical, and even antidepressant treatments. One of the appealing advantages of red light therapy is that it doesn't have any recovery downtime after treatments, so you can go about the rest of your day as usual.

Our bodies are primed to respond to light, resulting in psychological and physiological changes. Similar to how plants absorb sunlight for growth, human cells absorb light too.

Another way we can observe the effects of lightwaves on our bodies is to look at the effects of ultraviolet (UV) light by contrast. The UV light spectrum has shortwave lengths that can result in cell damage with prolonged exposure aka sunburns.

Red light therapy involves more than just a red-colored light bulb.

It uses LED (light-emitting diodes) that emit two particular light wavelengths that have been shown to up-regulate cell performance to leverage therapeutic benefits.

Red light has a long wavelength of 660 nm that's absorbed into the surface tissues of the cells to improve skin texture and tone. Near-infrared light has a wavelength of 850 nm, which can penetrate deeper into the skin for muscle tissue rejuvenation, recovery, and pain management benefits.

Red and near-infrared wavelengths interact with the mitochondria of the cells, supercharging them to produce more adenosine triphosphate (ATP). We can think of ATP as the energy currency in the human body. With an increase of ATP, the cell becomes optimized to carry out its function and regenerate.

The Benefits Of Red And Near-Infrared Light For Training And Recovery

Red light therapy also goes by the name low-level light therapy (LLLT), cold laser, or photobiomodulation (PBM). Its applications can be found in your dermatologist's clinic to combat the signs of aging, stubborn acne, and to reduce scarring and sun damage. (See blog post - HOW RED LIGHT THERAPY FOR SKINCARE WORKS)

Beyond cosmetics, the benefits of red light therapy are applied at wellness centers and physiotherapy clinics for its effects in regulating a healthy inflammatory response to reduce pain from strength training, injuries, or chronic conditions.

Red light therapy supports training, recovery, and athletic performance in two main ways:

  1. Red light therapy has anti-inflammatory effects by inhibiting the production of inflammatory signalers (cytokines), which helps to speed muscle recovery and reduce pain
  2. It increases ATP in the muscle cells, reducing fatigue and increasing muscle performance

Why You Should Use Red Light Therapy Post-Workout

Red light and near-infrared therapy have shown advantages for post-workout use in three critical areas of recovery:

  1. Increases the muscle cells' ability to regenerate - Low-level laser therapy targets the light receptive molecules in the mitochondria (chromophores) to boost ATP production, increasing the overall cell performance to rebuild muscle tissue [1].
  2. Improves blood flow circulation - Red light therapy also helps with muscle soreness and inflammation by improving blood circulation for a steady blood flow carrying fresh nutrients and waste removal for a more efficient recovery process [2].
  3. Regulates inflammation and pain - Studies have shown a decrease in inflammation signaling proteins called cytokines that call the immune response into action. While some inflammation is a good thing, the body has difficulty understanding when too much of a good thing becomes bad. Several cytokines are linked to acute inflammatory muscle pain, which can affect muscle function and recovery after a strenuous workout [3].

Red Light Therapy For Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness

Using red light therapy post-exercise to decrease your soreness has proven highly effective.

Regardless of your fitness level, delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) is a common result of high-intensity strength training.

You may notice muscle soreness and pain a day or two post-workout that can last anywhere from 2-5 days. Muscle soreness makes day-to-day activities uncomfortable and getting back into the gym even more challenging.

High-intensity workouts push your muscles past their routine stress levels resulting in microtrauma to the muscle fibers. The body responds to this damage with the inflammatory response to begin the repair of the damaged tissue, building back the muscle tissue even stronger to accommodate for this level of physical exertion. This is how we get stronger and build muscle mass.

While inflammation is a good thing to promote healing, prolonged inflammation isn't beneficial to us. It can lead to muscle soreness and potential tissue damage.

Regular massages, hot, and cold treatments, and red light therapy are often recommended to support muscle tissue repair and mitigate pain caused by inflammation, so you can get back to your next scheduled training session in a recovered state.

Why You Should Use Red Light Therapy Before Your Workout

Red light therapy makes sense for post-work-out muscle recovery, but it has interesting advantages to muscle performance when you apply light therapy treatments before your workout.

Muscle cells are very high in mitochondria, which makes sense since muscle contractions heavily rely on ATP to function.

Red and near-infrared light therapy boost mitochondrial function where it's applied, increasing the ATP production in the cells and reactive oxygen species (ROS) during exercise [4]. ROS activated during exercise has positive effects on influencing cellular processes that elevate antioxidants, which combat the damaging effects of free radicals.

In a nutshell, higher ATP levels support muscle cells. Movements that demand repeated muscle contractions like when you're working out or playing a sport will eventually lead to muscle fatigue and a decrease in performance.

Researchers concluded that red light and near-infrared light LLLT before exercise showed an increase in the number of reps and time spent on exercise while decreasing lactate and inflammatory protein markers after exercise [5].

If you're looking for a way to maximize your peak performance before a workout session or a big game, the effects of red light therapy could supercharge your potential.

The Benefits Of Red Light Therapy For Injury Recovery

When you're regularly pushing your body to the limit in training and exercise, you become more prone to injury.

Physiotherapists and sports medicine professionals treat a wide range of musculoskeletal injuries and chronic conditions with low-level laser therapy.

One of the main benefits of red light and near-infrared therapy is that it's non-invasive. It promotes the body's own tissue repair mechanisms while addressing the pain and discomfort caused by inflammation.

There are two main categories of sports-related injuries:

  1. Acute injuries - result from a single traumatic event. Examples include sprains, dislocated joints, fractures, and muscle strains.
  2. Overuse injuries - result from repetitive trauma. Most overuse injuries happen because of training errors. Some examples include tennis elbow, runner's knee, and stress fractures.

Most of these common sports injuries can benefit from red light therapy because it's been proven to minimize inflammation, reduce pain, and stimulate the body's healing processes.

Another way low-level laser therapy can support injury recovery is through its effects on collagen production. Collagen is a protein that's found in the bone, connective tissue, and skin.

Researchers found that areas of the body that were exposed to red light laser therapy had shown an increase in fibroblasts cells that create collagen, which aid in the repair of damaged tissues [6].

Where Can You Get Red Light Therapy For Workout Performance?

Some wellness centers and physiotherapy clinics offer red light therapy. However, it can be quite expensive to receive treatment at a clinic.

Most of the advantages of low-level laser therapy come with consistent use, and treatments in a clinic that offer red light therapy can cost anywhere from $70 –$180 a session, which becomes a huge expense.

An excellent alternative, and an investment in your health and wellness, is to get a LED red light therapy device for your home — but it's important that you shop for the right type of device. With the rise of red light therapy popularity, there are a lot of dupes on the market that overpromise on their benefits and under-deliver.

Red And Near-Infrared Light-Emitting Home Devices

The primary mechanism responsible for these incredible advantages on muscle regeneration and performance is energy absorption. Our cells' light absorption depends on the light wavelengths that your LED device emits.

The two clinically proven light wavelengths that show benefits to our tissues are 660 nm and 850 nm.

When shopping in-store or online for a red light therapy device, consider your intended purpose. Not all red light therapy devices can penetrate past the surface skin layers. Some devices only contain the red light spectrum, which is only suitable for skin conditions.

To support your workout performance, you want to look for a device that also features near-infrared light waves to affect the cells of your muscles and connective tissues.

Koze X Series

KOZE Health is a proudly American company that specializes in products that improve health and wellness.

Our red light therapy devices are class 2 FDA-registered devices backed with a 3-year warranty and a 2-month risk-free trial period because we stand by our products.

The Koze X series is our most powerful and largest red and near-infrared light therapy panels that feature modular connectivity allowing you to expand to larger setups. With 1500 watts of power and 300 LEDs, this unit delivers a safe and effective amount of red light (660 nm) and near-infrared (850 nm) wavelengths that you can apply together or separately.

This large panel is ideal for full-body treatments at home, but you can also find these same Koze devices at clinics and wellness centers that charge significant rates per session.

When it comes to seeing the best results from red light therapy, at-home devices are the way to go. You can experience your treatments at the comfort and convenience of your own home at a fraction of the cost of going to a clinic over time.

The large body panel is recommended for full-body treatments for both before and after your workouts. For targeted treatments, such as injury recovery, we offer a smaller, hand-held unit, KOZE Mini, that you can take anywhere with you on-the-go.

These devices are just as powerful as the ones you can find at your local wellness center, and with daily use, you'll find the best results in your athletic performance and recovery.

The Takeaway: Red Light Therapy For Sports

You can see why athletes and trainers are turning to red light therapy as a natural and non-invasive treatment to revolutionize the way they exercise and recover from sports.

Red light therapy devices, like KOZE, feature both red light and near-infrared light spectrum wavelengths to up-regulate cell performance at a mitochondrial level to increase energy output, allowing your muscles to fight off fatigue.

It's also beneficial after workouts because red light and near-infrared wavelengths stimulate the body's healing mechanisms to increase recovery speed and mitigate pain. These same processes are what makes red light therapy an excellent, natural tool for treating sports-related injuries too.

If you're looking to learn more about the benefits of red light therapy for your health, you can read more about how light affects us physically and mentally on our blog.