Do you feel like it’s taking you way too long to recover after a hard workout or a long training session? Well, the culprit could be inflammation. Inflammation is our body’s response to injury and is actually an expected response to physical activity. While inflammation is a normal part of the exercise and recovery process, excess inflammation is associated with longer recovery time, increased muscle pain, a weakened immune system, and even increased risk of chronic disease (1,2).
While you may think it’s a simple case of dehydration or not stretching enough, nutrition is the key to decreasing inflammation and promoting proper muscle recovery. With that in mind, below are three specific ways to decrease inflammation in your body:
Eat more plant foods - Did you know that a plant-based diet could reduce your recovery time to just a fifth of what a meat-eating athlete would need (3)? It is well known that plants are full of beneficial compounds called phytochemicals that promote heart health, reduce joint inflammation, aid your immune system, and protect your DNA (4). These phytochemicals have antioxidant properties, binding to harmful free radicals (molecules that react in your body causing cellular damage) and protecting and preserving your cells (5,6). All the protection that these plant compounds provide results in reduced inflammation, and therefore a reduced recovery time after a workout! Keep an eye out for berries, especially acai berries, as well as dark leafy greens such as spinach or kale. These fruits and veggies are loaded with anti-inflammatory antioxidants!
Include Omega-3s in your diet - Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids are considered essential as our bodies cannot produce them, so they must be obtained from our diets. High intake of omega-3s has shown numerous exercise-related benefits such as reduced fatigue, increased grip strength, and increased oxygen intake. More importantly, omega-3s reduce the amount of circulating inflammatory molecules that are produced during prolonged sport and exercise, something key to the anti-inflammatory process. They are also integral to cell membranes and hormone synthesis. There are three types of Omega-3s, including alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosanoid pentoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Plant-based sources of ALA Omega 3s include chia seeds, walnuts, flaxseed, hemp seeds, algae (chlorella or spirulina) and soybeans. It’s important to note the conversion from ALA to EPA or DHA is low, therefore supplementation may be recommended (7–9).
Limit your intake of added sugars and refined carbohydrates - Wait, don’t go and toss all your fruits and starchy veggies! Keep in mind that naturally occurring sugar in fruits and vegetables is normal, and is also combined with the earlier discussed inflammation-reducing phytochemicals and antioxidants. However added sugars, those sugars added in the processing of foods, are a key contributor to chronic inflammation. Added sugars have many mechanisms that can cause inflammation, including increasing levels of circulating inflammatory molecules and overproduction of free radicals (10,11). With refined carbohydrates, the refining process strips grains of their most nutritious parts, including fiber and antioxidant acting compounds (12). Diets high in added sugars and refined carbohydrates are associated with a higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (11). Leading sources of added sugars and refined carbohydrates include processed foods (sometimes known as “junk foods”) and refined grains. While it is normal to enjoy all foods in moderation, if you’re looking to enhance your athletic performance and decrease inflammation, it’s best to steer clear.
Inflammation can wreak havoc on your body, getting in the way of your recovery and performance. Keep these tips in mind before and after your next workout, and you’ll keep inflammation at bay!
3. Kc W, Kc W. Vegan Diet in Sports and Exercise – Health Benefits and Advantages to Athletes and Physically Active People: A Narrative Review. clinmed journals; [cited 2021 Feb 10]; Available from: https://www.clinmedjournals.org/articles/ijsem/international-journal-of-sports-and-exercise-medicine-ijsem-6-165.php?jid=ijsem
6. Pizzino G, Irrera N, Cucinotta M, Pallio G, Mannino F, Arcoraci V, Squadrito F, Altavilla D, Bitto A. Oxidative Stress: Harms and Benefits for Human Health. Oxid Med Cell Longev [Internet]. 2017 [cited 2021 Feb 10];2017. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5551541/
8. Gammone MA, Riccioni G, Parrinello G, D’Orazio N. Omega-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids: Benefits and Endpoints in Sport. Nutrients [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2021 Feb 10];11. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6357022/
10. Schultz A, Barbosa-da-Silva S, Aguila MB, Mandarim-de-Lacerda CA. Differences and similarities in hepatic lipogenesis, gluconeogenesis and oxidative imbalance in mice fed diets rich in fructose or sucrose. Food Funct. 2015;6:1684–91.
11. Della Corte KW, Perrar I, Penczynski KJ, Schwingshackl L, Herder C, Buyken AE. Effect of Dietary Sugar Intake on Biomarkers of Subclinical Inflammation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Intervention Studies. Nutrients [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2021 Feb 10];10. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986486/
12. Jonnalagadda SS, Harnack L, Hai Liu R, McKeown N, Seal C, Liu S, Fahey GC. Putting the Whole Grain Puzzle Together: Health Benefits Associated with Whole Grains—Summary of American Society for Nutrition 2010 Satellite Symposium123. J Nutr. 2011;141:1011S-1022S.