Whether from strenuous runs or pushing beyond your limits at an ultramarathon, inflammation is inevitable amongst runners.
All runners experience some level of inflammation. When you run, you create micro-trauma in your muscles and afterwards comes the feelings of pain and soreness, which is an inflammatory response.
First things first, what’s inflammation?
Inflammation is the body’s natural and necessary response to stress, injury, illness, and infection, which helps your body to heal, and in the process, rebuild and makes you stronger.
Inflammation plays a role in repairing everyday muscle damage and also promotes training adaptations, by allowing stronger muscle fibres to develop in the process. You may have experience this when physical activities that once were hard, for example running 5K for the first time, eventually become very manageable and considered a short run, once their muscles adapt.
Therefore, the feeling of a little achy post-workout or acute inflammation isn’t all bad, but if this inflammation becomes chronic, then it can become a problem. Recovery from runs takes longer, injuries are much more persistent and you can feel chronically tired. That’s where diet (and lifestyle) can play a critical role. Chronic inflammation can be caused by stress, environmental toxins, a lack of sleep, and processed foods. A diet high in sugar, refined vegetable oils, refined carbohydrates, dairy, and factory-farmed meat can trigger unhealthy levels of inflammation. Many chronic illnesses, from heart disease to cancer, are now associated with chronic inflammation.
Therefore, you can aid your body in reducing inflammation through your dietary choices. An anti-inflammatory diet is similar to the Mediterranean diet in many ways;
emphasizes dietary pattern rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and olive oil, and allows moderate consumption of fish, dairy, and healthy fats.
Natural foods provide the healthiest alternative to popping anti-inflammatory medications. Follow some of the following dietary tips to reduce inflammation, naturally and nutritiously.
Inflammatory Foods to Avoid
For runners, the quicker we reduce inflammation, the more consistently we can train. Many different factors can cause an inflammatory reaction in the body, including the glycemic levels in food, types of fats, antioxidants and other nutrients it contains. Below are common offenders for many people.
1. Added sugars
Added sugar can hide in many foods and drinks, even ones that appear seemingly healthy.
Food examples: cookies, candies and some cereals, yogurt, and salad dressings.
Why added sugars cause inflammation:
When food gets digested, the sugar enters the bloodstream. Insulin then puts the sugar into your cells to provide energy. But when there’s too much sugar at one time, insulin tries to store the excess in your fat cells, causing them to enlarge. Over time, this can lead to weight gain or insulin resistance, which is associated with other metabolic conditions.
2. Trans fats
Food manufacturers create trans fats through the process of hydrogenation.
Food examples: shortening, some restaurant foods and baked goods like cookies, pastries and crackers.
Why trans fats cause inflammation:
Trans fats raise your bad cholesterol (LDL) levels and lower good cholesterol (HDL) levels, which in turn can increase your risk for developing heart disease, stroke and Type 2 diabetes.
3. Refined carbs
Refined carbohydrates are stripped of their nutrition and lack fiber yet these processed carbs are becoming a mainstay in many people’s diets.
Food examples :
Primarily white flour products including: breads and rolls, chips, crackers, white rice, and french fries, sugary cereals.
Why refined carbs cause inflammation:
Refined carbs enters your bloodstream quickly and causes a sharp spike in blood sugar level. And elevated blood sugar stimulates an inflammatory response - your body tries to remove the sugar from your blood.
Anti-inflammatory foods to include:
1. Fruits and vegetables
It should be no surprise that fruits and vegetables tops the list? Tomatoes, for example, are loaded with an antioxidant called lycopene, which is known to have anti-inflammatory properties. Berries, bell peppers, and avocadoes are just a few other examples that can help stave off or reverse chronic inflammation.
Do: focus on vegetables from each subgroup weekly, including dark green, red and orange vegetables, as well as beans and peas.
2. Fatty Fish
Salmon is an excellent source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids that have been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two servings a week, each serving is 3.5 ounces cooked. Other fatty fish like albacore tuna, herring, trout, mackerel, and sardines are also high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Do: Enjoy salmon or other fatty fish two-three times weekly, toss ground flaxseed, chia seeds, and walnuts into salads and other dishes.
3. Fiber-rich foods
Fibrous foods may help to lower inflammation, as research has shown that a high-fiber diet modifies both the pH and the permeability of the gut, leading to a decrease in inflammatory compounds.
Do: Consume a variety of whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, millet and wheat berries and enjoy fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and oats.
4. Herbs and spices
Thanks to the active compound curcumin, Turmeric has strong anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for thousands of years as a medicinal herb.
Do: ground turmeric to seasoning on fish and vegetables, or use raw turmeric root chopped up in soups, sauces, juices.
Most of ginger’s anti-inflammatory and immune boosting properties come from its main bioactive compound, gingerol.
Do: add a kick of flavor to smoothies and juices, soups, sauces, and stir-frys.
Garlic contains sulfur compounds that stimulate our immune system to fight inflammation.
Do: Toss minced garlic into salad/salad dressing, make garlic toast, or ad to soups or juice with other fresh vegetables.
Although diet plays a key role, it's not the only factor that impacts chronic inflammation. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by getting adequate sleep and staying active as both have positive anti-inflammatory effects.