Exercise creates inflammation in the body, through the act of doing work and producing heat. Runners also have the effect of the impact of our feet striking the ground. In moderate amounts, inflammation a good thing, as it stimulates healthy immune responses in the body that actually make our cells stronger and more prepared to protect themselves. However, repeated long duration exercise, coupled with other environmental and internal stressors, can have the opposite effect and actually contribute to the breakdown of the body tissues
Diet is one of the areas we have the most ability to control and is also a great way to help mitigate inflammation. Eating more plant-based foods will help provide the body with the nutrients it needs to support our athletic demands. Plants provide key vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and bioflavonoids to help reduce inflammation. Some plants are more potent than others, so here are six recommended foods to help limit inflammation.
Ginger. It contains gingerols, which are potent anti-inflammatory compounds that also help in pain reduction in muscles and joints. Add ginger to soup, a smoothie or a stir-fry to give a kick to your meal. Or, boil fresh ginger root in water for 10 minutes for an amazing tea.
Note that longer cooking times (for example, an hour or more) will reduce the presence of gingerols. So, if you are seeking a therapeutic effect, you may have to use more and/or cook it less.
Turmeric. This is an herb that contains curcumin, an anti-inflammatory compound that also has pain-reducing effects. Use dried turmeric in your cooking and baking, or add a teaspoon to your next smoothie as a preventative measure.
Pineapple. This juicy fruit contains bromelain, a potent anti-inflammatory phytonutrient that helps the body heal. Fresh pineapple works best, and can easily added to a smoothie. Pineapple can also be used as a digestive aid and is great for soothing an irritated throat.
Tart Cherry. Rich in anthocyanins, tart cherry juice has been shown to reduce pain and inflammation, so pour some into your next smoothie. Blueberries are also rich in anthocyanins, so make them part of your smoothie recipe or sprinkle some on a salad to increase your antioxidant goodness.
Omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA (Eicosapentaenoic acid) have been shown to reduce inflammation and boost the immune system, in addition to providing joint lubrication and shock absorption. Omega-3s are found in cold-water fish such as salmon, haddock, sardines, as well as chia, flax and hemp seeds.
Water. Don’t forget about proper hydration. Water is key to elimination of wastes, including inflammatory compounds, meaning dehydration can often exacerbate inflammation within the body.
A final note: avoiding certain foods can also be critical in reducing inflammation. If you have a food allergy or intolerance, those foods should be avoided as they increase inflammation and will aggravate the situation. Additionally, reducing your consumption of deep-fried foods, processed and packaged foods, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, and products containing artificial sweeteners or trans and hydrogenated fats can be helpful in reducing inflammation.
Tara Postnikoff is a Registered Nutritional Consultant, certified Personal Trainer and triathlon/running coach in Toronto. She is an avid distance runner and triathlete, and a regular guest speaker for Running Room training programs. To learn more, visit her website at www.heal-nutrition.com.