Inflammation is a natural and necessary response to injury in order to heal.
When you run, you create micro-tears in your muscles, then temporary and localized inflammation occurs and is beneficial as it helps heal the muscles, and makes you stronger.
If inflammation becomes systemic and chronic (no longer a temporary response) you have a problem ! Recovery from runs takes longer, injury is persistent and you feel tired. Inflammation is caused by exercise, environmental toxins, excess weight, and some foods.
So what can you do in terms of nutrition to reduce inflammation?
Inflammatory foods include alcohol, sugar, highly processed grains (biscuits, cakes, donuts) artificial sweeteners, food additives, artificial colourings, processed vegetable cooking oils, too much processed meat, and high levels of poor quality red meat.
Removing or reducing these foods will go a long way to reducing unnecessary inflammation.
A diet high in fresh fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, lean protein, and healthy fats with limited processed and packaged foods is a great start.
We can also look to include some specific foods that can proactively reduce inflammation.
These are my Top 7 foods for runners to include in their diet to reduce inflammation
1.Fresh Fruits and Vegetables high in Antioxidants
Inflammation causes oxidative stress – so you need to include a high level of antioxidants to combat the free radials, and restore your cells.
Foods high in antioxidants are: berries, pears, kiwi fruit, pecan nuts, artichokes, cabbage and kale, beetroot, spinach, and cinnamon, cocoa (dark chocolate).
2.Legumes – high in Phytochemicals
Phytochemicals are compounds that are produced by plants to protect them. They are found in many fruits, vegetables, wholegrains, nuts and legumes.
Including legumes such as chickpeas, peas, kidney beans, cannellini beans, lentils, split peas is a great easy and affordable way to boost protein and fibre in a meal, but also helps to reduce inflammation. Tinned beans and legumes are fine – look for brands with BPA free lining, or alternatively you can soak and cook your own – and then freeze in portions ready to add to your meals.
3.Oily Fish – high in Omega 3
Omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fats deemed essential because we cannot make them, you must consume them on a regular basis.
Omega-3 fatty acids are perhaps best known for being found in salmon, but sardines are the highest source, followed by mackerel and herring. Fish is a good source because the omega-3’s are already converted into the usable forms of this fat (EPA and DHA). Adding cold water fish to your diet 2 or 3 times per week is a great way to get omega-3 fatty acids into your diets.
Smaller fish such as sardines are preferable to larger fish due to concerns with heavy metals, plastics and other toxins. Sardines also have the added benefit of calcium and vitamin D.
If you are not keen on fish there are some good plant based sources of Omega 3 - chia seeds, linseeds and walnuts are top of the list. Taking a quality fish oil supplement is also an excellent alternative – look for one with at least 70% EPA/DHA.
Ginger has been used as an anti-inflammatory for thousands of years. Ginger share compounds with NSAID medications (Nurofen and Asprin) however unlike NSAIDs, which extinguish inflammation altogether, compounds called gingerols found in ginger work to manage inflammation (by suppressing pro-inflammatory compounds). This is key, because healing from your last run will only take place if there is controlled inflammation – not too much or too little. A great way to consume ginger is by grating it (on a mini ginger grater - great Christmas gift idea !!) … and adding it to stir fry, casserole, curry or soup or adding it to hot cup of tea. You can also add it to homemade kombucha - for a refreshing afternoon drink.
Ginger is also known to boost the immune system, calm the gastrointestinal system, reduce nausea, vomiting and seasickness, and protect against cancer. What’s not to love about it !
A botanical cousin to ginger, the active ingredient in turmeric is a compound called curcumin (not to be confused with cumin) has been shown to work as effectively as NSAIDS in its anti-inflammatory abilities. Taking a curcumin supplement works exceptionally well for relieving muscle pains and joint inflammation, without the negative side effects that you get from consistently taking NSAID medication.
Consuming enough turmeric on a regular basis can take be difficult and take some effort – it is traditionally used in curry, and more recently has become popular as an alternative to coffee and tea, in the form of a Turmeric latte. It can also be added to roasted vegetables, it is super yummy with roasted cauliflower – then made in to a salad. Combining turmeric with black pepper significantly increases the bio availability.
Green tea, including matcha tea (finely crushed green tea leaves), are high in catechins which have strong anti-inflammatory benefits. It also has strong evidence to support its role in reducing the risk of heart disease and cancer – no surprise here, considering that inflammation is an underlying factor behind these two chronic diseases. Green tea also contains a substance called theanine, which induces the release of GABA and dopamine, neurotransmitters that make you feel calm and boost your mood. Matcha is a great replacement for coffee, and is also an excellent addition to smoothies.
7.Papaya and Pineapple
Pineapple contains the enzyme bromelain and Papaya contains the enzyme papain. These two enzymes are known as proteolytic enzymes and they reduce inflammation by neutralizing pro-inflammatory agents to levels where the healing of injured tissues from a long or hard run can begin. Similarly to the above mentioned foods proteolytic enzymes do not completely suppress all inflammation, they help to manage and resolve it.
Snack on fresh papaya and/or pineapple with a handful of nuts, or add them to a smoothie.
By adding these seven anti-inflammatory foods to your daily menu it will help your body to recover faster from runs and workouts. By recovering faster and building a strong, injury-resistant body you will experience stronger and more consistent training sessions, ultimately leading to your next PB !
For meal ideas, personalised meal plans and further information about healthy eating for athletes please visit www.madonnutrition.com.au