Can’t shake the soreness after starting an exercise program? Or maybe you’re constantly reinjuring a muscle or tendon? You put a lot of effort into your workouts, so why are you always in pain or feeling beat up after a sweat sesh?
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The problem is likely tied to inflammation, but the good news is that the foods you eat can be part of the solution. Sports nutrition dietitian Kate Patton, MEd, RD, CSSD, LD, discusses what to eat after your workout to help you recover and feel your best.
Inflammation, a vital part of healing, is your natural biological response to a wide range of triggers. Your body tries to remove these triggers so your tissues can heal.
The classic signs of inflammation — swelling, pain, redness and loss of function — are common acute symptoms, but more chronic symptoms are a concern. Adjusting your diet can help you decrease inflammation and allow you to continue exercising.
Time to rethink your diet
The key to reducing inflammation is to shift your focus to a hunter-gatherer style diet. This way of eating is based on consuming clean, whole foods such as:
- Free-range meat.
- Wild-caught fish.
- Whole foods (fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts).
- Anti-inflammatory spices: turmeric, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon.
These foods naturally fight inflammation with an array of nutrients that are:
- Low on the glycemic index (less likely to make your blood sugar spike).
- Rich in fiber.
- High in omega-3 fats.
Foods to add to your shopping list
Adding these foods into your diet will help you fight post-workout inflammation and restore cellular function:
Avocados are a great source of quality fat, vitamin E, potassium and glutathione (a potent antioxidant).
Tip: Blend half an avocado into your morning smoothie for a more creamy texture.
This powerful nut is a great source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin E, glutathione and beneficial fat. Almonds promote memory and attention.
Tip: Puree almonds in your food processor for a creamy (and cost-effective) nut butter spread. Delicious on fresh fruit as a portable pre-workout snack!
This drink is chock full of antioxidants and helps decrease damage to the mitochondria. These engines in our cells digest nutrients and create energy-rich molecules for our bodies to use.
Tip: Fill ice cube trays with green tea, drop a few berries into each cube and freeze. Pop a few out to flavor your water.
Sea vegetables are an excellent source of minerals such as selenium, magnesium and sometimes calcium and iodine.
Tip: Seaweed chips too strong for your liking? Chop and simmer sea vegetables in soups and stews for a subtler flavor.
It’s the MVP of the brassica family and one of the most powerful detoxifying agents in grocery stores. All veggies are beneficial, but broccoli stands out. Its sulphoraphane and glutathione are reported to help protect your brain from excessive inflammation.
Tip: Roast broccoli on a baking sheet instead of boiling or sautéing it for a delicious crunch. Drizzle with an oil you’ve never tried before, like walnut, almond or avocado oil for a new spin on flavor.
It’s easy to start working these foods into your diet, if you’re struggling try:
- Grabbing a handful of nuts instead of a sugary granola bar when you’re craving protein.
- Drinking coconut water instead of artificially flavored sports drinks.
- Opting for legumes in place of processed pasta.
5 tips for choosing more anti-inflammatory food
- Prioritize Protein. Be sure you’re meeting your total protein needs and aim for 20 to 30 grams of protein within one hour after exercise. Adequate protein with help create immune cells and lower exercise induced muscle damage. Great choices include eggs, milk, fish, beef, chicken and turkey.
- Choose antioxidant rich foods with each meal. Think about adding color to your meals with a variety of fruit and vegetables. Vitamin A, C and E are types of antioxidants that you want to include. Be sure to include these foods on a consistent basis: avocado, broccoli, berries, carrots, citrus, dark green leafy lettuce, sweet potato and squash.
- Increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids. This essential fat is need to support brain health and decrease inflammation. Choose omega 3 rich fish like salmon, tuna and herring 2 to 3 times per week. Other great sources include walnuts, ground flaxseed and chia seeds. These three are great additions to oatmeal, yogurt and salads.
- Vitamin D is involved in many important functions in the body, one of which is to regulate inflammatory response. It’s common for athletes to be deficient due to lack of adequate sunlight and minimal food options. Good food sources for vitamin D include fish, egg yolks and fortified dairy products, but you may need a supplement, as well. Talk to your provider about a recommended dose.
- Reach for powerful fruit and vegetable juices. Tart cheery juice has been shown to reduce muscle pain and maintain muscle strength after exercise. Beet juice is another great choices after exercise. Beets are high in nitrates, which converts to nitric oxide in the body and increases blood flow, which will help deliver nutrients to muscles faster after exercise.