And I don’t mean binge on chips to feel better :)
What I’m talking about is tailoring what you eat to help manage the inflammation that intense exercise and exertion can cause.
When we compete, our exertion causes the release of free radicals. Free radicals may cause cell damage, a decrease in muscle function, and generate an inflammatory response in the body. However, eating certain foods can help to protect your cell membranes from the damage caused by free radicals.
Inflammation can range from mild (post exercise pain) to acute (like the red and puffy stage immediately following an injury). Inflammation helps your body to clear away the damaged tissue to make room for repair. Remember – a certain amount of inflammation in important to healing, and you want to control your body’s inflammatory response rather than suppress it.
Which Foods Help Fight Inflammation?
You want to make sure that you’re eating foods that are high in anti-oxidants, as well as foods that contain Omega-3s. Here are some real world options that are both yummy and will help you to recover faster!
Spices – Like curry? Well, it likes you! Both ginger and turmeric contain anti-inflammatory compounds. Don’t be afraid to add either (or both) to regular dishes to help fight inflammation.
Avocados – Avocados contain monounsaturated fats (Omega-3s), vitamin E & C, and fiber. You can also use them in all sorts of ways – as a spread, in smoothies, as an addition to salads or dishes.
Vegetables – Of course veggies are good for you in general, but they can also help in recovery. They contain all sorts of vitamins and antioxidants, including vitamin A, C, flavonoids, and carotenoids. Some of your best options are peppers, onions, broccoli, and green leafy vegetables like spinach, kale, chard and collard greens.
Berries and Fruits Containing Citrus – Berries contain antioxidants including anthocyanins, vitamin C, and resveratrol. Citrus fruits are rich in fiber, flavonoids and Vitamin C. Experiment with berries and citrus fruits (lemons, limes, grapefruits, oranges) in your meals, your post-game (or pre-game) smoothies or as mid-game snacks.
Eggs – Again, lots of vitamins and antioxidants, including vitamins A, C and lutein. Also, choose Omega-3 eggs for additional anti-inflammatory benefits. The yolks are the core provider of nutritional benefits, so make sure you’re eating the whole egg and not just the whites.
Nuts and Seeds – Both contain anti-inflammatory fatty acids like omega-3s. You can snack on almonds, walnuts, cashews, chia, sunflower seeds, hemp seeds, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and so on. A post-game trail mix is both tasty and might help you feel better the next day.
Fish – Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna are all full of omega-3 fatty acids.
Which Foods Cause Inflammation?
Mostly the not-so-great stuff – Refined starches and refined sugar won’t be the best choices when you’re working on an injury. That includes white bread, pasta, rice, glucose, high fructose corn syrup and the like. Anything highly processed with sugar added might be good to avoid.
Saturated and Trans-Fats – Fatty meats and anything with trans-fats (like margarine) won’t help with recovery, so give them a miss when you’re hurt.
Alcohol – Some alcohol is alright, but athletes should avoid drinking in excess since it can negatively affect muscle repair.
How to Plan a Meal That Fights Inflammation
Breakfast – Make some eggs! An omelette with green pepper, spinach and mushrooms will give you lots of great nutritional benefits. Serve with a side of berries and citrus fruits!
Lunch and Dinners – Make your main protein fish (to bulk up those Omega-3s). Add in some garlic or turmeric. Make sure that your carbs are whole grain and serve with some leafy greens or cooked veggies. If you’re having a side salad, top it with some nuts and seeds!