Some of us are serious athletes, some of us like to go for a nice run on the weekend, and some of us just play a game of pickup basketball once in a while. But everyone who takes part in athletic activity has a common enemy: inflammation. Inflammation is part of your body's response to injury or infection. In the short term, it’s a good thing. But when inflammation becomes chronic, it's a problem.
Inflammation is the common thread of all chronic disease. And for athletes, inflammation gets in the way of performance and recovery. When your joints or muscles are constantly inflamed, you won't perform your best. And it will hurt.
A huge way you can fight chronic inflammation is through the food you eat. Some foods promote inflammation, but others are anti-inflammatory. For tips on eating to reduce inflammation and boost athletic performance, we turned a registered dietitian and sports nutritionist. Here's the best advice.
(Before we begin, here's a little secret: These tips are good for anyone who wants to prevent or heal from chronic disease, not just for athletes.)
If you only have enough space in your brain to remember 1 tip, make it this: You’ll perform best if your body is powered by whole foods. That means food that’s not processed, packaged or handed to you through a drive-through window. It means food that doesn’t need a label or a list of ingredients, because you know exactly what it is: an apple, a carrot or an egg.
Real, whole foods have the essential nutrients your body needs for energy, performance, and recovery. They don’t contain the nasty, inflammatory additives you’ll find in food that was created in a lab somewhere.
For a generation, we were told that fat was our enemy. But now we know that's not true. A healthy diet should include plenty of fat – as long as it's healthy fat. This is especially true for athletes, because fat – not carbohydrates – is the best fuel for sustained energy.
Cook your food with coconut oil, top your sweet potato with some grass-fed butter, or munch on some raw nuts on the side. Other healthy fats: olives and extra virgin olive oil, avocados, nut butters and eggs (eat the yolk!). Some inflammatory fats to avoid: margarine or vegetable oil, store-bought mayonnaise, regular peanut butter (instead, go for natural peanut butters that contain only peanuts and salt), and any fats in packaged or fast food.
Fill your plate with protein and complex carbohydrates
Proteins supply essential amino acids our bodies can't make, and they help keep you feeling full for longer. At each meal, fill about ? of your plate with protein. Some healthy proteins: poultry, fish and seafood, eggs, lean red meat, or beans and soy products. (Organic, free-range, or grass-fed versions are even better.)