By Hannah Alderfer, BA, CPT, FMSC
If you’ve ever taken medication after a hard workout to help ease the aching muscles you’re anticipating, then you might want to rethink why you’re doing that. Taking an anti-inflammatory is not the best way to deal with post exercise soreness or delayed onset muscle soreness. When it comes to dealing with acute inflammation due to exercise, the best thing you can do to help your body naturally recover is to use food.
During exercise, your muscle fibers are damaged, mainly during the eccentric part of an exercise. This can create acute inflammation in the muscle and, therefore, pain. During this acute phase white blood cells come into the muscle and begin the inflammation process. There is a release of reactive oxygen species, which creates oxidative stress in the muscle and proteolytic molecules to get rid of cellular debris. Lastly, repair and remodeling of the muscle occurs with anti-inflammatory cytokines and other helpful molecules.
If inflammation is a normal adaptive process that is part of exercise, should you be trying to blunt this process with medication? Acute inflammation can go to chronic inflammation when this process is inhibited. The constant use of anti-inflammatory medications or NSAIDS to reduce acute inflammation from exercise can actually be a contributing factor. A good example of this is athletes who chronically consume NSAIDS to address pain from training, lifting, playing, etc. If you don’t want to get caught in the cycle of using medication to battle post exercise soreness, turn to food instead.
There are many foods containing anti-inflammatory compounds that will help your body naturally aid the recovery process. These include polyphenols (plant-based foods, especially spices), omega 3-fatty acids, vitamin D, and whey protein. Below is a list of foods and what they can specifically do to help the process of recovery.
Tart Cherries/Juice — A study that was done with racehorses involved their consuming 30 milliliters of concentrated tart cherry juice, resulting in reduced inflammation. It was concluded that human consumption of tart cherry juice would produce the same results, and it does. Consuming 30 milliliters of concentrated tart cherry juice or 8 ounces of un-concentrated juice will give you the most benefit.
Berries, all kinds — Did you know raspberries contain a derivative of aspirin? And blueberries have higher levels of polyphenolic compounds, which are beneficial to brain health, especially those who are concussed or have a brain injury. Eat them fresh, add them to smoothies or oatmeal.
Beetroot Juice — Though not very tasty with its earthy flavor, beetroot juice is an amazing polyphenol. Just be aware that consuming large amounts of beetroot juice will turn your urine red. It delivers dietary nitrate, which converts to nitric oxide in the mouth. Good bacteria in the mouth convert nitrate to nitrite, then to nitric oxide, which increases oxygen flow in blood. Beetroot juice has been shown to improve aerobic and anaerobic performance up to 3%. It will acutely drop blood pressure, so if you’ve got low blood pressure take note. If you’ve got high blood pressure, then try out some beetroot juice to help lower your blood pressure. The quantity needed to improve performance is quite a significant amount, as you must drink 8-16 ounces for the effect. It can be distilled and added to smoothies to improve taste.
Turmeric — Turmeric is often known for being present in Indian dishes. It contains curcumin, which can reduce delayed onset muscle soreness, as it helps to reduce inflammation. You can utilize curcumin as a supplement, but make sure that the label says “curcumin 95” to be most effective. Turmeric also promotes joint health. Many with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis have seen improvements in their symptoms with the consumption of turmeric.
Ginger – The properties of ginger include anti-inflammation and it acts as an analgesic. It takes about 2 grams of ginger to help reduce pain after exercise, so try mixing it into dishes such as stir-fries or smoothies to reduce the concentration.
Saffron — Saffron is a common spice in Indian dishes. Although pricy, unlike turmeric and ginger, it does not have such a potent flavor. It helps lower lactate dehydrogenase, which is a byproduct of eccentric exercise.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids — Omega 3s are found in cold-water fish like salmon, cod and albacore tuna. Omega 3s are recommended as a supplement, especially if you don’t eat fish. When looking for a supplement, EPA & DHA must be on the label. EPA & DHA are critical for brain health. Sometimes omega 3s may be advertised through other dietary means, such as flaxseed. However, this can be inaccurate as flaxseed is the wrong kind of omega 3. It contains ALA, which does not convert in a high percentage to EPA & DHA. Red meat that contains omega 3s is grass-fed beef. Children with mild depression and ADD that were given higher amounts of omega 3s had decreased symptoms and it was just as effective as depression medication.
Vitamin D — In Ohio, vitamin D is often low. Even in sunny year-round south Texas, athletes who practice outdoors were tested and 41% were deficient in vitamin D. Darker skin makes it harder to absorb, as well as higher body fat because too much body fat merely stores the vitamin D instead of utilizing it. Leanness causes the body to store too little. Vitamin D will also up-regulate genes involved in the body’s immune status. Low vitamin D can be related to low levels of iron. Hepcidin can sequester iron stores, leading to chronic anemia. Vitamin D can down-regulate hepcidin and help restore iron levels.
Whey Protein (Branch Chain Amino Acids) — Leucine in particular prevents muscle protein breakdown. The injury response to strenuous exercise or injury makes you selectively lose muscle mass. Leucine can prevent this muscle loss. Beans, milk, and cottage cheese are especially high in this branch chain amino acid.
Reduce Inflammation with Food