7 Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Add to Your Diet

Running creates inflammation in the body—but your diet can help mitigate the damage.

anti inflammatory foods

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You go out for a long run, or a hard workout on the track, and the next day feel that familiar soreness creeping into your muscles. In many ways, it’s a sign of a job well done; your tough training session produced micro-tears in your muscles, leading to some natural inflammation. Given the proper rest and nutrition after your training, those tears will heal and make you stronger and faster.

But, if you skip the important pieces of recovery—those healing tactics that include eating right and drinking up—you might find yourself in a state of fatigue. And this can plateau your progress. What’s more: If you miss your recovery process enough times, you’re potentially setting yourself up for chronic inflammation, which can contribute to bigger health issues. Research ties chronic inflammation to heart disease, dementia, diabetes and even cancer.

“Whether you run to perform or just run for the enjoyment of the sport, mitigating chronic inflammation is important,” says Jamie Lee McIntyre, R.D.N., a dietitian who works in Connecticut, New York, and Florida. “A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods will help you achieve that.”

What an Anti-Inflammatory Diet Looks Like

The good news for runners is that foods that help reduce inflammation are foods that often do double duty—while lowering inflammation, they also promote overall health and longevity. They’re high in fiber, full of antioxidants, healthy fats, and vitamins and minerals—all healthful properties you want in your diet to keep you feeling your best, especially as you’re clocking kilometres.

As with all healthy diets, when sticking with anti-inflammatory foods, think about eating bright, colourful, plant-based foods that pack a powerful combination of nutrients. “Anti-inflammatory foods are generally healthy foods, period,” says Becky Ramsing, R.D., M.P.H., senior program officer with the Food Communities and Public Health Program at Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “Everyone needs to eat this way, but runners ask a lot of their bodies, so it’s even more important to include these foods.”

Ramsing adds that the more you demand of your body, the more you should demand of your nutrition, too. “Ask yourself where you can add more [healthful foods],” she says. “If you’re cooking spinach, for instance, throw some extra in there.”

7 Anti-Inflammatory Foods to Eat Every Day

1. Colourful vegetables, like kale, spinach, broccoli, and sweet potatoes, all contain carotenoids, shown to reduce inflammation.

2. Tart cherry juice, which research shows can increase repair activity, reduces inflammation and oxidative stress.

3. Oily fish, such as salmon and tuna, is full of omega-3 fatty acids, which science associates with lowering inflammation, among other healthful benefits.

4. Nuts and seeds, such as pumpkin seeds, almonds, pistachios and walnuts, are rich in unsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, and antioxidants, as well as those coveted anti-inflammatory properties.

5. Fruits pack tons of disease-fighting nutrients, especially berries and citrus, the latter of which is flush with vitamin C, an antioxidant shown to reduce inflammation.

6. Healthy oils, such as olive, avocado, walnut and flaxseed, also help reduce inflammatory markers.

7. Turmeric, a major source of the polyphenol (or plant micronutrient) known as curcumin, has been associated with reduced inflammation in the body.

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McIntyre recommends not sweating the small stuff when it comes to your intake of these foods. “Rather than clocking every gram of nutrients you’re eating, just look at your plate,” she suggests. “Aim for half a plate of vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter starch, plus healthy snacks. If you’re training really hard, maybe increase the carbohydrate portion,” she says.

Also, make it convenient to incorporate anti-inflammatory foods into your day by planning ahead. “Runners have full days, so it helps to have these foods on hand and plan your meals in advance,” says Ramsing. “Do a pantry and refrigerator assessment and make it convenient to eat this way.”

How to Time Your Anti-Inflammatory Food Intake

What about timing your intake of these anti-inflammatory champions? “While it’s ideal to eat these foods within about 30 minutes of a workout, it’s more important to include them in every meal or snack,” says McIntyre. “But you do want to think about their fiber content if you’re eating them before a run.”

If you’re someone who tends to experience GI upset, try to avoid eating these powerhouses before heading out for your run. Or eat them at least three hours prior to your run, says McIntyre. “These are foods that take longer to digest, so test them out to see what your threshold is,” she says.

Inflammatory Foods to Avoid Eating

Just like some foods reduce inflammation in the body, others promote it. Those inflammatory-promoting foods include refined starches, like white breads, waffles, pastries and processed cereals, which generally come with a dose of trans or saturated fats. “Look at labels and avoid anything with partially hydrogenated fats,” says McIntyre. Also steer clear of sugars like candy, cakes, and other sweet treats that can also promote inflammation.

While runners need plenty of protein, avoid too much red or processed meats as your primary source, as they are high in saturated fat that can cause inflammation. Instead, go for lean chicken or fatty fishes.

While foods that reduce inflammation shouldn’t be viewed as a cure-all for your health, they should be a part of your everyday diet. “These are not miracle cures, but they will support you and your running,” says Ramsing. “It’s all about boosting intake of these foods in your diet wherever you can.”

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