Are you looking to learn more about inflammation as an athlete? You are in the right place!
In this blog, we talk about the good and bad effects of inflammation for athletes. Knowing what inflammation is and how to manage it will increase your athletic performance outcomes and results.
Make sure to also download the free anti-inflammatory foods list pdf below and use it as your guide.
What is Inflammation?
First of all, what is inflammation? Inflammation is your immune system’s protective response to an ailment, like an injury or stressor in the body. When your body experiences inflammation, the immune system releases various substances to help you heal. These substances cause blood vessels to widen, bringing more blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the inflamed area.
Have you ever rolled your ankle at practice? You will notice your ankle starting to swell. That is inflammation! Your body’s immune system sends fluid and immune nutrients to heal your injured ankle.
Regardless of what you might have heard, inflammation is a naturally occurring process in the body. The inflammatory response comes from the body’s immune system and is a healing/protective response.
That being said, too much of any good thing can turn out to be bad, including inflammation! When an athlete has too much inflammation, they will see drops in their performance results, poor recovery, and experience health issues. That is why you should learn more about the effects of inflammation, the different types, and how you can manage your inflammatory load to meet your goals!
Types of Inflammation
First, it is important to learn more about inflammation so you can understand how to manage it! There are two types of inflammation that affect athletes and I have broken them out into categories below:
The first type is known as acute or short-term inflammation. Common examples of short-term inflammation in athletes are high-load training or game days with adequate recovery time in between. Short-term inflammation can be beneficial for athletes since it allows exercise-induced adaptations to occur. These adaptations allow athletes to gain muscle mass, increase their fitness and become better equipped for their sport.
You have probably been able to witness short-term inflammation without knowing it! Injuries are another type of ailment that increase short-term inflammation in athletes. A common symptom of inflammation is swelling.
The second type is known as chronic or long-term inflammation. You see this in athletes with not adequate recovery or overloading when training. It is common to see this type of inflammation in athletes experiencing a lack of sleep, excess stress, or poor diets.
Chronically being inflamed is an unpleasant experience for athletes and could put you out of playing/feeling your best. Knowing how to properly reduce chronic inflammation will put you in a better position to reach your goals.
What Causes Inflammation?
Whether it be from a hard training day or the flu, the causes of the inflammation in the body can vary greatly. Some of the most common causes are:
As we discussed before, training can result in acute inflammation. Low-grade inflammation, or post-practice swelling, is typical for an athlete. With proper recovery, this leads to a return to practice quickly.
Inflammation can be a response to illness. Germs in your body like viruses, fungi, or bacteria can lead to inflammation. Feeling groggy, achy, or sore during an illness is a natural reaction to your body fighting off sickness.
Muscle and bone damage resulting in injury are frequent occurrences for athletes. Unfortunately, most athletes have experienced pulling a muscle or breaking a bone. The immediate response to this is inflammation which is crucial for your injury to heal. Blood flow and swelling rush to the area helping fight infection and muscle damage.
Like mentioned earlier, too much or long-lasting and uncontrolled inflammation from your injury can lead to scarring and loss of range of motion. Too much of anything can be a bad thing!
Certain types of foods can cause or worsen inflammation, especially in athletes. We have beneficial bacteria living in our gut that help us digest food. By altering the bacteria that live in our gut, food directly impacts our immune system causing inflammation. Some common foods like sugar, chips, and soda can worsen inflammation. This is why I recommend limiting fried foods before a game day.
By working with a sports dietitian, you can understand how to create a diet that helps you feel your best. Anti-inflammatory foods have nutrients that are widely beneficial for our overall health. I will be sharing more about these anti-inflammatory foods below!
What are common symptoms of inflammation?
Here are four of the most common symptoms of inflammation in athletes
Redness may occur due to the increased blood flow causing a blue or reddish color to the area. Most athletes have experienced looking down and seeing something red or bluish on their leg or arm after practice and having no idea how it got there. Seeing that red is a good sign that your body is helping you heal.
Heat is also a result of increased blood flow to an injured or inflamed area. When your body is working hard to heal your injury, a lot of activity is happening in the affected area making your injury feel warm to the touch.
Athletes know swelling well. Swelling is your body bringing all of those healing fluids to your injury.
Loss of Function
You probably have woken up after a long practice feeling incredibly stiff or rigid. This is a result of inflammation!
That stiffness or loss of function may feel like you have a shorter range of motion but this is your body adjusting after the fluid builds up in an affected area.
Is Inflammation Good or Bad for Athletes?
Yes! Inflammation is both good and not-so-good for athletes. Inflammation is a natural process for your body to heal from the stress it undergoes during practice and games. Keeping in mind the stress load that most athletes put on their bodies, recovery is crucial. Just as you have to recover with ice and stretching, your body is doing this in its way. Inflammation is a form of body recovery, making this process a necessity.
As mentioned before, inflammation is good in moderation. You have to find the balance! Too much inflammation could reverse your strength gains. You also may start feeling sorer and this leads to muscles breaking down. This sets back your training and your performance. So how can we find the balance?
How Can I Decrease Inflammation?
Here are three easy steps that can decrease inflammation:
Anti-inflammatory foods are the key to decreasing inflammation. What you are putting into your gut health will have a direct correlation to inflammation. Athletes incorporating anti-inflammatory foods into their nutrition goals will enhance their performance. Anti-inflammatory foods help heal the hardships that training puts on your body. We will dive deeper into what types of foods are considered anti-inflammatory foods!
Everyone is in need of a good night’s rest but nothing compares to how crucial athletes need their sleep. During sleep, your body has many processes that happen that help us heal and recover, reducing inflammation. Getting good quality sleep, 7 to 8 hours, lets your body recharge and releases proper nutrients for overall growth, healing, and recovery for your body.
Giving your body enough water is necessary for your athletic performance. When it comes to inflammation, water can reduce the swelling in the injured area. This means that when you stay hydrated the overall post-exercise swelling will be less. By supplying your muscles with the proper fuel, inflammation will decrease.
What Foods Help Decrease Inflammation?
There are many food options that you can incorporate into your day-to-day that are anti-inflammatory foods. You may already have these in your fridge right now!
How Much of These Foods Do I Need to Decrease Inflammation?
Start with what is easiest for you! Changing your style of fueling is something that you should take slowly. Small sustainable changes work best!
I would recommend adding in 2-3 servings of anti-inflammatory foods a day.
Foods with bright colors and plant-based fats are going to generally be anti-inflammatory. Picture bright blueberries and deep green veggies. The more color you have on the plate the more anti-inflammatory foods you will eat!
Finding anti-inflammatory foods when you are constantly on the road can be challenging. Saving and downloading the anti-inflammatory foods list pdf will allow you to set yourself up for a better performance.
If you want more individualized help, working with a sports dietitian is a great way to understand how you can plan what foods are right for you based on your training and schedule.
For athletes, properly managing inflammation will enhance performance and recovery. By spotting the symptoms, you now know what kind of inflammation is happening in your body and how to manage it.
Knowing what is happening in your body and how to create a space for your body to heal is essential to your performance as an athlete.
If you are looking for more information on how to fuel properly, I encourage you to apply to the Performance Fueling Club. The Performance Fueling Club is a comprehensive program that provides live coaching and on-demand resources to help you feel confident in your fueling and meet your goals.
In the program, you will learn how to fuel your body with easy and simple nutrition so you feel the best on the field. Apply today to get started.