Whether you’ve been running for years, or just getting into the sport — you’re fully aware of the glorious aches and pains that often accompany increased mileage or effort. Sure, your body may settle into a groove and those shorter, natural paced runs barely tick your comfort meter. Then, there are those longer, faster, harder, hilly training runs or race days that leave you in a state of prideful misery. You walk down a flight of stairs like a 94-year-old man that just spent too much time on the toilet — yet you hobble with pride! Rest assured, this is a healthy response known as inflammation. And, it should be celebrated because, as long as you’re refueling properly, your body will bounce back stronger than what it was before you tackled that last hill with authority!
As much as I feel there is satisfaction in spending some time in the “pain cave,” spending too much time there may inhibit your growth. Balancing progress and recovery is always a delicate dance. So, I reached out to a registered and licensed dietitian friend of mine for some advice. Stephanie Hillman, a Technical Representative Team Manager with HOKA One One, offered some valuable insight into some anti-inflammatory foods to help expedite the recovery process. “Muscle soreness and inflammation are necessary evils associated with running and working out as the body goes through a natural inflammatory response to trauma and stress.” Stephanie continue, “but there’s good news! Allowing the body to go through the inflammatory process can actually enhance adaptation to training and serves as a warning sign for when to back off as the body gets worn down or over-stressed. Rather than trying to load up on medications that dull pain, however, try a more natural solution to fighting off inflammation and improving healing and recovery, by looking to at the pro- and anti-inflammatory foods in your diet.”
Stephanie broke down her recommendations into two categories:
Aim for MORE of the following:
- A variety of fruits and vegetables– these foods are high in vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants, polyphenols, and phytonutrients which fight the bad free-radicals in the body that cause inflammation. Berries, cherries, apples, and orange/green vegetables are some of the best sources of these beneficial nutrients.
- Mono- and Poly-unsaturated fatty acids- both types of fat have anti-inflammatory benefits, which include sources such as oily fish (salmon, sardines), avocado, olive oil, walnuts, almonds, and seeds.
- Spices/herbs- add garlic, ginger, and turmeric to your meals for added taste and anti-inflammatory benefits.
- Adequate amounts of lean protein- protein is responsible for building and repairing muscle tissue after exercise or injury breaks it down, and also helps to reduce inflammation. Lean sources such as baked, grilled or roasted meat or fish, beans/lentils, and low-fat dairy are all low in fat and are essential for recovery.
Try to eat LESS of the following:
- Refined starches and processed foods– foods such as white breads and pastas, crackers/cookies, and candy are low in fiber and high in sugar, therefore, they cause a quick and intense increase in blood sugar and inflammation. Eat more whole grains and fresh foods when available.
- High fat foods and refined oils- foods with large amounts of saturated and trans- fat actually increase inflammation in the body. This includes foods that are fried/battered, topped with cream sauces or butter, higher fats cuts of meat, full fat dairy, and safflower, corn, and canola oils.
- Red meat– fatty cuts of red meat are typically high in omega-6 fatty acid, which can actually lead to high amounts of inflammation, so try to keep levels of this low. Aim for more lean forms of protein (such as options mentioned above) to avoid too much of this fat.
- Foods causing allergic reactions/inflammatory reactions in the gut– if allergic to specific foods or sensitive to gluten, make sure to avoid foods containing the triggers as this will help prevent the inflammation and decreased absorption that would typically follow.
Fresh information and a great reminder to anyone looking to spend less time hibernating in the “pain cave!”