Inflammation, also called an inflammatory response, is a natural and vital physiological process, playing an important role in the healing process. Classic external signs of inflammation are redness, swelling, pain and heat. Unless you have had the misfortune of an acute running injury like an ankle sprain it is unlikely that you will notice straight away any sign of inflammation after a run. Externally at least, everything looks good.
But due to oxidative stress (cell membrane damage caused by free radicals) from the intense exercise low-grade inflammation occurs, commonly resulting in DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness). Anyone who exercises, not just runners, can be prone to low-grade, chronic inflammation from oxidative stress, which can shown up in a number of different ways including susceptibility to infections such as coughs and colds, muscular and joint aches and pains, skin problems like acne and eczema, and general fatigue. It is not that you want to remove all inflammation, more that you want to balance and moderate your inflammatory response to maximise your health and wellness, helping you achieve your running goals.
Research has shown time and again that a Mediterranean style diet is inherently anti-inflammatory, promoting longevity and wellness. Key components of an anti-inflammatory Mediterranean include:
This is by no means an exhaustive list of anti-inflammatory foods but can be a great place to start.
Spices such as turmeric powder, ginger, garlic, and cumin are also a wonderful way of boosting flavour and anti-inflammatory antioxidants to any meal.
My own personal anti-inflammatory post-run nutrition
Although I like to share the meals and snacks which work for me to help balance and moderate inflammatory response after a long or hard run, just keep in mind that everybody is different and what suits me may not necessarily suit you.
Straight after a run I drink a green berry smoothie (thank you NutriBullet for making this so quick and easy!) Basically I will throw in a handful of leafy greens like spinach, kale, or spring greens, a cupful of frozen berries, a tablespoon or two of protein powder (currently pea protein powder), my daily multi-vitamin and mineral powder, half a teaspoon of dried turmeric, and a bit of fresh ginger if I have it. After adding water and giving a quick blast it is ready to drink. Delicious!
Once the essential business of stretching and showering is done poached eggs, avocado and pumpkin seeds on wholegrain toast is my absolute favourite meal. Eggs, as well as being a complete protein, are a great source of vitamin A and D, both shown to reduce inflammation, and the avocado is packed full of healthy fats. Replenishing depleted glycogen stores through complex carbohydrates is also important for recovery.
Evening runs are a little more challenging as going to bed on a full stomach is not always practical or pleasant. On those days I opt for a simple mug of turmeric milk which provides protein, carbohydrates and the vital anti-inflammatory spices mentioned earlier.
To find out more about the anti-inflammatory foods that could help improve your own running, or to discuss your specific nutrition concerns, then please contact me for a bespoke nutritional therapy programme.
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Helen Morton, registered Nutritional Therapist. sports nutritionist, runner, Level 2 Fitness Instructor and food lover, sharing latest nutrition research and recipes.