Reducing Inflammation and Promoting Recovery in Athletes

Did you know that inflammation is a normal part of training? After a hard bout of exercise training, inflammation naturally occurs to help athletes muscles heal, so athletes can recover and adapt to more difficult workouts as training goes on.
Too much inflammation, though, can become a problem that results from too many hard workouts with not enough focus on recovery nutrition, adequate sleep, and unhealthy diets, and can negatively impact sports performance and compromise immunity, which may lead to days missed from practice or competition. Some athletes may turn to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, to decrease inflammation and prevent or reduce pain, but these drugs have been associated with gut damage and may actually impair training adaptations that help athletes recover and get stronger.

Soreness is a part of daily training, but instead of popping NSAIDs, place a bigger emphasis on recovery and fighting inflammation with the following good nutrition and rest tactics:

  • Make sleep a priority! Muscles are resting and recovering during sleep, and poor sleep can increase inflammation in the body. Increasing sleep to at least 8 hours and/or napping may improve performance, mood, decrease fatigue, and improve reaction times and focus.
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and white rice, soda, french fries and other fried and processed foods such as crispy/fried chicken, pizza, chips, and packaged dessert cakes, which can increase inflammation.
  • Add extra produce to your plate by eating more fruits and vegetables, which contain anti-oxidants and phytochemicals that fight inflammation. Include anti-inflammatory foods, such as tart cherry juice, turmeric, and fish oil to your daily diet, especially during heavy training periods.
  • Increase your consumption of healthy fats by snacking on walnuts, almonds, peanuts, flax seeds, using olive oil on your salads as dressing, and choosing fatty fish such as salmon and tuna for your protein at several meals a week to reduce inflammation.
  •  Limit or avoid alcohol – over-consumption of alcohol can promote inflammation and disrupts sleep, which together can be detrimental to performance over time.
  •  Eat enough calories to account for your physical activity and make sure you’re getting the appropriate amounts of carbohydrates, protein and healthy fats (macronutrients). Not eating enough calories may increase stress hormones and leaves athletes without the energy they need to fight off inflammation and recover properly after a hard workout.
  • Take your rest days seriously! Rest days after hard practices are an integral part of a training plan that help athletes recover and come into the next practice or competition even stronger. Athletes who are feeling run down, feel like they just can’t recover from their last practice/competition or don’t see improvements in their performance should talk to their coach about their training and take a look at their diet and lifestyle choices to see where they can improve.

A sports dietitian can work with your training schedule and current diet to help you meet your performance goals this season by developing a nutrition plan that will help you get stronger, perform better, and stay healthy throughout the season. Call Lizzie Kuckuk, dietitian at the Sanford Sports Science Institute by calling 605-312-7878 or e-mailing her at to set up an appointment today!