If you are an athlete, you may be wondering what are the best anti inflammatory foods for athletes to eat.
Inflammation is a natural response of your body to stress, injury or infection. It helps to heal and protect your tissues from further damage.
However, too much inflammation can also be harmful and impair your recovery, increase your risk of injury and lower your immune system.
That’s why it’s essential to eat foods that can help to reduce inflammation and promote healing.
In this blog post, we will share with you 20 anti inflammatory foods for athletes that you can include in your diet to boost your health and performance.
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What are anti inflammatory foods
Anti-inflammatory foods are foods that contain nutrients that can help to lower the inflammatory response in your body. Some of these nutrients or compounds are:
- Antioxidants: Antioxidants are like superheroes for your body. They help fight off harmful molecules called free radicals, which can cause stress and damage to your cells. By doing so, antioxidants protect your tissues from inflammation.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3 fatty acids are special fats that your body needs from food because it can’t make them itself. They reduce inflammation by decreasing the production of pro-inflammatory molecules.
- Fiber: Fiber is a type of carbohydrate that your body can’t break down, but it’s supports good bacteria in your gut. By promoting the growth of these friendly bacteria, fiber helps improve gut health and lowers inflammation.
- Anti-inflammatory spices: Anti-inflammatory contain plant compounds called phytochemicals that can tame inflammation by influencing different pathways and enzymes in your body.
Some examples of these spices include turmeric, ginger, rosemary and cinnamon. Adding these spices to your dishes can add flavor and provide anti-inflammatory benefits at the same time.
20 anti inflammatory foods for athletes
Here are 20 anti-inflammatory foods for athletes that you can add to your meals or snacks to get their benefits:
1. Fatty fish
Rich in omega-3 fatty acids, fatty fish such as salmon, mackerel, sardines and herring possess powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Omega-3s help reduce exercise-induced inflammation and promote efficient recovery. (1)
They also support brain health, cardiovascular health and joint health.
2. Tart cherries
Known for their high anthocyanin content, tart cherries have been shown to reduce inflammation, muscle soreness and oxidative stress after intense exercise. They also contain melatonin, that can help regulate your sleep cycle and enhance your recovery. (2)
Incorporate tart cherry juice into your overall sports nutrition diet.
This bright yellow spice is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to its active ingredient called curcumin. Curcumin can stop the activity of various inflammatory molecules and enzymes.
Turmeric can also enhance the absorption of omega-3 fatty acids from food. Add turmeric to your curries, soups, smoothies or teas for a boost of flavor and color.
This spicy root is another powerful anti-inflammatory spice that can help to reduce pain and swelling. Ginger contains phytochemicals that can stop inflammation. Ginger can also improve blood circulation and digestion.
Use fresh or dried ginger in your dishes, drinks or desserts.
Packed with antioxidants and polyphenols, blueberries help fight inflammation, supporting post-workout recovery. Blueberries also contain fiber, which can improve your gut health and lower inflammation.
6. Leafy greens
Spinach, kale, and other leafy greens are rich in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, offering anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits to aid in muscle repair.
They also contain nitrates, which can improve blood flow and oxygen delivery to your muscles.
Add leafy greens to your salads, smoothies, soups or sandwiches for a boost of nutrients and fiber.
7. Extra virgin olive oil
The monounsaturated fats and polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil have anti-inflammatory effects, promoting cardiovascular health and aiding exercise recovery.
They also help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Use extra virgin olive oil for cooking, dressing or dipping for a healthy and tasty fat source.
Almonds, walnuts, and other nuts contain healthy fats, antioxidants, and fiber, which collectively contribute to reduced inflammation and enhanced athletic performance.
They also provide protein, magnesium and vitamin E, which are important for muscle growth and repair.
Snack on nuts or add them to your cereals, salads or baked goods for a crunchy and satisfying texture.
The naturally occurring nitrates in beets can help improve blood flow, reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and lower inflammation levels.
They also contain betalains, which are antioxidants that can protect your cells from damage.
Blend beets into your smoothies, juices or soups for a boost of energy and color.
Brimming with bromelain, an enzyme with anti-inflammatory properties, pineapple can help alleviate exercise-induced muscle soreness and aid in recovery.
It also contains vitamin C, which can support your immune system and collagen synthesis.
Enjoy pineapple fresh or frozen as a sweet and refreshing snack or dessert.
11. Whole grains
Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, oats and barley provide fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that support sustained energy levels and recovery.
They also contain complex carbohydrates, which can replenish your glycogen stores after exercise.
Choose whole grains over refined grains for more benefits and flavor.
12. Greek yogurt
Probiotic-rich low fat Greek yogurt offers a blend of protein and anti-inflammatory nutrients, aiding in muscle repair and reducing exercise-induced inflammation.
It also contains calcium, which can support your bone health and prevent stress fractures.
13. Green tea
Green tea contains a powerful antioxidant, has been linked to reduced inflammation, improved exercise performance, and enhanced recovery. Youth athletes should choose green teas without caffeine.
Drink green tea before or after your workouts to gain its benefits.
Containing sulfur compounds, garlic has anti-inflammatory effects that may help reduce exercise-induced inflammation and support immune function.
Add fresh or roasted garlic to your dishes for a burst of aroma and taste.
15. Dark chocolate
With its flavonoids and antioxidants, dark chocolate can help reduce inflammation, enhance blood flow and promote post-exercise recovery. It also contains magnesium, which can relax your muscles and nerves.
Choose dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content and enjoy it in moderation.
This creamy fruit is a great source of monounsaturated fats, which can lower inflammation and improve cholesterol levels. Avocado also contains antioxidants and vitamin E to support skin health.
17. Amino acids
These are the building blocks of protein, which is essential for muscle growth and repair. Amino acids can also regulate the inflammatory response.
Some amino acids have specific anti-inflammatory effects, such as leucine, glutamine, arginine and glycine. (3)
You can get amino acids from animal or plant sources of protein, such as meat, eggs, dairy, soy, beans or nuts.
This green vegetable is a member of the cruciferous family, which is known for its anti-inflammatory effects. Broccoli also contains vitamin K, which is a nutrient that can prevent blood clotting and bone loss.
Steam, roast or sauté broccoli for a nutritious and delicious side dish.
These vibrant vegetables are packed with antioxidants that can reduce inflammation and pain. They also have shown an impact on improving your mood and well-being.
Peppers also contain vitamin C, which can support your immune system and collagen synthesis.
Choose peppers of different colors and shapes for a variety of flavors and nutrients and add to salads, sandwiches and soups.
20. Red cabbage
This colorful vegetable is a great source of anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that can lower inflammation and oxidative stress. Anthocyanins can also protect your blood vessels and improve blood flow.
Red cabbage also contains vitamin C, which can support your immune system and collagen synthesis.
Add red cabbage to your salads, slaws, wraps or tacos for a pop of color and crunch.
Eating anti-inflammatory foods for athletes can help you to recover faster, prevent injuries, boost your immune system and enhance your performance.
Try to include some of these foods in your daily diet to reap their benefits.
However, remember that food is not the only factor that affects inflammation.
Always consult with a sports nutrition dietitian before making any dietary changes or taking any supplements.
Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND has over 22 years of experience in public health and nutrition. As a performance registered dietitian nutritionist, Stephanie specializes in sports nutrition and provides simple and actionable information so that athletes can be well fueled for high performance on and off the field. Stephanie has a Master’s Degree in Nutrition and is a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.