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Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Athletes

July 30, 2020 3 min read

Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Athletes

Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Athletes

Inflammation in athletes - it's a big deal!  Being sure to consume plenty of anti-inflammatory foods is a great way to keep chronic inflammation in check. 

Even if you're healthy and fit, inflammation is always something we all need to keep an eye on, measure and do our best to control. 

As we discussed last week, inflammation is the immune system’s attempt to protect the body from infection, trauma, toxins, chronic disease, acute illness, and physical stress.

It's probably best to think of inflammation in two broad categories - acute, or short lived, and chronic, or ongoing. 

Acute Inflammation

Acute inflammation is actually a good thing.  As we move, exercise and go about our days, there's always some degree of wear and tear on the body.  And with that comes the body's acute inflammatory response - this is how the body fixes those microinjuries we sustain.  We need that inflammation after working in the yard, going for a run, or pretty much any other physical activity. Without it, our bodies would slowly fall apart.

Acute inflammation is beneficial for preventing infection and healing after something like a taking a spill on your bike and getting a little road rash.

Chronic Inflammation

On the other hand, chronic or long-term inflammation is undesirable.

When inflammatory responses rage out of control over time (think of large forest fire), this can cause great damage across our bodies.  Examples of diseases and illness with chronic inflammation as their root cause include allergies, asthma, cancer, diabetes, autoimmune conditions, and some infectious diseases. 

Chronic inflammation occurs when the stressor causing the acute immune response does not go away.

I often define chronic inflammation as a smoldering fire - you don't always see huge flames, but rather it burns hot under the surface and creates damage on a widespread basis. 

Is Exercise Inflammatory?

Most exercise results in an acute immune response, which is beneficial for improving strength, performance, and even the immune system.  We get stronger from exercise because the body repairs itself and makes us just a tad stronger and more resilient after each workout. 

However, without adequate rest and proper nutrition, regular intense exercise can result in chronic inflammation manifested by over training, and chronic inflammatory injuries like bursitis or tendinitis.

Eating inflammatory foods, poor sleep, suffering from continuous stress, and carrying excess body fat can also result in chronic inflammation.

Along with adequate rest, proper nutrition is perhaps the single most important method for managing the chronic inflammation that can result from heavy training. 

Eating foods rich in antioxidants (vitamin A, C, and E, selenium, lycopene, lutein, and beta-carotene) and phytonutrients (flavonoids, anthocyanins, and carotenoids) may help prevent or delay inflammatory damage. 

Incorporate these foods into your diet for continuous anti-inflammatory benefits:

  • Foods rich in phytonutrients including all colors of fruits and vegetables (dark leafy greens, berries, tomatoes, orange and yellow fruits, all colors of peppers), cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts), tea, and dark chocolate in moderation
  • Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish (salmon, sardines), flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts
  • Anti-inflammatory spices such as ginger, turmeric, curry, and rosemary
  • Whole grains such as brown rice, oats, and quinoa
  • Lean protein sources such as chicken and fish, but eat them in moderation if you're dealing with chronic inflammation

Limit these pro-inflammatory foods:

  • Processed white flour foods (breads, pasta, cereal) and packaged/fast foods
  • Omega-6 fats found in vegetable oils and animal fat
  • Excess saturated fats such as those found in cheese, butter, cream, fatty beef, pork, lamb, and poultry skin (a little is fine, but again don't overdo it)
  • Refined grains such as white pasta, white bread, and white rice
  • Sugary beverages and desserts like soda, energy drinks, sports drinks, fancy coffee drinks, ice cream, cakes, candy, cookies, and pies
  • Alcohol

Eliminate Completely:

  • Trans-fats found in fried foods, some baked goods, some processed foods

Check out these delicious anti-inflammatory post-workout recipes!

While these are general recommendations for ideal foods to eat, remember that everyone is an individual and because of that one food that's good for most people may not be good for you.  Because of this we always perform a food sensitivity test on all of our clients in clinic.  

Food sensitivities (regardless of what type of food) can contribute to that chronic, smoldering inflammation I referred to earlier.  If you're doing everything right, but still consuming foods that are inflammatory to your body, you'll still have to deal with the ravages of inflammation. 

Otherwise, our favorite way to keep inflammation under control is Anti-Inflammatory Formula by Mountain Peak Nutritionals.




Mahan, L. K., Escott-Stump, S., Raymond, J. L., & Krause, M. V. (Eds.). (2012). Krause's food & the nutrition care process. Elsevier Health Sciences

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