Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Athletes

by Lauren Larson MS, RDN April 28, 2015

Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Athletes

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. Acute or short-lived inflammation is beneficial for preventing infection and healing after something like a taking a spill on your bike and getting a little road rash. On the other hand, chronic or long-term inflammation can be bad for our health and our immune system, potentially contributing to 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.

As you might expect, exercise can result in an acute immune response, which is beneficial for improving strength, performance, and even the immune system. However, without adequate rest and proper nutrition, regular intense exercise can result in chronic inflammation manifested by over training, and things like bursitis or tendinitis. Eating the wrong foods, poor sleep, continuous stress, and excess body fat can also result in chronic inflammation.

Along with adequate rest, proper nutrition is key to managing the inflammation that comes with athletic 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 the foods below into your usual daily eating pattern for continuous anti-inflammatory benefits.

  • Fresh plant foods, especially those fruits and vegetables that are rich in color
  • Omega-3 fats found in fatty fish (salmon, sardines), flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and walnuts
  • Anti-inflammatory spices such as ginger, turmeric, curry, and rosemary
  • Foods rich in phytonutrients including all colors of fruits and vegetables (dark leafy greens, berries, tomatoes, orange and yellow fruits, all colos of peppers), cruciferous vegetables (cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts), tea, and dark chocolate in moderation
  • 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

While limiting the following foods:

  • Processed foods like candy, white flour foods and fast food
  • Omega-6 fats found in vegetable oils and animal fat
  • 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, cookies, and pies
  • Alcohol

Eliminating Completely:

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

Coming soon... a delicious post-workout anti-inflammatory recovery recipe!



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

Lauren Larson MS, RDN
Lauren Larson MS, RDN

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