Foods That Soothe the “Pain of Gain”

by:  Lisa Dorfman, MS, RD, CSSD, LMHC,  The Running Nutritionist®

While the jury is still out about how injury, inflammation, and recovery all relate to one another, we know that some foods, supplements, and other food compounds can impact how the body responds to training aches and pains and repairs tissue.

After any vigorous workout, your muscles and joints can ache for a few hours to several days depending on the type of exercise and intensity of your training. Higher intensity workouts, challenging muscles in new directions and overtraining muscles can all enhance muscle soreness. Dehydration, electrolyte depletion and dietary deficiencies can also amplify the pain.

A diet high in trans fats, saturated fats, and some omega 6 vegetable oils promotes inflammation so you want to steer clear of them. Those are the kind you find in processed foods, fast foods, or packaged convenience foods. Diets high in monounsaturated fat and essential omega 3s are anti-inflammatory and encouraged over other fat choices.

Monounsaturated fats like olive, peanut, canola, and sesame oils as well as avocado also inhibit and reduce inflammation by interfering with pro-inflammatory compounds called leukotrienes, which are produced naturally by the body. Men and women who consume “Mediterranean” type diets—fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and olive oils have been shown to have a lower incidence of inflammatory type conditions such as heart disease and arthritis.

Diets high in omega 3s have been shown to increase collagen deposition and promote healing. Collagen is the main protein in connective tissue, which makes up 25 percent of the total protein content in our bodies. Omega 3s found in fish, flax, soy, and almonds specifically have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects by preventing the formation of inflammatory compounds.

Salmon, sardines, light tuna, tofu, walnuts, and ground flax are all rich sources of the omega-3s, the healthy fats that prevent the production of inflammatory compounds. Vitamin D, which is found in fatty fishes, fortified milk, shakes, and drinks along with zinc-rich beans, lean red meat, yogurt, and peanuts has been found to control inflammatory stress.

In addition to navigating your way to healthier fats, specific foods also contribute anti-inflammatory compounds to relieve aching bodies. Betaine, a compound found in beets, spinach, wheat bran, and wheat germ can also help reduce inflammation. Polyphenols, phytonutrient-rich compounds found in blueberries and other foods, can prevent muscle damage caused by the oxidative stress of training.

Additional compounds that help manage inflammation are:

    •  Quercetin found in tart cherries, apples and apple juice,

  • Bromelain in pineapple
  • Papain and chymopapain in papaya,  and
  • Gingerols, shogaols, paradols & zingerone that give ginger its distinct smell and taste also reduces production of pro-inflammatory cytokines that lead to pain & swelling in muscles/joints and decrease pain & soreness following high-intensity exercise.

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