Your Workout May Be Causing Inflammation — Here's What To Do About It
Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.
Ah, inflammation—a condition we talk about a lot in the wellness world but not as much in the fitness one. And while exercise relieves stress and anxiety and provides a number of other benefits, it also can cause inflammation in our bodies.
Here's why it happens and what you can do about it.
How exercise causes inflammation.
If you've ever done a strenuous workout, then you know my dear friend, soreness.
Soreness is a by-product of tearing microscopic holes in our muscles when we exercise at a high intensity. After our workout, our body begins the recovery process of rebuilding and strengthening our muscles, which is usually when the soreness hits.
As I've said before, soreness is 100 percent normal. But, according to Jaime Schehr, N.D., R.D., it's also a result of inflammation. "Muscle soreness associated with exercise—known as delayed onset muscle soreness—is a result of inflammation from muscle metabolism," Schehr says.
What you can do to calm your post-workout inflammation.
Before you fall into a soreness sadness, I have some good news: It turns out there's a lot you can do to treat your post-workout inflammation! And most methods include eating something! Check out this list below of the best ways to treat your inflammation post-workout (and please try to mimic my excitement as you do so):
1. Have some protein after your workout.
I got called the "protein queen" at work today, so I felt compelled to put this one first. Post-workout protein is the only cause in life that I proselytize (if you can call it a cause, which I am). But hey, at least I've got the experts on my side.
"Protein is the most important macronutrient for muscle recovery, as protein is an essential nutrient in healing damaged muscle," Schehr says. "Optimizing post-workout protein intake is important to prevent further damage to the muscle."
You heard the doctor: Get that protein in. If you need somewhere to start, we've got plenty of protein tips.
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.
We should all be doing this anyway—all day, every day—but hydration is especially important post-workout. You have to refill the tank, you know?
"One of the more important aspects of managing inflammation related to exercise is hydration," Schehr says. "Pre- and post-workout hydration are critical elements of reducing muscle soreness."
Needless to say, we're talking about water here. There are other drink options out there that may provide some benefits, but Schehr suggests treading carefully.
"There are a number of 'recovery' drinks on the market currently, such as tart cherry and watermelon juices. They may be helpful, but you should water out for the high amounts of sugar in these formulations."
All right, water it is, then.
3. Limit your intake of inflammatory foods.
Surprise! Your diet can have an impact on your soreness too. Schehr recommends reducing pro-inflammatory foods, such as saturated fats and processed sugars, in order to further your recovery. "Additionally, anti-inflammatory foods such as fish, berries, and leafy greens may also help speed the recovery process," she adds.
4. Get your hands on some branched-chain amino acids.
BCAAs, or branched-chain amino acids, are a supplement powder that you can mix into water and drink before, during, or after your workout. And they can lessen your soreness post-workout, which decreases inflammation.
"BCAAs are one of the newer supplements targeted to muscle recovery," Schehr says. "They may help with reducing post-workout muscle soreness by providing fuel to the muscle during the exercise."
There you have it, folks—all the info you need to kick your inflammation to the curb and make the days after a tough workout a little less painful. And while you're at it (seamlessly implementing all of the above into your life), read this article about how to treat your sore muscles or check out the best recovery products for under $40.
Ready to learn more about how to unlock the power of food to heal your body, prevent disease & achieve optimal health? Register now for our FREE web class with nutrition expert Kelly LeVeque.