Any athlete will tell you that when you go hard while training or in performance, your body will show signs of strain, sometimes even days after the initial exercise.
That feeling of tightness, muscle soreness, and tenderness are all signs of exercise-induced inflammation.
When training for competitions like marathons, cycling, or any endurance sport, putting your body through rigorous trials is a part of the training regime. Creating an environment of stress and fatigue in training helps to prepare athletes for the uncompromising terrain that they will face during their chosen activities.
So how can one train continually while combatting the body’s inflammatory response to the over-exertion that is being put upon various muscle groups?
Recent studies have suggested that fighting inflammation from the inside out with anti-inflammatory agents like curcumin is an effective way to reduce recovery time and may offset some of the damage and functional deficits(1) associated with activities like downhill running.
What Causes Inflammation In Athletes?
Post-workout inflammation is the body’s natural response to muscle fibers being damaged during strenuous activity. The muscle damage that is caused during exercise is thought to trigger a significant increase in the presence of inflammatory cytokines in the affected muscle tissue.
Cytokines are regulated by many stimulators within the body’s inflammatory pathways that play a roll in how the body handles stressors (like damage to muscles during a workout). Muscle damage can lead to free radical production as part of the body’s immune response. Extreme exercise(2) can turn on the pathways that lead to inflammatory cytokine production, pain, and noticeable deficits in muscle function.
Inflammation is essentially the body’s immune response increasing cytokine production as a response to damage to muscle tissues. The body is trying to repair what it perceives to be a threat.
How Can Athletes Reduce Inflammation Naturally?
High-performance athletes and hobbyists alike can benefit from reduced levels of inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like common over the counter ibuprofen are widely used anti-inflammatories, but many athletes are turning to more natural methods of reducing systemic inflammation.
Researchers have found promising evidence that supports the use of herbal remedies like curcumin, the powerful antioxidant found in turmeric, to fight exercise-induced inflammation.
Studies suggest that curcumin has similar effects on inflammation as prescription and over the counter NSAIDs. The most significant area that curcumin’s effects differed from NSAIDs was that curcumin didn’t cause stomach issues and cardiovascular problems that are sometimes associated with the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories.
In addition to avoiding the gastrointestinal reactions and cardiovascular issues, curcumin scavenges free radicals from within the body. Free radicals are associated with a host of negative health outcomes and diseases. Cancer and other degenerative diseases are linked to free radical overproliferation.
A diet rich in antioxidants can help fight inflammation as well. Supplements are a great addition to an already healthy diet that has a variety of fresh produce and whole grains.
A balanced diet can help the body fight off oxidative stress that has been linked to damage in all vital cellular components(4) including DNA, proteins, membrane lipids. These changes can result in cell death.
Cutting out foods that cause inflammation(5) in addition to eating foods that reduce inflammation can give your body an extra advantage when it comes to fighting off free radicals as well.
A good indicator that a fruit or vegetable is high in antioxidants is a deep rich color, like blueberries, raspberries, and leafy greens.
Highly processed foods, sugar, alcohol, processed meats, and refined carbs are all linked to inflammation and should be avoided for this type of diet.
Rest, Recovery, And Massage
Like any machine, when it runs 24/7, something is bound to give.
Giving your body time to recover after a strenuous workout can feel like an exercise in torture for athletes who just want to go full steam ahead at all times. Taking time to let your body heal after causing muscle damage is key to increasing endurance and muscle strength. In addition to getting those gains that you’re striving for, you’ll also be less likely to incur stress-related injuries.
Sleep, stretching, massage, cold therapy, and thermal therapy are all ways that you can help reduce your body’s inflammatory response(6) after an exerting workout.
In a perfect world, every workout would include a healthy amount of stretching, post-workout massage and bodywork, an ice bath, and a bit of recovery time in a sauna. Most athletes don’t have the resources that can provide that kind of a regenerative program to aid in recovery.
Because it can be next to impossible to squeeze in all of the post-workout options that are outlined above, keeping the inflammatory response in check prior to training sessions is a key component in the fight against inflammation.
Maintaining a balanced diet and incorporating additional supplements like curcumin is a solid foundational base that serious athletes and novices alike should focus upon to keep inflammation at bay.