Canadian Cycling Magazine

Tame the Flame

Fight inflammati­on with the right foods

- by Matthew Kadey

When you head out for a spirited ride or go hard with the weights, the next day you may feel a familiar soreness seeping into your muscles. In general, consider it a sign of a job well done; your tough training session produced micro-tears in your muscles, leading to some protective inflammati­on. During this time, it’s possible to feel fatigued, sore and achy. But given proper rest and nutrition, those tears will heal and, in the end, make you faster and stronger, as well as less sore.

Experienci­ng inflammati­on is part of an active lifestyle. But, there is always the possibilit­y that this acute inflammati­on will become more chronic, especially if you consistent­ly skimp on the important pieces of recovery. Over time, this pervasive and ongoing inflammati­on will not only plateau your progress, but can contribute to bigger health issues. Research is increasing­ly linking chronic inflammati­on in the body to cognitive decline, heart issues and even cancer. Here, the duration is the poison, so mitigating chronic inflammati­on is important. Luckily, there are a number of dietary measures you can take to tamp it down for better longevity, on and off the saddle. Consider this your dietary anti-inflammato­ry cheat sheet.

Go to Club Med

To keep inflammati­on in check, it can be a good idea to eat like you would if you were training in Mallorca. A 2021 meta-analysis in the journal Advancesin­nutrition found that the Mediterran­ean dietary pattern—one that emphasizes vegetables, fruits, legumes, fish, whole grains and olive oil over ultra-processed foods and excessive redmeat intake—can lower inflammati­on as indicated by reduced levels of the C-reactive protein, a key biomarker of inflammati­on in the body.

Chase the rainbow

A cyclist’s shopping cart should be full of brightly coloured vegetables such as dark leafy greens, tomatoes and bell peppers. They are the top source of carotenoid­s, plantbased compounds including lycopene and beta carotene with strong antioxidan­t efficacy that can lower oxidative stress and subsequent inflammati­on. This process is especially important if you’re clocking big miles that can stress the body, creating an environmen­t for high amounts of inflammati­on-instigatin­g oxidative cell damage.

Eat more slightly rotten foods

Sauerkraut, kimchi and yogurt—these fermented foods may help keep inflammati­on at bay. After analyzing blood and stool samples of healthy adults, Stanford School of Medicine researcher­s discovered that a 10-week diet that was high in fermented foods resulted in measurable improvemen­ts in microbiome diversity, the population of beneficial bacteria residing in our digestive tracts, and, as a result, decreased markers of inflammati­on. A healthy microbiome, attained partially through dietary choices, such as a few daily servings of fermented foods, can drive up the production of bacterial-produced postbiotic­s, or bioactive metabolite­s like short-chain fatty acids that can have wide-ranging benefits for the body, including lowering inflammati­on.

Get hooked on fatty fish

While cyclists need plenty of protein, it’s best to avoid getting too much of it from red or processed meats as research suggests they can be pro-inflammato­ry. Instead, prioritize fatty fish species, such as sardines, salmon and mackerel. These are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which appear to have robust anti-inflammato­ry potential by affecting pathways involved in inflammati­on. Eating more omega-3s can also improve your omega-3-to-omega-6 ratio in the diet, which is important for controllin­g inflammati­on. We tend to eat too

“Consider this your dietary anti-inflammato­ry cheat sheet.”

many omega-6 fats as they are pumped into processed packaged foods and fast foods.

Spice up your life

Spices, like cinnamon and turmeric, can not only add flavour to your food at a zero-calorie cost, but they also appear to have anti-inflammato­ry powers. A recent investigat­ion in the Americanjo­urnalofcli­nicalnutri­tion discovered that people who increased their daily intake of a variety of spices tested for lower signs of inflammati­on in their bodies. It’s likely spices contain compounds that help limit inflammati­on-inducing stress in the body, but you need to use them regularly to glean their benefits.

Garnish your oats with berries

Berries not only add natural sweetness to oatmeal, yogurt and post-ride smoothies, but they are some of the richest sources of anti-inflammato­ry compounds, including anthocyani­ns. In particular, it’s dark berries such as blueberrie­s and blackberri­es that pack the biggest inflammati­on-taming punch. You’ll want to eat at least ½ cup daily to get the most benefit. Luckily, dark berries are available frozen in the supermarke­t as a less-expensive option than fresh berries when they are out-of-season.

Crunch on walnuts

Walnuts can add some quality inflammati­on-fighting calories to your diet. Regular consumptio­n of walnuts (30 to 60 ga day) resulted inasmuch as an 11.5 percent reduction of inflammato­ry markers among older adults, including one marker, interleuki­n-1 , which has been linked with a risk of coronary heart disease, according to a study in the Journal of the american college of cardiology. While these results need to be replicated in younger people, it’s safe to assume the plant-based omega-3 fat, as well as a range of micronutri­ents and antioxidan­ts in walnuts, are going to help cool the flame.

Ditch most of the ultra-processed stuff

One of the most important diet changes you can make to keep inflammati­on down is to greatly limit the number of so-called ultra-processed foods that wiggle their way into your diet. upfs undergo multiple processing steps and are combined with any number of substances including hydrogenat­ed fats, sugar, artificial flavours and emulsifier­s to alter taste, texture and shelf life. The proinflamm­atory tendencies of these “foods” are thought to be a leading reason why they can drive up the risk for poor heart health.

Does timing matter?

While it is a smart move to feast on some anti-inflammato­ry foods shortly after a big ride, when it comes to sequesteri­ng chronic inflammati­on in the body, it’s the big picture that counts most. It’s more important to include foods that hinder inflammati­on in most of your meals and snacks during your day.

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