Chronic inflammation from a heavy training load can increase your risk of injuries if it is not taken care of soon. As my old coach used to say, “Don’t burn the candle at both ends.” He was saying that if you are pushing the limits on your physical performance, you can’t also push the limits of your social performance. Staying out late, poor diet, and too much partying are all risk factors for injuries and inflammation.
So the big key is how to reduce inflammation through sufficient sleep, a great diet, and the right kind of recovery running. But before we discuss how to reduce inflammation, let’s define it.
What is Inflammation?
Inflammation is your body’s natural immune response to an acute injury like a swollen ankle sprain or an infection. Each situation will have your body increasing blood flow to the affected area making it swollen, red, and often painful to the touch.
When your body is under a lot of stress, especially if you are training hard for a marathon or putting in a high volume block of training, you can experience chronic inflammation if you are not properly taking care of yourself. This can hinder your performance, increase your risk of injury, and make you more fatigued. While you want to promote your body’s natural healing process, lingering fatigue, swelling, or tender spots on your legs can be a sign of unwanted inflammation.
During these intense training periods, and especially right after a difficult race where your body will be repairing muscular damage, it’s vital to provide every resource available to aid the healing process. Let’s look at 5 tactics that will teach you how to reduce inflammation and aid your recovery.
Sleep. Lots of it.
Sleep is one of the best ways to combat inflammation and aid recovery from heavy training. As you tear your body down by running long runs and track workouts, you repair muscular damage and super-compensate. Extra sleep can decrease fatigue and improve performance in workouts and races. Adequate sleep also improves your immune system and allows you to recover from daily stresses like exams, work deadlines, and frustration from sitting in traffic.
Even a few hours less sleep can trigger an immune response resulting in inflammation. Don’t skip your beauty rest when you are pushing your body to the limit. Chronic sleep deprivation can have unwanted consequences and even be a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. As a runner, that’s hardly something you want to consider.
Runners need to consider sleep a vital part of their training program. It is just important to get adequate sleep as it is to do your long run or tempo. American record holder in the half-marathon and third fastest US marathoner of all-time Ryan Hall calls his naps “business meetings.” He believes they are integral to helping him recover from his hard workouts. Productivity guru Tim Ferriss offers tips on how to hack your sleep and achieve restorative rest.
Dominate Your Diet.
There are numerous ways to eat optimally to reduce inflammation and provide your body what it needs to repair itself. You’ve all heard the same diet advice so I won’t recycle all that here. For those suffering from inflammation, recovering from an injury, or working through a particularly heavy training period, it’s important to focus on just a few key parts of your diet.
Vegetables. Eat 4-6 servings of different vegetables per day. It’s helpful to have a big-ass salad for lunch as you can easily get 3-4 servings if you make it large enough. Some of the best vegetables that fight inflammation include garlic, broccoli, onions, peppers, spinach, and kale. If you’re vegetarian, check out the Vegetarian Guide to Conquering Your First Marathon to help you train well on a plant-based diet.
Avoiding Sugar. Excess sugar in your diet can exacerbate inflammation and not just the powdery white stuff. Simple carbs like those found in pizza, cake, cookies, white pasta, or white bread are all very high on the glycemic index. They will produce a strong insulin response in your body that isn’t good for reducing inflammation. Stick to better sources of carbs like whole grain pasta, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables, quinoa, and wild or brown rice.
Healthy Fat. Good sources of fat are anti-inflammatory and should definitely be consumed. Sources of the high-quality Omega-3 fats you’re looking for are avocados, wild cold-water fish, and raw nuts. Keep it simple.
Probiotics. If you’re particularly stressed, taking antibiotics, or have a poor diet in general your gut may not have enough healthy bacteria. This can upset the natural order of things. You can try Kefir, yogurt, or supplements to add more probiotics to your diet. Komboocha tea is another alternative if you enjoy the slightly vinegary taste.
A very useful tool to use to gauge a particular food’s inflammation factor is NutritionData.com. You can use their “Inflammation Factor” rating tool to determine what the combined rating is for your daily diet. They recommend a positive IF rating of 50 (which is anti-inflammatory) but if you are in heavy training or recovering from an injury I recommend going higher. Stick to very positive IF foods like salmon.
Easy Recovery Days.
Sometimes you just need to go slow. Taking it easy by running shorter and slower allows your body to recover without putting itself through more inflammation-inducing training. Taking one day per week to run short and slow can do wonders for your recovery. The slower running improves circulation to your legs. This simple act improves flexibility, mobility, and recovery. If you keep your run short enough, it will hasten recovery faster than if you did not run at all.
Extra pointer: while not as important, avoiding smog and indoor air pollution (as well as not running along very busy roads) can all help reduce the number of chemicals and irritants that you inhale on a daily basis. Your immune system will spend less time fending off these unwanted guests and more time recovering from your training.
While none of these tips are magic bullets to help you run effortlessly every day, employing multiple strategies at once can really make a difference. The three biggest tactics I use consistently are adequate sleep, lots of veggies, and easy recovery days.
Try it for a week. Let me know if it makes a measurable difference in your training. Let me know in the comments if this has helped you learn how to reduce inflammation. Is there anything else that has worked to reduce inflammation and help you recover?
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