Post-workout fuel is crucial for all athletes. After exercising, our bodies are craving (and needing) replenishment and nourishment. Muscle inflammation is extremely common with athletes. This causes swelling which can lead to pain, severe injury and bulkiness in the body. After a long run, heavy strength training or hours of ballet, athletes’ muscles, bones, and tissues need to be repaired through proper foods to keep going. Choosing to eat vegan, anti-inflammatory foods after exercising and in the everyday diet will help heal inflammation, and assist in preventing it altogether. Eating anti-inflammatory food is not just beneficial for athletes, but it can also be terrific for those with high blood sugar, body aches and arthritis.
Here is a list of the top ten anti-inflammatory foods that will make any vegan athlete shine:
1. Whole Grains
Whole grains digest slowly which helps keep blood sugar low. Spikes in blood sugar that can occur from eating white pasta, bread and sugary snacks increase inflammation in the body, especially for extremely active athletes. Keeping these spikes at bay will reduce inflammation and will also keep you full and satisfied. Some great choices for whole grains are brown rice, quinoa, barley, or steel-cut oats. Check out The Perfect Whole Grain Protein Bowl for a delicious post work out meal. Millet, teff, and wild rice are some of the most alkaline choices, which will all help reduce inflammation even further.
2. Leafy Greens
Leafy greens such as kale, spinach, collard greens and swiss chard are full of nutrients to ward of inflammation symptoms. These greens contain powerful antioxidants as well as flavonoids, carotenoids, and Vitamin C which will all help ward off cellular damage and tissue injury. Try your greens cooked or raw and don’t be afraid to fill your plate up. If you need some help, here are some sneaky ways to get more greens into your diet.
Similar to leafy greens, blueberries are jam-packed with flavonoids and carotenoids. Blueberries are a top superfood and contain antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. These little berries will help make your skin glow, support a healthy immune system and aid in quick metabolism. For the athlete on the go, grab a handful of this powerhouse and you’re set. Buying is season is always best, but frozen blueberries are also wonderful to throw in a smoothie pre or post work out.
Turmeric is a powerful anti-inflammatory spice. Similar to ginger, it contains enzyme inhibitors to reduce swelling and pain. Turmeric is great in soups and curries and can be added generously to many different foods in order to gain the full healing effects. Turmeric is extremely beneficial for those who suffer with arthritis, or for athletes who experience regular pain when performing. Adding more spices to dishes will help curb cravings for sugar and salt (which both contribute to inflammation themselves).
5. Sweet Potatoes
The biggest anti-inflammatory benefits come from the antioxidants in sweet potatoes. Loaded with beta-carotene and manganese, these antioxidants will help fight against inflammation diseases and particularly gout and arthritis. Sweet potatoes are also a great source of fiber and complex carbohydrates, providing athletes with plenty of nourishment.
6. Green Tea
Green tea contains catechins, which are antioxidant compounds that help reduce inflammation. Green tea is beneficial for athletes in that it provides a clean source of energy and also boosts metabolisms. Brewing a cup or two a day will help calm inflammation puffiness and sooth pain. Green tea is an awesome caffeine switch from coffee in that you won’t experience a caffeine crash a couple hours later, something crucial for any athlete with demanding schedules.
7. Nuts and Seeds
Fat is nothing to be feared when it’s found in nuts and seeds. Different than fats found in sweets, dairy and meat, nuts and seeds contain healthy fats for your body, which are essential for athletes. These healthy fats are rich in Omega 3 fats, often found in fish such as salmon or anchovies. Instead of fish, opt for a handful of walnuts, hemp seeds, or pumpkin seeds. You can also add some nuts and seeds on top of a salad as a garnishment for extra protein, healthy fats, and fiber. Almonds may particularly also help nourish the body when you eliminate dairy as a side benefit.
Non-gmo soy has amazing antioxidant qualities such as isoflavones that fight inflammation, especially for female athletes. These isoflavones act similar to estrogen, and can also be advantageous against fighting cancer, despite the myth that they create a problem around it (which was based off a couple small studies, not a large population). Always, however, choose organic edamame, tofu, tempeh or soymilk over GMO soy based products or soy isolate. For vegans to healthfully eat soy and gain anti-inflammation benefits, it’s important that you choose the proper kinds of soy.
9. Shiitake Mushrooms
Shiitake mushrooms, along with other Asian mushrooms such as maitake and oyster, have huge benefits for the immune system. Especially when cooked, these mushrooms provide necessary nutrients such as Vitamin D to help ward off sickness and prevent inflammation from occurring. Avoid eating commercial mushrooms such as portobello and button as these do not give the same punch but are a good option in a pinch.
Garlic is known for its cold and illness fighting properties. Garlic contains sulfur compounds that boost the immune system to fight against disease. Adding garlic to dishes can not only add rich flavor, but can help lower blood sugar and provide powerful antioxidants to keep inflammation low. Combining garlic with whole grains and plenty of spices will sooth any vegan athletes swollen joints and muscles. If you don’t tolerate grains, stick with root vegetables to ensure you get quality carbs into your diet.
Foods to Avoid
Living pain free from inflammation begins with a balanced diet. When going grocery shopping it’s important to avoid foods with a high sugar and high sodium content, artificial flavorings, along with white and all refined flours. These foods will only allow inflammation to occur, and can eventually lead to serious injury. All processed foods can leave any athlete unsatisfied and ultimately craving more. While many athletes eat meat based products to help inflammation, the antioxidants and anti-inflammation compounds found in vegan, plant-based foods will always help the body perform its best. The simple choices will make the biggest differences.
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