Runners often ask me for a quick list of top nutritional tips. However, my functional medicine background leads me to look at clients holistically and, as a result, strict lists don’t come easily.
But, there’s one piece of advice I have for pretty much anyone -- whether you’re a weekend warrior or an elite athlete. It’s all about developing an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle strategies.
Not sure what inflammation has to do with your running? Simply put, inflammation is one of the body's natural ways of protecting itself. It’s a necessary process to help the body fight infection, improve healing, and generate pain as a signal when something is wrong.
However, inflammation can become overactive and destructive, causing chronic pain or diseases like asthma and cancer. Even if you’re incredibly healthy, refining anti-inflammatory strategies can help support your training, enhance your performance, and reduce your recovery time.
Before I get to the diet tips, I always remind clients to make sure they’re getting adequate rest, minimizing stress and – ideally – getting regular bodywork.
My clients often forget about these factors, when they are just as important as dietary elements. But, food is important too and has a huge effect on inflammatory responses in the body. As Alessio Fasano says, "The gut is not like Vegas; what happens in the gut doesn't stay in the gut!"
With that in mind, here are some of my top tips for developing an anti-inflammatory diet:
1. Regulate (your blood sugar by eating regular, balanced meals, based on the “healthy plate” model).
- Fill half your plate with leafy greens and crunchy vegetables (i.e. broccoli, arugula, brussel sprouts).
- Fill no more than ¼ of your plate with whole grains and/or legumes (i.e. brown rice,
- Fill the last ¼ plate with a lean protein, about the size of your palm (i.e. eggs, fish, edamame)
- To figure out how much water you need a day, take your body weight and divide it in half -- that’s how many fluid ounces you should drink. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, aim to drink approximately 75 fluid ounces of water throughout the day
3. Fiber is your friend.
- Fiber is great for the “good” bacteria in your gut that support solid immune function! And there are so many ways to incorporate it: whole grains, chia seeds, fruits and veggies…
4. Avoid the sweet surrender.
- Ideally, sugar should be less than 10% of your daily caloric intake. This includes sugars found in milks and any processed foods -- not just the sugar you may add to your coffee/tea/cereal etc. This means minimizing consumption of both processed foods and alcohol.
5. Eat healthy fats.
- Incorporating omega-3’s, as well as poly-unsaturated and mono-saturated fats, is a crucial anti-inflammatory strategy. You can find these in foods like oily fish, flaxseeds, walnuts, avocados, almonds, olive oil, and elsewhere.
6. Cook with anti-inflammatory spices.
- I love adding anti-inflammatory value to my meals by using spices that regulate inflammation. Try ginger, rosemary, turmeric, oregano, nutmeg, cayenne, and clove.
7. Identify and eliminate food allergens.
- If you consume a food you’re sensitive to, your body triggers a host of inflammatory reactions. This can backfire, causing swelling, pain, and other physical responses that keep you from performing your best. Take the time to determine your sensitivities; it’s worth it!
8. Honor your preferences
- Keep in mind that it’s more difficult to eat well if you feel deprived by your current eating plan. Use the above tactics to make healthy lifestyle changes instead of trying to stick to any particular type of ‘diet.’
9. Nutrition is not just about food and hydration.
- The last big tip I have is to think broadly about how all the choices you make affect your well-being and capacity to perform. Whether it means changing your sleep or commute patterns, or exploring the ways bodywork can improve your running time, I encourage you to think big!
Still have questions? Please join me for a Q & A at Psoas Massage + Bodywork in San Francisco on February 28th at 5:30pm. Learn more and register here. Hope to see you then!
Karyn Forsyth Duggan is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and Natural Chef. After working as a Nutrition Consultant in private practice for 2 years, Karyn partnered with One Medical in San Francisco from ‘08 through ‘17. She’s now partnering with Psoas Massage + Bodywork – offering consultations to clients to help them optimize the benefits of therapeutic massage, expedite recovery, and enhance athletic performance.