Inflammation and nutrition of an athlete

by | Feb 4, 2022

When an athlete begins training, inflammation occurs. Our bodies are great at suppressing the inflammation so we don’t even know it’s an issue, until it is. Think of it this way, athletes have a pro-inflammatory state long before an injury occurs. Inflammation has been liked to several serious health issues such as cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, and diabetes. Current research also suggest that chronic inflammation is most likely driven by faulty nutrition. When looking at this further, inflammation relates to fatty acids, certain minerals, antioxidants, and bioflavonoids. Long before an athlete feels anything, our bodies are doing everything they can to prevent pain. When it can no longer keep up an athlete can experience pain, spasms, edema, and delays in healing from an athletic event. This can lead to chronic adverse tissue changes. There are plenty of inflammatory markers so we won’t dive into each one but the take home message is athletes can EAT themselves into an inflamed and painful state!

Most athletes are just average Americans which means they eat like the average American. What this means is they are eating less than the three daily servings of vegetables and 2 servings of fruit. It’s important for an athlete of any level to understand how important nutrition is for their performance but also their recovery. One of the pro-inflammatory mediators is Omega-6 fatty acids. These are found in grains and most seed oils. Omega-3’s on the other hand are converted into anti-inflammatory markers. These are found in fish, flaxseed oil, and green vegetables. A diet filled with processed carbohydrates and fried foods can greatly increase inflammation in the body while eating a less processed diet and eating several servings of vegetables can greatly reduce inflammation. Research has indicated that excessive intake of Omega-6’s, an acidic body pH (think about drinking lots of carbonated beverages), low antioxidant status, reduced potassium intake, and hyperinsulinemia greatly increase the inflammatory potential.

Now that we have some understanding on what causes inflammation and what reduces it, how can we EAT our way to a less inflamed state? In general, each sport will require different amounts of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, as well as other nutrients.  A great general rule, or starting point, for any athlete should be to consume fresh fish, not farm raised in most cases. Eggs are a great source of Omega-3’s and grass-fed animal products are highly recommended. Another recommendation that I make to my patients is if you’re eating a cup of fruit eat a cup of vegetables as well during the same meal to help offset the sugars in the fruit as to not spike insulin. The ideal meal that you can’t really go wrong with is having half your plate filled with a variety of colorful vegetables, a quarter of the plate is filled with protein, and the other quarter is good carbohydrates like quinoa/sweet potatoes and fats.

It’s important for an athlete to remember to feed the skeletal system so that it can perform all the tasks that the athlete will require it to do. Poor nutrition will lead to poor performance and even pain. Head to your local sports chiropractor or sports nutritionist to find how you can boost your performance and enhance your recovery.


Hyde, T. E., & Gengenbach, M. S. (2007). Conservative management of sports injuries. Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Seaman DR. The diet-induced proinflammatory sate: a cause of chronic pain and other degenerative conditions? J Manip Physiol Ther. 2002;25:168-179

Craig W. Phytochemicals: guardians of our health. J Am Diet Assoc. 1997:97(Suppl 2):S199-S204

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