Expert Advice

The 5 Best & Worst Foods for Athletes’ Joint Health


Is it really true when they say “no pain, no gain”? Maybe when you’re talking about challenging your muscles to their limits during a workout. But, one thing is for sure and it’s that you shouldn’t be pushing through pain when it comes to your joints. Joint health and inflammation is something that athletes ought to know about. If you feel pain (unrelated to your training) you need to understand why it’s happening and much more importantly, what you can do about it!

The underlying cause for joint pain is inflammation — a response to a cellular injury that is marked by redness, swelling, heat and pain. Inflammation can cause joint pain and stiffness, and may also result in loss of function. In athletes, joint pain can arise from many factors including past injuries, torn muscles or flare ups of old conditions like tendonitis and bursitis. Being over 40, a woman, or overweight also plays into increasing the risk factors for joint pain.

As unpleasant as joint pain can be, it’s helpful to know that your diet plays a huge role in whether or not the body experiences inflammation. There are several foods that dial up the inflammatory response as well as several that dial it down. Read on to learn the top 5 things to eat and avoid if you want to get your joints in the best shape possible to help you to reach your training goals.

Best 5 Foods to Eat:

1. Turmeric

Turmeric is a wonderful spice to help with joint pain. It’s naturally high in antioxidants and it’s active ingredient ‘curcumin’ works on a cellular level to reduce inflammation amongst other processes such as detoxifying the liver. The root can be used in multiple ways (added to smoothies, stir fries, sauces, teas etc.) but it should be paired with a fat or some black pepper to ensure highest absorption.

2. Fatty Fish

The best sources of inflammation fighting fish include those fish naturally high in Omega-3 fats: salmon, mackerel, herring and sardines. If you’re not getting the minimum of 1-2 servings a week however, it’s a good idea to consider a high quality supplement (like Progressive OmegEssential) to ensure that you’re meeting your needs.

3. Fruits

The best fruits for fighting inflammation include: strawberries, blueberries, oranges and cherries which are all very high in antioxidants. Tart cherry juice in a concentrated form may be specifically helpful for joint pain.

4. Cruciferous Vegetables

The best veggies for fighting inflammation are part of the cruciferous veggie family which includes: broccoli, cauliflower, kale and brussel sprouts. They are all very high in antioxidants and contain the specific compound ‘sulforaphane’ which blocks and enzyme associated with the inflammatory pain.

5. Nuts & Seeds

Along with several vitamins and minerals, nuts and seeds often contain alpha linoleic acid (ALA), a type of Omega 3 fatty acid that helps to reduce inflammation. Walnuts, almonds, pecans, flax seeds and hemp hearts are just a few to include – variety is best when it comes to nuts and seeds.

Worst 5 Foods to Eat:

1. Sugar

Sugar goes by many names so it’s always important to be on the watch for it (ending in ‘ose’ is likely a form of sugar). It triggers messengers called ‘cytokines’ which cause an inflammatory response in the body.

2. Alcohol

Alcohol taxes the systems in the body including the gut and the liver. It’s best in moderation which generally means 1 drink for women and 2 for men. Steering clear of sugary drinks is also a key factor here.

3. Unhealthy Fats

Healthy fats are absolutely critical as part of a healthy diet, but including trans fats (or ‘partially hydrogenated’ fats) and too many animal products high in saturated fats are directly related to inflammation. Avoiding processed foods like cookies, pastries, crackers etc. along with minimizing saturated fats is important. Yet, ensuring healthy fats from sources such as fish, nuts, seeds is equally as important.

4. Refined Carbs

Refined carbs mostly include over processed grains that have been stripped of their nutrients. High glycemic foods like breads, pastas, rice, cereals, cookies and crackers are often the refined starches that stimulate inflammation through a process known as advanced glycation end (AGE).

5. Gluten, Casein & Nightshades

Varying evidence exists for gluten, casein and nightshades in terms of exacerbating inflammation, but the point here is that if the body is sensitive to a certain food or protein found within a food, it’s important to note. Gluten found in the common grains (wheat, spelt, barley, rye, bulgar), casein found in dairy products and nightshades which include (tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, peppers, goji berries) have all been known triggers for many people. Paying attention to your own body and how it works is critical to reducing joint pain.

The best part of making these dietary tweaks is that not only will you improve the health of your joints, but by adding in so many nutrients and removing inflammatory foods you’ll definitely begin to notice the effects in other areas of your health including your sleep, skin, digestion and no doubt your performance and recovery too!

Aside from the ever important Omega 3, we’ve mostly talked about diet here. But if you have more questions about what supplements can help with your joints the good news is there are lots! Come visit us in store, or hit us up on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. We are #ReflexNation.

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