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Anti-inflammatory foods work to quell inflammation, repair muscle, and heal the body
Turmeric, pineapple, papaya, cherries, blueberries, and chocolate…what do they all have in common? They all provide powerful antioxidants, enzymes, and other compounds that help ease inflammation and muscle pain, and contain incredible healing properties.
Contrary to what your high school gym teacher may have told you, muscle soreness is not from lactic acid buildup in your muscles. “Recent research indicates that lactic acid is a fuel, not a toxic by-product of exercise,” says Jack Challem, author of No More Fatigue (Wiley, 2011). “Muscle soreness is actually the result of micro-tears in muscle tissue. It can be reduced by natural antioxidants, whether they are blueberries, pineapple, or other fruits, or by antioxidant supplements.”
Here are some of the best natural anti-inflammatories:
Berries including cranberries, raspberries, and blackberries contain high amounts of antioxidants. Berries contain polyphenols, antioxidants which protect cells from free radical damage. Antioxidants are responsible for neutralizing free radicals, which can cause inflammation.
A study published in Molecular Nutrition & Food Research shows blueberries in particular may protect muscles from exercise damage. Researchers from the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research found that blueberry extract protected muscle and concluded that blueberries may be beneficial in alleviating muscle damage caused by oxidative stress induced by exercise.
Research from the University of Burlington shows cherries help reduce inflammation, delay the onset of muscle soreness, and speed up the recovery process after working out. Cherries are high in quercetin, an antioxidant that provides cell protection, as well as an anti-inflammatory phytochemical called anthocyanin. In another study, University of Vermont researchers writing in the British Journal of Sports Medicine reported that 12 ounces of a tart cherry juice blend noticeably decreased the symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage, primarily strength loss and pain. Note: Try cherry concentrate out of season.
Great news, chocolate lovers. Cocoa can help prevent muscle soreness. A study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found a decrease in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) when study subjects drank a cocoa-based protein and carbohydrate drink after exercise. Researchers speculate that antioxidants in cocoa called flavanols could account for the findings.
Pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, widely available in supplement form, which is responsible for digesting protein, and reduces inflammation as well as joint pain. The bromelain enzyme speeds muscle repair by actually “digesting” damaged tissue. When you overwork a muscle enough to cause pain, strands of muscle fiber detach from the muscle. These “waste products” cause pain and inflammation.
Bromelain eliminates these bits of muscle, speeding recovery from pain, stiffness, and bruising. In a study of 146 boxers, half of the athletes took bromelain four times a day, while half took a placebo. In 58 of the boxers who took bromelain, all signs of bruising disappeared in four days. In the placebo group, only 10 healed completely in four days.
See Recipe: Macadamia Pineapple Curry
Turmeric contains a chemical called curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant that fights inflammation and soreness, promotes muscle recovery, and combats joint pain. A study published in Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry showed that turmeric along with capsaicin (from red pepper) lowered inflammation, and other research has demonstrated decreased joint pain.
The gingerols in ginger act as potent anti-inflammatories that can reduce swelling and inflammation. It is believed that these gingerols are the reason why people see relief from rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. In a recent double blind, crossover study, those given ginger experienced significantly less pain than those in the control group.