Anti-inflammatory Nutrition for Endurance Exercise and Overall Health

Many of us, athletes included, have developed some negative habits when it comes to our diet. Specifically in preparation for our workouts, whether that means breakfast or a pre-workout meal mid-day. We’ve been led to believe we need to dominate our caloric intake with carbohydrates to have maximal energy. While many aim to maximize the effectiveness of their workouts and avoid an energy “bonk”, conventional wisdom has it wrong when choosing to load up on carbs prior to a short or long training ride. Instead of focusing on getting enough to eat before you head out for that workout, consider training your body to utilize fuel more efficiently as well as helping your body cleanse itself better on a daily basis. We can do this through eating a diet that not only provides us with enough energy, but is also anti-inflammatory in nature.   
The benefits of eating an anti-inflammatory diet start with lowering your risk of heart disease, cancer, and immune system diseases. The endurance athlete can also stand to benefit their performance by following a few simple rules.  Before you go out for your training ride, eat a small meal (300-400 Calories) that is anti-inflammatory in nature. Ideally, this meal should be consumed approximately 2-3 hours prior to your workout. The idea here is keep the wheel turning towards fat mobilization as opposed to fat storage by eating a lighter meal. Without diving too deep into the physiologic process of inflammation, those in training may have a greater amount of inflammation in their bodies, not only localized in muscle tissue but also in the gastrointestinal tract. Though inflammation is a repair mechanism of the immune system, the inflammation process slows the metabolic processes you will need to be operating at full functionality.
Anti-inflammatory include: Fruits, nuts, leafy greens, healthy fats, as well as alliums and cruciferous vegetables. Many spices such as turmeric, cumin, cayenne, ceylon cinnamon, sage and rosemary also include anti-inflammatory properties as well. Consider foods that are not calorically dense, but rather nutrient dense. In conjunction with eating a low inflammation diet, it is also important to eat enough fiber to aid in digestion and complement the anti-inflammatory process.
Some quick and easy anti-inflammatory breakfast ideas:

  1. Whole grain oats, walnuts, blueberries, with ceylon cinnamon and 1 T Honey or pure maple syrup.
  2. 2 cups of fruit and 1 cup of veggies- Cherries, strawberries, and peaches (all having numerous benefits to health as well as aiding exercise performance). Lightly sauteed onions, garlic, and red peppers.
  3. A fruit and greens smoothie including: Pineapple juice, spinach, kiwi, and avocado!
  4. Hint: Add a protein source to any of the above.

Just as a vehicle needs its’ oil changed to reduce friction in the engine.  The body functions better when you provide it with anti-inflammatory foods. Inflammation = friction. Eating provides you with energy, but being mindful of the quality of food you eat will help you keep our body systems operating to full effectiveness. Focusing on quality over quantity; nutrition vs. calories, encourage complete digestion, reducing excess inflammation, and in turn will help your body absorb nutrients more readily. Above all, an anti-inflammatory diet will help you get the most out of your workouts, improve overall health, and lead to more effective training while doing less damage to your internal structure. It may even improve and speed up the recovery process!

About the Author: Grant Harrison grew up competing in a variety of sports including college football, competitive soccer and hockey. Since then things have switched all things cycling- in multiple disciplines to boot. His extensive Master’s education in Human Performance gives him a solid background in all things athlete-related. He’s focused on the delicate balance between pyschological skills, coaching, nutrition, and athlete performance. In addition to coaching services, he also offers one-on-one nutrition consultations. Learn more about Grant or sign up for a nutrition consultation with him or email him at