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Inflammation and Performance, Part II

By Bob Seebohar

This article is part two in a series on inflammation and how your diet can make a difference. You can read part one here. 

Inflammation and Food
Part of the understanding of the interaction of food and inflammation begins from what you already know: too much LDL cholesterol (the lousy cholesterol) can negatively affect health.  Too much of this cholesterol can cause the cascade of inflammatory events and the oxidation of LDL is of particular concern in this inflammatory process.  Therefore, it would make sense to control this as much as possible by reducing LDL cholesterol through choosing the correct foods.

As mentioned previously, you can use certain fats to increase or decrease inflammation.   There are a host of other food that also contribute, either positively or negatively, to the inflammation process.  In no specific order, a brief list of foods that can produce a pro-inflammatory response include:

  • Refined starches and sugars (white bread, cereals, candy, soft drinks, pastries, etc.)
  • Sweets (cakes, cookies, pies, etc.)
  • Fried foods (high in saturated and trans fats)
  • Processed meats (sausage, pepperoni, lunch meats)

On a more optimistic note, here are some top food choices that have good anti-inflammatory properties and should be included in your daily nutrition plan:

  • Olive oil
  • Turmeric spice
  • Pineapple

Close runners-up on beneficial anti-inflammatory foods also include:

  • Fresh fruits (especially berries)
  • Fresh vegetables (spinach, broccoli, carrots)
  • Pumpkin seeds
  • Wild salmon
  • Flax products (ground flax is preferred over whole flax seeds)
  • Grass fed game meat (bison, venison, etc.)
  • Whole grains
  • Almonds
  • Green tea

When it comes to inflammation and foods, the information can be a bit confusing and be contradictory from time to time.  Luckily, there is a rating system that has been developed and makes choosing anti-inflammatory foods easier.  This system is called the Inflammation Factor RatingTM system and provides an inflammation rating number to foods.  While there is not a scale with good and bad ranges, this system at minimum provides runners the ability to choose pro- or anti-inflammatory foods.  This rating system uses information such as sugar, vitamin and mineral, saturated and healthier fat content to determine the inflammation rating.  As you can imagine, processed foods and those with high sugar, saturated and trans fat content top the pro-inflammatory list while foods rich in lean protein, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats and non-refined or processed carbohydrates top the anti-inflammatory list. 

Some of the higher inflammatory foods according to this rating system include the following:

  • Plain bagel
  • Corn flakes
  • Chocolate ice-cream
  • Farm-raised Atlantic Salmon

In contrast, here are a few foods that have a low inflammation factor:

  • Wild Atlantic Salmon
  • Carrots
  • Broccoli
  • Olive oil
  • Raw spinach

It is important to remember that just because a food has a high inflammation factor rating, it does not mean you should not eat it.  Combining foods and producing an overall anti-inflammatory score is the key in meal preparation.

Here is a sample day in the anti-inflammatory eating "zone":

Breakfast - Fresh berries with skim milk, ice and a small sprinkle of olive oil blended to make a smoothie

Lunch - Broccoli and ginger salad with almonds, lemon zest, garlic, olive oil

Dinner - Wild salmon, broccoli flavored with turmeric spice and drizzled with olive oil

Snack - Handful of almonds

This rating system is not an extensive list by any means but there is an online resource where runners can go to look up the inflammation factor of foods.  The Nutrition Data website (www.nutritiondata.com) has begun to adopt the Inflammation Factor RatingTM system to make it easier to choose foods based on their inflammation "score".

Supplementation
For athletes, the easy take-home message is to try introduce more omega-3 fats, from fish in particular, in the diet to offset the amount of AA being produced along with reducing the use of vegetable oils and processed foods.  However, because the list of these beneficial fats is not large and the scare of having too much mercury from fish in the body is great, runners often turn to supplementation, specifically using fish oil supplements.

This is one of the most popular supplements on the market and for good reason from both a health and performance standpoint.  Much of the research done on this supplement has been in the cardiovascular disease area but because inflammation normally seen throughout the entire body, use of fish oil supplements can greatly benefit runners.  Normal dosing of these supplements ranges from 3-10 grams per day for cardioprotective and performance benefits and 1-2 grams per day for those not needing higher doses for any cardiovascular issues.  Of course, it is recommended to always consult with your physician and registered dietitian before beginning a fish oil supplementation program as there is concern of a decreased blood clotting response in the body when taking high amounts for a long period of time.

Conclusion

Too much inflammation has a negative effect on health and performance. If left alone, chronic inflammation can have a significant impact on your training status.  Luckily, adjusting daily nutrition habits is one of the easiest methods of controlling inflammation and by simply shifting certain foods in and out of your daily diet, you can begin to control your body's inflammatory response and reach your next level of performance.

Bob Seebohar, MS, RD, CSSD, CSCS is a sport dietitian and elite triathlon coach. He traveled to the 2008 Summer Olympics as the U.S. Olympic Committee Sport Dietitian and the personal Sport Dietitian for the 2008 Olympic Triathlon Team. He has served as head coach for Sarah Haskins, 2008 Olympian, was a performance team member (sport dietitian and strength coach) for Susan Williams, 2004 Olympic Triathlon bronze medalist. He is the current coach of Jasmine Oeinck, 2009 Elite National Champion.

Bob's new book, Metabolic Efficiency Training: Teaching the Body to Burn More Fat, will teach athletes how to structure their nutrition and training program throughout the year to maximize their body's ability to use fat as energy and improve body composition.  For more information and to order the book, visit www.fuel4mance.com or contact Bob at coachbob@fuel4mance.com

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