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The Anti-Inflammatory Keto Reset, Week 3: Athletic Performance

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Welcome to week 3, part 2 of the Keto Reset! Today is all about how reducing inflammation with the foods we eat can help make you a better athlete. And we’re not just talking about pro athletes out there crushing Ironman races. Anyone who exercises regularly can reap the same benefits of lowering inflammation for better performance and quicker recovery. So let’s get into it. 

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Fueling efficiently for exercise

Eating an anti-inflammatory diet will make you stronger and faster

Overall, “If you have less inflammation, you’ll have more energy, your output will be increased and your performance will increase,” says functional medicine expert Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, DC, author of The Inflammation Spectrum. “You’ll actually have more energy to work out. You’ll have more to give, because you have this resilience capacity to put more into the workout and get more out of it.” 

On a more granular level, if you have chronic inflammation in one part of your body, such as your ankle or knee, “that part of your body is most probably compromised,” meaning it likely has some underlying pathology, explains physical therapist David Gershkovich, DPT, founder of Riser Physical Medicine in New York City. Once you manage that problem and eliminate the chronic inflammation, you’re able to perform better.

Once you tame the inflammation in that spot, an athlete “could probably move through various ranges of motion, and perform the various activities of their sports from a mobility perspective, with less restriction,” Gershkovich says. “And I would also argue that they’d probably have a quicker loop firing to those muscles and those muscles working on those joints without any inflammatory disruption in the way. If you manage the inflammation throughout your body, you’ll be able to run better and perform spinning better and do Pilates better and play basketball better and all that,” he adds.

Plus, research suggests that chronic inflammation may be  associated with less muscle mass and strength, the opposite of what we need to improve at athletic pursuits.

You’ll also recover more efficiently

“An athlete who is utilizing recovery methods to manage inflammation – such as nutrition, ice, compression, rest, or light mobility work – will recuperate more efficiently hence allowing them to perform better,” Gershkovich says. “If athletes overtrain and don’t manage their stress, inflammation, and allow optimal recovery time, this could lead to injury.”

Exercise is effective in part because it elicits an inflammatory response but an acute one, not the damaging chronic type. Microtears in your muscles from the exertion of a hard workout cause the area to become temporarily inflamed as the body repairs itself while you rest. That’s what causes you to feel the not-unpleasant sore sensation after trying a new type of movement, lifting heavier weight, or however you challenge yourself.

When you recover more strategically, you avoid chronic inflammation, and you both perform better at your next workout and avoid injuries that can set you back.

“Recovery afterwards is just exponentially improved when you have lowered inflammation levels,” Cole says, “so your body will rebound out of it faster.”

As you’ve learned over the past few weeks on the Anti-Inflammatory Keto Reset is there are many strategies for reducing inflammation, and probably the most effective is to eat an anti-inflammatory diet.

What we eat (or not eat) has a profound effect on inflammation. To reduce it and maintain low levels of inflammation in the body, “The emphasis is on eating whole, minimally processed foods and avoiding excess amounts of added sugar, refined grains, trans fats, and hydrogenated oils,” says Angie Asche, MS, RD, CSSD, founder of Eleat Sports Nutrition and author of Fuel Your Body. Emphasize “foods such as avocados, cold-water fish containing omega-3 fatty acids, berries, beets, citrus fruits, cherries, leafy greens, vegetables, nuts and seeds, to name a few.”

Making this effort can be truly impactful for performance and recovery, Asche notes. “Making nutrition a top priority helps [my clients] to overall feel better in their practices and competitions,” she says. “I especially notice a difference in my athletes that are older or at the professional level, they comment about improvements to their joints, energy levels and they feel they can recover quicker after intense workouts.”

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Metabolic flexibility for athletes

Watch this video to learn more about metabolic flexibility for athletic performance and how to strike the right balance.

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Cooking demo

Now let’s eat! Your challenge host Chef Seamus Mullen has developed this anti-inflammatory Grilled Lamb Lettuce Cups with Salsa Verde & Labneh to support your athletic pursuits. Enjoy!

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