The Top 10 Anti-Inflammatory Foods For Athletes

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Last updated on October 11th, 2023 at 11:45 am

You’re probably already eating a lot of these foods that can help soothe post-workout inflammation.

Inflammation is a nutrition buzzword that gets a bad reputation, but it’s a little bit misunderstood. Almost everyone deals with some sort of inflammation at some point in their life, especially athletes.

Most inflammation that athletes experience is temporary and part of the body’s natural healing process. But, long-term inflammation can have serious health consequences.

Understanding inflammation is the first step in learning how to prevent and treat it and keep yourself healthy for years to come.

Acute versus Chronic Inflammation

Although inflammation has a negative connotation, it’s part of the body’s natural healing process. If you workout for a long period of time and experience joint and muscle pain, the root cause is inflammation. The same thing happens if you cut your hand and experience redness and pain.

During an injury, the body sends white blood cells to the injured location to try and protect against infection and harmful organisms or assist in the healing process. This type of inflammation is known as short-term or acute inflammation.

Acute inflammation is perfectly natural for athletes, and occurs after most strenuous workouts. It may last for an hour, a day, or even a few days.

On the other hand, chronic inflammation is long-term inflammation. It’s cause by an injury that doesn’t heal, an autoimmune disease that attacks that body’s healthy tissues, or unhealthy lifestyle factors, like a poor diet, lack of sleep or too much stress.

Eating certain foods, like an abundance of sugar, saturated fat or refined carbohydrates, triggers the release of cells that cause inflammation. That’s why eating a poor diet, as well as being overweight or obese are linked with chronic inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is associated with a higher risk of developing serious diseases, like heart disease, cancer and Diabetes.

How do athletes reduce inflammation? 

After a long run or a strenuous workout, you may notice some pain or stiffness in certain areas around your body. Training can cause small tears in your muscles, which triggers the release of hormones and chemicals to repair the tissue, resulting in inflammation. 

This type of acute inflammation is necessary for your muscles to adapt to stress and grow stronger. In other words, short-term post-workout inflammation can actually be beneficial for your training. 

The key to preventing injuries is to allow time to heal before putting stress on that muscle again. Don’t skip a rest day or plan two strenuous workouts on back-to-back days.

What foods fight inflammation?

In addition, the foods an athlete eats can either help prevent inflammation or soothe inflammation. Eating foods that contain antioxidants is one of the best ways to protect the body from inflammation.

Certain molecules in the body undergo a process called oxidation, which can cause harm and damage to cells. Antioxidants fight against this oxidation, therefore preventing inflammation.

Luckily, antioxidants are easy to come by in foods. They are abundant in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, healthy fats, and other yummy foods, like dark chocolate, red wine, tea and coffee.

If you’re looking for anti-inflammatory recipes, check out this book by a fellow Registered Dietitian (affiliate link):

The Anti-Inflammatory Diet Meal Prep Cookbook

The 10 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods For Athletes

To reduce inflammation on a daily basis, incorporate these 10 foods into your diet as regularly as possible.

1. Turmeric

The active component in turmeric, known as curcumin, has anti-inflammatory properties. There is new and emerging research about the role of supplemental curcumin in treating arthritis, and the results look promising.

Recipe for Roasted Garlic and Turmeric Hummus. #vegan #healthyside #protein #appetizer #hummus #turmeric #antiinflammatory

For now, I recommend sticking to turmeric in your food. There are many yummy ways to include this spice in your diet, such as in my Turmeric Egg Sandwich, Turmeric Hummus, curries, soups, sprinkled on roasted vegetable or in tea.

2. Avocado

Everyone loves avocados, right? This plant-based healthy fat is full of antioxidants and carotenoids, which help to reduce inflammation. As an added bonus, the high calorie and fat content will keep you full after a workout.

I often start my day off with some smashed avocado on whole grain toast with a sprinkling of seeds. Grab the recipe for my Avocado Toast here.

3. Chia Seeds

Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like chia seeds, is associated with having lower levels of inflammatory markers.

Chia seeds are particularly great because they can be thrown into many recipes, from smoothies to oatmeal. Or try your hand at making chia seed pudding.

4. Broccoli

Apart from many healthful vitamins and minerals, broccoli contains the compound sulforaphane, which may help to reduce inflammation. Not to mention that it’s loaded with heart-healthy fiber and immune boosting Vitamin C.

I often include broccoli in stir-fries and homemade pasta sauces or throw it in a rice bowl.

5. Cherries

In addition to being just downright delicious, cherries also contain anthocyanins, a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients.

It’s not always easy to find fresh cherries, so look for the frozen variety. They are picked when ripe and frozen at the peak of freshness. Use them to whip up these delicious Frozen Yogurt & Cherry Bites. Or if you have fresh cherries on hand, try these Cherry Cacao Energy Balls.

6. Blueberries

The darker the color, the better it is for you. I love all fruits and vegetables, but the ones that pack in the most nutrients in every bite are usually dark in color. Blueberries are no exception. These tiny berries are full of antioxidants, like polyphenols (plant compounds) and Vitamin C.

These No-Bake Blueberry Granola bars feature fresh blueberries and have very little added sugar. With just a few simple ingredients and no oven required, there are the perfect nutritious snack to whip up in the heat of the summer or anytime throughout the year! #nobake #granolabars #blueberrybars #healthysnack #healthygranolabar

You can tell how much I love blueberries by all the recipes I have with them. Here are some of my favorites:

7. Olive oil

Often referred to as the healthiest cooking oil, olive oil is rich in good unsaturated fat. Those types of fat protect from inflammation, especially when they replace unhealthy cooking fats, like butter.

Olive oil is perfect as a finishing oil on top of dips or toasts, and it makes a great addition to dressings and marinades.

8. Walnuts

All nuts are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but walnuts are one of the best sources of this good fat. As you know by now, healthy fats fight against harmful inflammation.

Incorporate walnuts into your breakfast by adding them to your oatmeal or cereal. Or make these Banana Chia Walnut Oat Cups ahead of time to get your dose of inflammation-fighting food.

9. Kale

Dark colors equals antioxidants and kale is the darkest leaf out there. There’s a reason kale is considered a superfood, and it’s because it’s packed with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber. All of that in one inexpensive leaf– sign me up!

Eating raw kale can be a bit tough, so try cooking it and adding it to dishes. But if you’re a kale lover, a big old salad full of this leafy green is a great place to start. Here are some of my favorite kale options:

10. Mushrooms

Mushrooms have high amounts of two antioxidant compounds known as ergothioneine and glutathione. And they have a savory (or umami taste) that isn’t common in many plant foods.

Added mushrooms to your recovery meal with this Freezer Mushroom Breakfast Burrito.


  1. tomatowellness

    Don’t forget tomatoes, too! Especially cooked tomatoes with 2-3x the amount of lycopene!


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I’m Natalie Rizzo, an NYC-based Registered Dietitian.

My mission is to help everyday athletes fuel their fitness with plants.

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