3 Powerful Foods For Athletic Recovery (Other Than Protein)

Putting in performance is fun. Getting to the gym, hitting a run, or even breaking out our yoga mats is the best part. The boring parts like recovery, sleep, and adequate nutrition are much harder. They’re not as fun and take a lot more time. Sleep eight hours? Ain’t no one got time for that. Oh, but we better make time because recovery is essential if we want to keep performing our best day-to-day.

Kale with a dash of Curcumin (from Curry Powder)

So how do we do that? While there are a number of different factors involved (sleep, workload, mental stress, nutrition), let’s focus one rarely discussed but very important factor: inflammation.

Inflammation is basically our immune system’s response to stimulus like muscle tear from exercise, a paper cut, etc. It’s how our bodies begin the repair process by limiting activity (stiffness) and preventing infections from bacteria and viruses. Without it, we’d never recover from an injury.

However, it can often hurt more than help. It’s been linked to diabetes, obesity, arthritis, and even limitations in athletic performance and range of motion. Ever feel like your knees are a little sore after a run? That’s inflammation.

Taking care to reduce unnecessary amounts of inflammation can greatly help recovery and improve day-to-day athletic output. Thankfully, there’s a few ways that nature helps us do just that.


Ginger, like meditation, has been used in Asian cultures for thousands of years for its healing properties. Only recently has it been put to the test of grounded research and has been shown to be a powerful anti-inflammatory agent. Roberta Lee, MD, and vice chair of the Department of Integrative Medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in NYC writes, “Ginger has anti-inflammatory, anti-ulcer, and antioxidant activities as well as a small amount of analgesic property.” And she’s right. One study showed that after consuming 2 grams of ginger per day, for 11 days, participants experienced significant decreases in muscle pain, hip, and knee pain while exercising. Another showed that runners found improvements in cytokine levels (hormone-like proteins that enhance anti-inflammatory responses) after ginger supplementation. Both studies are relatively recent but show promising results for the use of ginger to reduce post-exercise joint pain and inflammation.

Curcumin (turmeric)

If you like curry, you’ll like it even more now. If you hate it (like me), you’ll just need to suck it up and stock up on gluten-free naan bread. Curcumin, like ginger, is an incredibly powerful anti-inflammatory agent and is commonly used by arthritis patients to lessen their pain, often to a large degree. More importantly, it’s not just for those suffering from arthritis. Research has shown that four days of curcumin consumption (200 mg) reduced delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS for you bros out there) by attenuating damage from oxidative stress (AKA lots of exercise). We’ve also seen curcumin supplementation correlated to reduced mental and psychological stress in athletes performing 2 hours of endurance cycling — although pure performance did not differ significantly from the control. That being said, it’s hard to consume enough amounts of curcumin through foods without using supplementation so keep that in mind before loading up on turmeric!


Yeah, yeah, omega-3s, fish oil, good for you, blah blah blah. I’m sure you’ve heard it over and over again but there’s a reason why you’ve heard it over and over again. Long story short, omega-3s are amazing for you — especially if you’re looking to increase your athletic performance. Not only does it reduce inflammation, increase energy utilization from fat, decrease DOMS (muscle soreness), increase rate of recovery, and lower the risk for infection due to deficiencies in your immune system, it’s also been shown to increase the rate of muscle protein synthesis and improve range of motion 48 hours after eccentric exercise. And out of all the three ingredients I just mentioned it’s also the easiest to consume, at least I think so but that choice is up to you.

So what do you do now?

Choose one and go with it. It’s the start of 2016 and the worst thing we can do is set too many goals at once. So here’s how you move forward from this article: choose one food and take it everyday for 30 days. Then if you’ve done that successfully you can add more.

To get you started, here are some suggested consumption methods:

Ginger — Boil water and turn off the heat after it starts boiling. Add 2 grams of grated ginger and let steep for 10 minutes. Add honey to taste.

Curcumin — Consume 500–1000mg of curcumin supplementation a day

Omega 3s — Consume 1050–2000mg of omega-3s a day (omega-3s typically make up about 300mg of a fish oil pill unless you get higher concentrated versions)

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