Whether it is a tough day at the gym or a simple walk in the park, joint pain is common among athletes and the general adult population. Chronic inflammation is a common symptom of joint pain. This is especially true among athletes who exercise frequently and extremely. However, it can also occur in people who are stressed and those who eat a lot of pro-inflammatory foods.
While athletes often focus on muscular recovery, they may also need to consider nutrition for their joint health.
Athletes often break ligaments, experience joint fractures, and have bruised cartilage because of their passion for sports. Ligament and bone injury can affect how joints function, particularly in overused areas such as the knees or wrists.
Repetitive movements in sports can lead to physical stress and erosion of cartilage. Throughout the years, this erosion will cause inflammation and pain.
Athletes who have sustained injuries during their sport may be more susceptible to arthritis and joint pain later in life.
The British Journal of Sports Medicine published a study that found professional soccer players were 10 times more likely to develop hip arthritis in later life than the average person, even though they had never been in an injury. The pain usually subsides within several years of retiring from soccer, although some ex-players may need hip replacement surgery as early as their 40s.
Luckily, there are many ways to support your muscles and joints as early as now! In fact, people suffering from inflammation and joint pain experience a reduction in their symptoms by reducing certain foods and drinks. This likewise improves their quality of life.
Best Foods for Joint Pain
Turmeric is an excellent spice that can help relieve joint pain. Turmeric is rich in antioxidants. Its active ingredient, 'curcumin, works at a cellular level to reduce inflammation and other processes like detoxifying the liver. You can add the root to many dishes, including smoothies, stir-fries, and sauces. Eating or drinking turmeric with pepper will help ensure maximum absorption.
2. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
A healthy diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids is associated with many benefits, including improved cardiovascular health, brain function, and a reduction in inflammation. Studies on athletes have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may help improve joint health and performance by inhibiting inflammation.
Omega-3-rich foods include salmon, mackerel, chia seeds, walnuts, and flaxseeds. While a minimum of 4 oz of cold-water fish twice per week is considered sufficient, this study among NCAA Division I athletes proves otherwise. It is good to eat healthy omega-3 fatty acid sources, but supplementation may still be helpful.
3. Matcha Green Tea
Matcha is a bright-green powder you have probably seen mixed into tea, lattes, or baked into cookies. It's simply a version of powdered green tea but contains more EGCG or epigallocatechin-3-gallate, a powerful antioxidant.
EGCG is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and can protect cartilage and bones. You can get matcha at specialty shops or online, but if you don't have the time or desire to try it, go for plain green tea. It's still a great source for EGCG.
4. Tart Cherry Juice
The anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory polyphenols in tart cherries and Bing cherries may help to support joint health. Tart cherry juice is good for muscle soreness. Studies show that tart cherry juice can reduce joint pain caused by competition or athletic training. Although there is no standard for the amount of tart cherry juice that athletes should consume, studies show an improvement in joint pain when they consume 8 oz twice daily.
Collagen is responsible for the structure of our ligaments and tendons. Research has shown that supplementation can improve joint health and increase collagen production. One study examined supplementation and recovery in athletes and found that collagen supplementation may improve joint health and reduce osteoarthritis symptoms.
You can add two scoops of collagen (40g) to your smoothies, yogurt, or juice every day. For athletes, experts recommend NSF-certified products.
6. Cruciferous Vegetables
Cruciferous veggies are best to combat inflammation. This includes Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, and kale. They all contain antioxidants and the specific compound "sulforaphane," which blocks an enzyme responsible for inflammatory pain.
7. Vitamin C
Many fruits and veggies have high levels of vitamin C or ascorbic acid. This vitamin is necessary for the production of collagen, the most abundant protein in the body. It also provides structure and helps build tendons and ligaments. Adequate vitamin C intake is important for your overall health. There has been some research linking vitamin C intake to soft tissue healing, particularly in those who have suffered from joint-related injuries. A meta-analysis of the effects of exercise on stress revealed that Vitamin C helps reduce oxidative stress levels and inflammation.
Bell peppers, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, papaya, and oranges are all rich in vitamin C. Research shows that vegetables can also be beneficial for joint health. This is due to their phytochemical and anti-inflammatory properties.
What Not to Eat to Prevent Joint Pain
1. Added Sugars
Sugar intake should be limited, no matter what. This is especially true if you have diabetes. Added sugars are high in candies, soda, ice cream, and many other foods, including barbecue sauce.
Although there are not many studies on athletes' joint pain and excessive sugar intake, research shows that adults have more inflammation and suffer from joint pain.
A study involving 217 patients with rheumatoid arthritis found that sugar-sweetened sodas, desserts, and cakes were the most common causes of RA symptoms.
Sugary drinks like soda can increase your risk of developing arthritis.
A study involving 1,209 adults between 20 and 30, also found that people who drank fructose-sweetened beverages at least 5 times per week were 3 times more likely to get arthritis.
2. Red Meats
Research suggests that inflammation from red and processed meats can increase the severity of joint pain.
Red and processed meats have high levels of inflammatory markers such as interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and homocysteine.
High levels of red meat consumption may increase the risk of developing inflammatory arthritis.
3. Excessive Omega-6 Fatty Acids
High intakes of omega-6 fatty acids can cause inflammation. While omega-6s are essential in our diet because they help with inflammation, an excessive amount can alter the optimal omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids ratio.
Research shows that a higher intake of omega-6 and a lower intake of omega-3 may lead to osteoarthritis and joint discomfort. Refined vegetable and seed oils contain high levels of omega-6 fatty acids.
4. Gluten, Casein & Nightshades
There is varying evidence regarding the effects of gluten, casein, and nightshades on inflammation. However, the main point is that our bodies can be sensitive to certain foods or proteins within foods. Many people have identified gluten in common grains like wheat, spelt, and rye as triggers. There is also casein in dairy products and nightshades in eggplants, goji berries, tomatoes, and peppers. It is important to pay close attention to how your body functions to reduce joint pain.
Alcohol consumption can trigger inflammation. Research has shown that an excessive intake of alcohol, >1 drink per day for women and >2 for men, can increase the body's inflammatory marker C-reactive protein (CRP).High levels of CRP are linked to increased joint pain.
The good thing about making these simple dietary changes is that it will not just improve your joint health but also your sleep, skin, digestion, as well as your overall performance and recovery.
On top of this, you may also find it helpful to use compression boots or do sports massage to help align your muscles and joints and have a better range of motion and flexibility.