Chronic Inflammation: 10 Ways to Combat It & Why It’s Limiting Your Potential

Inflammation is not always the enemy! In fact, it’s necessary.

Inflammation in our body takes place on a local level whenever you get a cut or break down your muscle fibers after a long training session.  It helps your body fight infection and clear away damaged tissue.

That process is known as acute inflammation and it’s vital for your body’s repair. Acute inflammation is something that you want to aid (post-workout shakes) not stop– NSAIDs/icing post-workout can halt the necessarily swelling needed for muscle building effects.

But chronic inflammation is a whole different (and serious) issue. It’s becoming more common for athletes to be chronically inflamed as more people are overtraining, under-eating and under constant stress.

A lot of us are literally walking around in a swollen state, always inflamed because our bodies fail to shut off this trigger. Or —perhaps even more alarming— our bodies are accustomed to being so inflamed that we don’t even need a trigger to be releasing all these chemicals, meaning we’re in non-stop fight-mode.

Beyond the gym—where inflammation will hinder muscle growth and repair, elevate injury risk and leave you feeling depleted— chronic inflammation is no joke. It’s linked to tons of diseases, hormonal issues and what you see in food sensitives and allergies.

In extreme cases, all these chemicals your body is releasing to fight inflammation may turn on the body itself, which is where auto-immune diseases derive.

So what to do to combat chronic inflammation? Here are 10 natural ways to help lower inflammation and improve your health and performance.

Get Your Gut Health in Check

Hippocrates, the father of modern medicine, said “all disease begins in the gut.” And it’s becoming increasingly evident that a large portion of inflammation can be traced directly to that area.

Common leaky gut symptoms include food sensitivities, digestive issues, autoimmune disease, thyroid dysfunction, nutrient malabsorption, inflammatory skin conditions and brain-related issues such as depression and autism.

Long overlooked, gut health is getting trendy with the explosion of probiotics and fermented foods like kombucha.  Like anything else, start small when you add these into your diet.

Eliminate inflammatory foods first. Processed meats, alcohol, refined sugar and seed oils (canola, sunflower, grapeseed and vegetable oil) are high in omega 6s that your gut will not appreciate. We will be getting more in-depth on this topic soon, but, for now, focus on eliminating the inflammatory response and adding in fermented foods like this sauerkraut that we love.

Prioritize Recovery

You may have to rest more. If your body is in a constant state of chronic inflammation, overtraining may be at play. Just because you’re not an elite athlete doesn’t mean you can’t overtrain. If you have low energy levels, chronic DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), mood swings or stalled progress, try to scale back your workout’s intensity and duration for a few weeks.

Keep your food intake more or less the same (this is key, as we don’t want you to cause more stress to your system by starving yourself) and see how you feel.

Any  good program whether it’s CrossFit, powerlifting, weightlifting, etc. should have deload periods. You can’t continually crush your body day after day without ramifications, whether it’s injury, inflammation or stalled performance. That’s why sometimes the smartest thing you can do to improve is do less.

Throw in another active recovery day, or focus on slowing down and moving for quality and not weight or time domains. The smart athletes are already doing this and that is why they improve!

Relax Daily

Easier said than done but it’s so, so important. It doesn’t have to be long or expensive. Take a walk at lunch. Meditate for five minutes. Take a bath or read for 15 minutes instead of mindlessly scrolling through social media.

Fish Oil

Omega 3s are critical and most of us aren’t getting near enough from our diet. That’s where fish oil comes in. There’s been more than 20,000 studies on omega-3 fatty acids and one of the biggest things that Omega 3’s from fish oil can do is reduce the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the body.

That’s an important biomarker for chronic inflammation. Fish oil has also been linked to brain health and reduced joint discomfort. Don’t skimp on quality either- buy a high-quality supplement like this one with high EPA and DHA levels.

Hypertrophy has huge benefits for injury prevention, muscle growth and aesthetics.

More Strength Training, Less HIIT

Your body can only deal with so much stress at once, whether it’s from work, no sleep, or your workouts. Overdoing high-intensity workouts —like CrossFit— will flood your body with high levels of cortisol and those levels will have no choice but to stay elevated if you’re never giving yourself a break.

The combination of too much HIIT (high-intensity interval training) with other stressors (trying to lose weight, not recovering, not sleeping, etc.) can be a recipe for disaster when it comes to regulating inflammation. (Give this a read for more info.)

To start to fix it, sub out the day’s CrossFit class and instead just do strength training. Work in some accessory-only days. Bodybuilding is NOT your enemy if you’re a strength athlete or a CrossFit athlete. (Honest.)

If you absolutely can’t miss a fifth consecutive day of CrossFit, find a way to destress the rest of your life so your workout will actually be beneficial. Otherwise you’re constantly stressing an already stressed out system (your own body).

CBD Oil

We’ve talked at length about the wonders of CBD oil and early research is very, very encouraging.

Inflammation regulation is just one of the benefits of CBD. No, you won’t get high. And it’s perfectly legal to take it. There’s a strong push in pro sports (i.e. the NFL) for athletes to be able to take CBD because of the neurological health benefits, anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties.

Adaptogens

Adaptogens are substances that improve the body’s biological response to stress and are often a key component in traditional Chinese and Eastern medicine.

Popular adaptogenic roots include ginseng, ashwagandha, and licorice. Holy basil and rhodiola are also common. As they are all-natural, adaptogens have very few -if any- side effects in helping balancing your body.

Adaptogens can also be used for resistance to fatigue during heavy training periods. Personally, both of us have been using ashwagandha for adrenal regulation as studies have shown it improves your body’s stress response and helps with muscle damage.

Caffeine Curfew

No, this isn’t about giving up that cup of coffee. (We aren’t crazy. 🙂) But pulling back on excessive stimulants can help regulate your sleep cycle and keep your hormones balanced.

If you work a regular daytime job, consider enacting a caffeine curfew, nothing after 3 p.m. and see how you feel. Did you sleep better? Felt less anxious and jittery later in the day?

Caffeine has benefits for athletes, but downing pre-workout at 7 p.m. may not be the best long-term approach. Kicking caffeine at night can be hard, so if you have to phase off by doing something with a lighter dose for a few weeks, start there and slowly wean down. And if you’re a coffee drinker, beware of the type you are drinking.

Like food, you want to buy high-quality; look for brands that are organic or certified fair-trade if possible.

Micronutrients

As more and more athletes become obsessed with their macronutrients, micronutrients take a backseat. Do you know how much fiber you’re ingesting? Do you have a threshold of daily sugar?

Food quality is incredibly important in managing inflammation. Aim to consume about 30 grams of fiber a day. If you can afford it, grass fed meat is worth the splurge.

The best way to fight inflammation is through your diet. Whether you’re someone who is a macro tracker or generally just tries to eat healthy, start prioritizing the quality of what you’re putting on your plate.

Local farmer markets, speciality grocery stores and meal services like Trifecta Nutrition are making it easier than ever to get high-quality food that isn’t insanely expensive.

Sleep More

We’ve preached the benefits of sleep quite a bit. You’ve probably heard/seen/been lectured about needing more rest. It can seem impossible, but there are ways to maximize the sleep you do get.

Just a few small adjustments to your bedtime routine (like taking CBD oil or drinking magnesium) can also have a profound impact on your rest. Read more on sleep here and here.