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To excel at sports, it takes hard work and dedication. Right now, recovery is the name of the game. Upgrading your nutrition, improving sleep, and adding targeted supplementation can help to accelerate recovery so you can train hard and compete the next day. At the highest level, elite athletes leave no stone unturned when it comes to improving their performance and recovery.
Whether you’re a professional athlete, looking to achieve a new personal best, or simply getting started with exercise, your nutrition plays a major role in your recovery. When I work with athletes, regardless if they’re a professional basketball or hockey player, I always start with upgrading their diet.
What you eat has the biggest impact on your capacity to recover. That’s why a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods like grass-fed and wild game meats (beef, bison, venison, etc.), cold-water fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, black cod, etc.), seafood (oysters, mussels, scallops, etc.), leafy greens (kale, collards, arugula, etc.), cruciferous veggies (broccoli, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, etc.) and fruit (berries, pineapple, papaya, etc.) should be your foundation.
Once you have your nutrition game dialed in, you can think about adding extra support to accelerate recovery.
The traditional Indian herb turmeric (Curcuma longa) and its active ingredient curcumin is an absolute home run for athletic recovery. It can help on many levels; cooling inflammation, protecting joints, and providing antioxidant support. Let’s take a closer look.
Inflammation is a natural and necessary process that occurs after a hard workout in the gym or a 10k run. It actually triggers the positive adaptations that help your body rebuild and grow stronger. However, there is a fine line. If you start training more intensely or more frequently, the flames of inflammation can burn too hot and damage tissue excessively. This will compromise your recovery, and thus performance in the long run.
Curcumin can help by reducing inflammation via several different mechanisms (i.e. COX-2, LOX, and iNOS enzymes)1. It also inhibits the production of inflammatory cytokines (i.e. TNF-a, interleukins) that make you feel tired, rundown, and achy when you’re pushing your training limits2.
Exercise produces free radicals, like the exhaust that spews out of your car when you drive, damaging surrounding tissues. The more you train, the greater the amount of free radicals you produce. Antioxidants like curcumin quench these free radicals and protect your tissue3. However, just like inflammation, free radical damage post-exercise helps to trigger natural adaptations that support the athletic mantra, “bigger, faster, stronger”. For this reason, you don’t want to take antioxidant and anti-inflammatory supplements directly after training.
Wear and tear on your joints is a reality of intense exercise. If you’re young, you likely don’t feel the effects yet, but supporting healthy joint repair via an anti-inflammatory diet is still very important. As you get older, sore and achy joints can be a major roadblock to success. Curcumin supplementation has been shown to decrease a specific marker for joint degradation, as well as reducing systemic inflammation4. If you want to compete and be active into your senior years, taking care of your joints should be a top priority.
Herbal supplements that cool inflammation and provide antioxidant support should NOT be taken directly after exercise. Ideally, you should wait at least 3 hours after training.
Curcumin can otherwise be taken before bed or first thing in the morning away from food.
Look for products that contain black pepper, as it has been shown to significantly increase the bioavailability of cur cumin6.
Curcumin also has synergistic effects with other herbs like Boswellia. Derived from the resin of the boswelllia tree, boswellia extract contains active components referred to as boswellic acids that pack their own anti-inflammatory punch7.
(Note – If you’re on blood-thinning, heartburn or diabetes medications, talk to your naturopath or doctor about any possible herb-drug interactions.)
If you’re looking to take your training to the next level this summer, take a tip from the pros and ramp up your recovery with ancestral herbs like curcumin and boswellia to help cool inflammation, provide antioxidant support and keep your joints strong so you can compete at your best.
Dr. Marc Bubbs ND, CISSN, CSCS
Dr. Marc Bubbs is a board certified Naturopathic Doctor, Sports Nutrition Lead for the Canadian Men’s Basketball Team, and author of The Paleo Project.