What’s the Big Deal About Inflammation?

You may have seen our posts the last two weeks about the Triathlon World Summit, a free online forum featuring interviews with leading coaches, sports medicine doctors and nutritionists. Nutritionist Steph Lowe spoke about the inflammatory properties of gluten, and Phil Maffetone outlined principles of the “Maffetone Method” that aims to control chronic inflammation. Is inflammation really a big danger and something triathletes need to worry about?


Most of our audience surely has read about inflammation, but conflicting info circulating the Internet leaves many people confused. You may keep hearing that you should eat anti-inflammatory foods but not understand why. Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response and essential to healing, but chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s—the most prevalent health problems and leading causes of death in the U.S. It’s a hidden danger because the consequences of inflammation may not show noticeable symptoms or lead to disease for years. Instead of feeling terrified, consider that minimizing inflammation can empower you to prevent all of these! Here are a few areas where we have control:


  • Diet: Some foods have inflammatory properties and others are anti-inflammatory. While these effects vary somewhat by individual, foods and oils high in Omega-6 fatty acids such as corn, vegetable, soy and safflower oil; refined sugar; meats high in saturated fat (processed or feedlot-raised meat); alcohol (sorry!); and refined grains—some think all gluten-containing are inflammatory. Foods high in Omega-3 fatty acids such as fatty fish (salmon, tuna) and fish oil, olive oil; berries, tart cherries, leafy greens and brightly colored veggies; ginger, turmeric, and garlic help reduce inflammation. While some nuts have higher levels of Omega-6, they also contain antioxidants and alpha linolenic acid which help to fight inflammation (among other health benefits).
  • Exercise and Recovery: Regular exercise is obviously good for our overall health and longevity, and it’s a given for competitive triathletes. Studies on the inflammatory impact of exercise are very difficult to sort through, because any exercise involves repeated acute stresses on the body that mean acute inflammation. This is largely a good thing, but endurance sports demand extended training stress, which if not managed can lead to chronic inflammation. Adequate recovery is essential for moderating inflammation so it doesn’t become chronic. This is also why monitoring your overall wellbeing during a training program is so important, something Codeon considers our #1 job. Rest/easy days, sleep, foam rolling and massage will all help you face your next workouts strong and healthy.
  • Vitamin D: This is an easy one: get out in the sun! Vitamin D is a much better immune system booster than Vitamin C and helps control inflammation. Daylight is best (with sunscreen of course), but taking a Vitamin D supplement alone or in a multivitamin can help too.


Codeon promotes (and practices) everything in moderation. We still indulge sometimes, but our diets are generally high in good fat and protein with lots of veggies and low in processed stuff. For the carbs we need around workouts we make some simple substitutes, i.e. buckwheat noodles or quinoa for refined grain pasta and nut or seed butter for flour in baked goods. Beware of gluten free bread and other foods masquerading as healthy stuff, which often contain highly processed ingredients that promote inflammation. As always, real whole foods are best!


Here are some favorite recipes that are low on the inflammation scale:


Chickpea pancakes—This very simple recipe is high in protein and sugar free, and is great topped with avocado, hummus, and salsa to add in good fats and veggies.

Oven omelet—good fat and protein from eggs and coconut milk (plus optional meat), and loaded with veggies.

Spaghetti squash noodle bowl—winter comfort food that’s gluten free and full of healthy fat and veggies.

Paleo chocolate chip cookies—simple and tasty gluten free treats with good fat and lower sugar, a go-to for Mike and Dawn.


About Dawn

Dawn is a top tier Age Group triathlete, long-time swim instructor, and soon to be a USAT Level I Certified Triathlon Coach. Dawn has raced 16 triathlons, including four half Ironmans; more than 35 road and trail races; open water swims and endurance ride events. She is a member of Ignite Endurance.

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