Inflammation is a common issue for athletes but it’s necessary for the healing process and for building muscle. It’s a natural process that occurs in the body when tissues are damaged during physical activity.
However, chronic inflammation can lead to pain, stiffness, and reduced range of motion and can also impede recovery if left untreated or ignored. In this post, we’ll look at different ways to reduce inflammation and promote recovery for athletes so that you can get back to feeling your best.
1. Plan and Take Rest Days
Rest days are an essential part of any athlete's routine as they are the absolute best way to recover from working out and reduce soreness. They give your body time to recover and heal itself from the physical stress of training and competitions. Plan your rest days in advance to help you stick to your schedule and avoid overtraining. On rest days, try to focus on activities that promote recovery, such as light movement, relaxation, stress management, or even simply resting (we know surprise, surprise).
2. Incorporate Restorative Light Movement into Your Routine
Restorative light movement is a great way to reduce inflammation and promote recovery. It’s a form of active recovery that helps to increase blood flow and remove waste products from the tissues which helps reduce muscle soreness and stiffness. Ideally, you should rest your body between workouts but this type of movement is light enough to not impede on your recovery, and is way less intense than working out. Light movements include activities like:
- A walk or slow jog
- Gentle stretching
- Yoga Swim lightly
- Bike at a low intensity
- Low-impact movements with light weights
All of these activities will also help to keep your joints and muscles moving which is important for maintaining range of motion.
3. Prioritize Your Mental Health
It's important to prioritize your mental health when you're dealing with inflammation and recovery. While some stress is okay and even healthy, long periods of elevated stress can have a negative impact on the immune system and lead to increased inflammation. Here are a few ways to manage stress:
- Get enough sleep
- Eat a healthy diet
- Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- Connect with friends and family
- Take an ice bath
- Find healthy outlets for stress, such as journaling or meditation
In addition to these activities, it's important to seek professional help if you're struggling to cope with stress on your own.
4. Do an Ice Bath Post-Workout
Ice baths are popular among athletes for a reason. They are great for recovery because they have many health benefits, including reducing inflammation and muscle soreness. The ice cold water constricts blood vessels and decreases the flow of blood to the affected muscles which can help reduce pain, swelling, and stiffness.
To do an ice bath, simply fill a tub with cold water and ice. Then, immerse yourself in the tub for about 2 to 5 minutes. Make sure to stay warm after the ice bath by wrapping yourself in a towel or blanket, or doing bodyweight movements
If you are serious about reducing inflammation and improving your recovery routine, consider investing in a cold plunge tub to elevate your at-home ice bath recovery. At PLUNGE, we have various options available to suit a variety of needs and budgets. We've also partnered with Wim Hof to create a handy cold plunge protocols guide which you can grab for FREE below.
5. Hot and Cold Therapy / Contrast Therapy
Hot and cold therapy is when you alternate between hot and cold sources (like packs or water) to get the benefits of both. The benefits of hot and cold therapy include inflammation reduction, alleviation of tissue pain, reduction of muscle strength loss, and decrease in muscle damage.
If you’re wondering how to do hot and cold therapy, it’s fairly simple. For small areas, you can have two separate containers of water (or packs) - one hot and one cold - and alternate back and forth after a few minutes of each until you’re ready to stop. It works particularly well for hand and foot issues but can be used for the whole body. Some people stick to simple ice packs and hot packs but you can also utilize hot and cold showers, or go between an ice bath tub and a hot tub, or similar methods.
6. Add Extra Produce To Your Diet
Adding extra produce to your diet is a great way to reduce inflammation because fruits and vegetables are high in antioxidants, which help to protect cells from damage. They're also a good source of vitamins and minerals, which are important for recovery. Many fruits and veggies contain a decent amount of water which your cells need to recover.
Some of the best produce to reduce inflammation include tomatoes, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, oranges, and leafy greens (like spinach, kale, and collards).
7. Avoid Refined Carbs & Sugar
Refined carbs and sugar can actually cause inflammation because they can disrupt the body's natural balance of good and bad bacteria. Common sources of refined carbs come from white bread, pasta, pastries, desserts, and many breakfast cereals to name a few. To avoid refined carbs and sugar, try focusing on swapping whole, unprocessed foods into your diet like fruits, vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats.
8. Avoid Alcohol and Tobacco
Alcohol and tobacco are two of the most common causes of inflammation. They can damage cells and lead to a range of health problems even if you don't work out. Light, infrequent drinking won’t likely negatively affect your recovery too much but do try to avoid before and after working out to maximize recovery.
9. Get More and Better Sleep
Sleep is essential for recovery because it’s when your body repairs cells and tissues. It also helps to reduce stress levels, which can lead to inflammation if too high. To get more and better sleep, you may want to consider incorporating these habits:
- Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol before bed
- Create a relaxing bedtime routine
- Make sure your bedroom is dark, quiet, and cool
- Limit screen time before bed
Upgrade Your At-Home Recovery Routine
Ice baths are one of the most recommended methods to speed up recovery and reduce inflammation. Upgrade your at-home recovery routine with the Cold Plunge for a more efficient ice bath and recovery experience. Don’t forget to grab a copy of our FREE cold plunge protocols for the most effective ice bath.
Medical disclaimer: This post is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your doctor before beginning a cold plunging routine or any physical activities.