Best and Worst Foods for Your Joints
Whether it’s the day after a hard lift, long run, or even a rest day, joint pain is common in both athletes and the general adult population. Joint pain is often a symptom of chronic inflammation in the body. This is typical for athletes that are frequently training at high volumes, but can also affect individuals who have high amounts of stress, and those who consume large amounts of pro-inflammatory foods.
While athletes often are quick to focus on how to promote effective muscular recovery, you may need to give a similar effort to support joint health through nutrition. Luckily, many strategies to support muscle recovery may also support your joints simultaneously! However, some foods you may be consuming can cause inflammation and worsen joint pain.
Foods & Supplements For Your Joints:
Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Adequate consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is often associated with a multitude of benefits such as improved cardiovascular health, brain function, reduction of inflammation, and more. Research performed in athletes shows that omega-3s may improve joint health and performance as they inhibit inflammation.
Foods high in omega-3s include fatty fish such as salmon or mackerel, chia seeds, walnuts and flaxseeds. Eating just 4 oz of cold-water fish, which is the most bioavailable source of omega-3s, twice per week provides adequate intake and is linked to anti-inflammatory benefits. However, this study among NCAA Division I athletes showed that intakes are often insufficient. While it’s best to try and consume food sources of omega-3 fatty acids, a supplement may be beneficial for those unable to reach the recommendations through food.
Tart Cherry Juice: Bing cherries and tart cherry juice may also support joint health due to their polyphenol anti-oxidative, anti-inflammatory properties. Tart cherry juice is commonly recommended for recovery as it aids in decreasing muscle soreness. Research shows tart cherry juice may lessen joint pain often caused by athletic training or competition. While there are no set guidelines for how much tart cherry juice is necessary, studies have shown improvement with athletes consuming 8-oz, twice per day.
Vitamin C: Many fruits and vegetables have significant amounts of vitamin C, also known as ascorbic acid. This vitamin is required for the production of collagen, which is the most abundant protein in our body and provides structure in building tendons and ligaments – cue joint health! While adequate intake is necessary for your baseline health, there is some research that has linked vitamin C intake with soft tissue healing, specifically in individuals who have suffered joint-related injuries. Another meta analysis reviewing the impacts of stress-induced exercise showed Vitamin C consumption may also help decrease oxidative stress and inflammation post-exercise.
Foods that are high in vitamin C include kiwi, bell peppers, strawberries, oranges, papaya and broccoli. In addition to those high in vitamin C, research has linked adequate intake of vegetables to joint health due to their phytochemical, anti-inflammatory components.
Collagen: As mentioned above, collagen provides the structure of our tendons and ligaments. To aid in its natural production, there is some research that associates increased joint health with additional collagen intake through supplementation. This study researched supplementation and recovery in athletes, finding that collagen supplementation may improve connective tissue (joint) health and reduce symptoms associated with osteoarthritis.
You can find collagen naturally in foods such as eggs and bone broth or opt to add two scoops (40 g) of a collagen supplement to your smoothies, yogurt, or juice daily. Remember, NSF certified products are recommended for athletes to provide legitimacy in supplements.
Turmeric: Turmeric, which is in the same family as ginger, has incredible anti-inflammatory properties and is commonly recommended for muscle recovery. Some studies in male athletes show that turmeric supplementation via capsule (~400 mg) has been shown to decrease the acute inflammatory response of both resistance and endurance exercise. Research has shown that this spice is also beneficial for osteoarthritis pain. While there is no set recommendation, most studies show that 1-3 tsp/day of powder or a 400-600 mg capsule has been associated with noticeable benefits.
Foods that may worsen joint pain:
Excess Added Sugars: Excess consumption of added sugars have been shown to cause the release of pro-inflammatory substances in the body, worsening joint inflammation and pain. While there is limited research on the consumption of excessive added sugars and joint pain in athletes, research has connected added sugar to increasing inflammation and joint pain in the adult population. Consuming excess sweets, sugary treats, or sugar-sweetened processed foods can hinder your recovery, worsen muscle soreness, and worsen joint pain.
Excess Refined Grains: As refined grains have most of their fiber removed, high consumption of these foods, such as white bread or pasta, may increase inflammatory responses in the body, worsening joint pain.
Alcohol: Alcohol consumption also promotes inflammation in the body. Research shows that excessive alcohol intake, >1 drink/day women, >2 drinks/day men, increases the inflammatory marker c-reactive protein (CRP) in the body. High levels of CRP have been associated with increased joint pain.
Excess Omega-6 Fatty Acids: High omega-6 intake has been linked to inflammation in the body. Although omega-6s are important in the diet as some inflammation aids our body’s natural healing processes, excessive omega-6 intake may alter the ideal omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. Research has shown that increased omega-6 intake and decreased omega-3 intake may worsen osteoarthritis and joint pain. High amounts of omega-6 fatty acids are found in refined seed and vegetable oils.
Article by: Nicole Legler, Eleat Nutrition Intern