With Fall race season in full swing, many of you are feeling the effects of long training sessions, grueling gym workouts, and countless miles pushing your bodies toward start lines everywhere. Considering the amount of training hours logged, it’s safe to assume that every athlete has had to deal with inflammation at one time or another. However, as inconvenient and painful as it can be, this is not necessarily a bad thing.

Inflammation and Why it’s Necessary

Inflammation is the part of the body’s immune response that promotes healing.  When an injury occurs, the sequence begins with an inflammatory process that will eventually switch to a mechanism that anti-inflames. Without going through this entire cycle, the body cannot maximize its ability to repair itself, thus prolonging recovery time.  So, why is our first instinct to reach for an anti-inflammatory after we’ve been injured? Popular thought has us believing that reducing inflammation as quickly as possible is the key to faster healing.  However, science tells us otherwise.

To understand how it all works, we must first define prostaglandins (pros-tuh-glan-din) and also explain their function.  Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances that we cannot live without.  They are believed to be formed within the cell membranes and can be found in nearly all of the tissues in the body.  These vital substances are conjugated from elongated essential fatty acids (EFAs).  Because these EFAs are not made within the body, they must be ingested in the correct forms and ratios. 

There are 3 different types of prostaglandins- known as PGE1, PGE2, and PGE3- that perform inflammatory and anti-inflammatory responses.  Both actions are essential to the healing process.  In the final stage, PGE1 and PGE3 are called in to anti-inflame.  However, it is PGE2 that the body utilizes to initially repair itself.  This immediate inflammation is necessary to begin healing after an injury.  In plain speak, it is actually a normal and healthy response that our bodies go through.  Once the inflammation has done its job, PGE1 and PGE3 will be released to anti-inflame the area, returning the body to a state of homeostasis. 

So How Do Anti-Inflammatories Fit Into the Picture? 

When anti-inflammatory drugs are taken, they block this normal function by inhibiting the conversion of the essential fatty acid, Arachidonic Acid (AA), into PGE2.  This is how the drugs effectively reduce pain and inflammation.  However, by doing so, they are in fact, delaying the healing process, and therefore prolonging recovery time. Because these EFAs work in conjunction with each other, a deficiency will not allow the proper manufacture of enough anti-inflammatory PGE1 and PGE3 to aid with repair. On the other hand, the proper ratios of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids will promote desirable prostaglandin levels, which then aids in decreasing inflammation and time away from training.

Essential Fatty Acids: Balance is Key

Although they are both vital for optimal health, these fatty acids cannot be made by the body. As mentioned before, we must obtain EFAs from dietary sources. There are two polyunsaturated fats that are absolutely essential: Linoleic Acid, which is an omega 6 and Alpha-linolenic Acid, which is an omega 3. Also, as it relates to training, if an excessive inflammatory response is seen, or if it’s taking longer to heal than normal, there is likely an imbalance in omega 6 and omega 3 ratios in the diet. Unfortunately, the modern diet has us eating more omega 6s than ideal, and this disrupts the 1:1 ratio between the two EFAs . With this imbalance, it makes it harder for the body to regulate the inflammatory process.  Hence, the nagging injuries.  So, what can be done?

Fight Inflammation With Food

First of all, we need to ask ourselves if what we are eating is contributing to longer recovery times.  Diets high in refined carbohydrates, sugar, and trans fats affect blood glucose levels and reduce the body’s ability to cope with inflammation.  Again, eating this way will skew the delicate balance of EFAs.  Since it is very easy to obtain enough omega 6s in the standard diet, we actually need to be careful that we are not getting too much.  An excess of the the wrong types can actually increase inflammation in the body. However, upping the daily intake of omega 3 fatty acids has been shown to reduce overall inflammation levels.  The key is to reduce pro-inflammatory foods with with those that anti-inflame naturally.

Best Choices for Omega 6s

        • Walnuts, evening primrose oil, black currant oil, sunflower oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, and grass-fed meats and pastured eggs

Best Choices for Omega 3s

        • Cold water fish, such as, Alaskan salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, as well as, grass-fed meats and pastured eggs
        • Flaxseeds, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, walnuts
        • Certain green, leafy vegetables, including Brussels sprouts, kale, spinach, watercress

Looking for even more anti-inflammatory powerhouses to add into your diet? 

        • Foods, such as, avocados, turmeric, ginger, broccoli, dark leafy greens, pineapple, and coconut oil, all contain compounds that will help to keep inflammation at bay and allow you to recover faster.

For an endurance athlete, the goal is to make sure that you are eating a diet high in omega 3 fatty acids, while cutting back on pro-inflammatory foods that are throwing off the delicate balance of EFAs needed by the body to heal itself quickly and efficiently.  Making the proper dietary adjustments should provide the healthiest alternative to reaching for the medicine bottle.  Less inflammation, means less time spent recovering and more time out on the course.

Happy, and healthy, racing!


Heather Busot has a BA from Arizona State University and is completing her certification in Nutritional Therapy from The National Therapy Association located in Olympia, WA. She takes a foundational, holistic approach to nutrition and performance, with a focus on the importance of properly prepared, nutrient-dense, whole Foods paired with a well-balanced lifestyle.

She has raised two healthy, athletic, high-performing children by applying these principles at home and focusing on the whole person – body and mind – to ensure that mental and physical success are both realized through a cycle that begins with the right foods at the right time.

If you’d like to learn more about Heather’s approach to nutrition and how it can suit you or your family, she can be reached at heatherbusotnutrition@gmail.com


  1. We know it does work; you can start the body’s healing process by targeting an effected area with essential nutrients. As I have written several articles about health in general, I can confirm about my own issues concerning arthritis and joint pain that effected several parts of my body, which I have cured myself and for some years now have been pain-free


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