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Diet & Running

Brian J. McGrory, M.D., M.S.

JUNE 2014 – There are a number of measures that runners can pursue to minimize joint inflammation symptoms preparing for a race, or while maintaining a healthy lifestyle. One measure that does not receive a lot of attention is following a certain diet. One of the reasons that this is true is that we only partially understand how our diet interacts with all of the mechanisms that our body uses to remain in balance. Another is that some patients may respond to certain dietary changes, while others may not.

What is known is that certain foods have an overall inflammatory effect on our immune systems. Experiments show that certain measures of inflammation are reliably increased or decreased by certain dietary changes.

One example of foods good for runners, are those with a low glycemic index. Glycemic index is the blood glucose-raising potential of the carbohydrates in different foods. In the simplest terms, foods that elevate our insulin response rapidly are the foods that have a propensity to support an inflammatory state. That state affects our whole body, including joints that have arthritis. This does not mean that a specific diet caused the joint inflammation, but rather that the diet is possibly aggravating the inflammation and therefore the symptoms from the affected joint. Processed carbohydrates like sugar and bleached flour products are examples of foods that should be avoided. Instead, complex carbohydrates like those in fruits and sprouted or whole grain breads are better.

Of course running requires a lot of calories and on race day even more. Simple sugars may be appropriate for energy during the race. Outside of high performance or very long distance, runners who are concerned about joint inflammation should stick to complex carbohydrates when possible