Inflammation is not your enemy — it is a crucial element in recovery says Vicky Ware

It’s tempting to think of inflammation as an adversary, since it causes soreness and unwanted symptoms, but it’s actually an important part of the healing process.

Tissue becomes inflamed to recover from damage caused by grazes, injuries, muscle damage and even infection.

Although taking anti-inflammatory supplements and having ice baths reduces inflammation, doing so may impair the process that turns sore legs into stronger, faster legs.

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Mild, localised inflammation typically presents after a weights or sprint session;
full body inflammation occurs when you’re suffering from an infection such as the flu.

Inflammation can cause problems when it goes out of control. This can happen for many different reasons; a common cause among cyclists is insufficient recovery.

The amount of training your body can handle depends on how effectively you recover.

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Failing to sleep or eat enough, or eating a diet deficient in micronutrients or calories, reduces your training capacity.

Unless you address these issues, the immune system may fall out of kilter.


Maximise your post ride recovery window


Inflammation: The essentials

  • Controlling inflammation requires a balance between training and recovery
  • Diet is crucial to controlling inflammation
  • Stress is inflammation-promoting
  • Anti-inflammatory supplements may inhibit recovery
  • Chronic inflammation leads to injuries

Chronic inflammation can present as an increased sensitivity to allergens such as pollen or insect bites, difficulty recovering from your usual training, as well as anxiety, irritability and depression.

Diet is fundamental to promoting a well-balanced inflammatory response.

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A diet high in sugar is inflammatory, while a diet high in nutrient-dense foods such as nuts, oily fish, fruits and vegetables is anti-inflammatory, as these foods provide the body with the building blocks it needs to promote a well-balanced response, facilitating swift, full recovery and adaptation to exercise loads.

As a cyclist, you exercise far more than the average person, which should be an advantage when it comes to inflammation.

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The key is ensuring a healthy balance between the amount of training you do, the other stressors in your life, and your recovery.

Get this balance right and you will prevent acute inflammation while eliminating the need for anti-inflammatory supplements.


How to approach your winter training


Inflammation: Key points

Do replace some grains, red meat and eggs in your diet with nuts. Research shows this significantly reduces a key marker of inflammation in the body called C-reactive protein. Replacing a sugary snack will have the same effect

Do eat a nutritious diet and get enough sleep to help your body combat exposure to toxins in polluted air. You can be exposed to these driving or cycling through heavy traffic or even sitting on the tube

Do take a vitamin D supplement during autumn and winter months. Winter sun is too weak to allow skin production of this vital anti-inflammatory nutrient, which
is also essential for muscle and bone health

Do follow a sustainable training plan. Doing too much too soon promotes inflammation and may lead to injury. Consistency is the key to meeting long-term fitness goals

Do eat whole foods, which give the body the inflammation-fighting tools it needs without having a negative effect on the inflammatory response, which could inhibit adaptation to exercise

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Don’t take anti-inflammatory supplements or drugs unless you have a specific medical need for them. Taking them unnecessarily can actually inhibit your body’s ability to recover from training

Don’t eat foods that induce an allergic reaction, as they can cause inflammation in the gut, potentially leading to more serious problems

Don’t skimp on oily fish intake. Essential fatty acids are key building blocks of a healthy immune system, allowing your body to recover from exercise without excessive inflammation. Omega-3 fats have also been shown to aid muscle building