Top 5 Tips to Avoid Inflammation and Increase Performance

Even though athletes can typically get away with not eating healthy and stay at a healthy weight, we should all admit to ourselves that bad foods still harm the body and can decrease performance. If you typically eat healthy, and every once and a while at a tournament you gorge on fruit snacks, you are probably not going to suffer any harmful consequences longterm. But even during a tournament, the body will perform better when the foods we are consuming are working for us and not against us.

Foods that are bad for you are typically bad because they require more processing than the calories are worth, overwhelming the body with stress hormones (i.e. cortisol) and free radicals (particles that can damage cells) and eventually inflaming the body. This is not only detrimental to your health, but can lead to serious health consequences (e.g. having a heart attack during marathon even though at a healthy weight). Below are the top 5 things you should know to help decrease inflammation and increase performance. Incorporating this knowledge will also increase your overall health. See Tables 1 and 2 for lists of the healthiest, mostly healthy, not very healthy, and foods to avoid in each nutrient group on a regular basis.

Even though every athlete is different and has a variety of other health factors to consider at one time, diet is one aspect of our performance we can control to a certain degree. The knowledge that exercise and training is inflammatory should translate to engaging in behaviors and eating foods that reduce inflammation. This will in turn increase performance and overall health, and could be the edge you need for the championship.

Tip #5 ? Avoid Dyes

Dyes are not always harmful when derived from natural sources (e.g. betacarotene, paprika, beet juice, turmeric), but many companies find cheaper, brighter, and more stable sources by deriving them from petroleum (they were originally derived from coal tar when first developed). There are dyes in many foods, including everything from gatorade, to candy, cereals, fruit snacks, cosmetics, and dog food. Although dyes are tested by the FDA for levels determined to be safe, there are many studies that show links between dyes and kidney, thyroid, and bladder tumors, and cancers in mice or rats, and ADHD in some children. Limit or avoid US?these dyes if possible due to their lack of need in the diet and potential harmful effects.


Tip #4 ? Avoid Sugar and Fake Sweeteners

Sugar spikes glucose levels in the blood and is highly inflammatory. Sugar also feeds unhealthy bacteria in the gut, further contributing to inflammation. A small amount of organic sugar on some grapefruit every once and while or honey in your tea is not necessarily harmful, but regular consumption of sugar in breads, cereals, dairy products, salad dressings, jellies, etc., can elevate the blood sugar too much on a regular basis, leading to higher than normal levels of sugar in the bloodstream, leading to insulin-resistance and eventually diabetes. Fake sweeteners are two to seven times sweeter than table sugar and can also interfere with the normal blood sugar response6 . In addition, if the body is always full from sugar and then is not getting needed nutrients from whole foods, protein, fruit and vegetables, etc. that help decrease inflammation. There are many healthier ways to get a sweet taste after a meal, such as dark chocolate, coconut ice cream, and fruit with natural chocolate syrup, that are not full of sugar (also desserts made with nut flour, eggs, and smaller amounts of sugar). Look at your food labels, and if sugar is in the first three ingredients, that food should be avoided or eaten as little as possible. You will gradually lessen your taste for sweet foods, and you will naturally eat more of the foods you need like protein, fruits and veggies, and good fat.

Tip #3 ? Avoid Partially-hydrogenated Oils

These oils are other highly processed oils that are added to foods to make them less perishable (e.g. margarine, baked goods, potato chips). They have an extra bond between the molecules, making them very difficult breakdown, both on the shelf and in the body. They sit in the fat cells of the body and increase the LDL (bad) and decrease the HDL (good) cholesterol, as well as increase inflammation, and they are associated with insulin resistance and obesity. Light-colored oils that are processed and unstable to begin with are high in free radicals, and avoiding consuming foods fried in these oils and will help decrease inflammation.

Tip #2 ? Limit Dairy and Wheat

Dairy and gluten may be included in the diet as a useful sources of calories if desired, but they are best used as condiments to meals and not the main course. Athletes should be aware of the inflammatory properties in both the lactose (milk) and casein (cheese) in dairy. Wheat proteins, including gluten, can be inflammatory to the gut, as they mimic certain foreign substances and can cause an immune response (i.e. inflammation). Gluten is found in much higher concentrations now than in the past, leading to more frequent gluten allergies (called Celiac’s disease).

As for dairy, most of us lose the ability to digest lactose after weaning, so it can be slightly inflammatory for everyone. Greek yogurt contains bacteria that have already digested the lactose for you, making it less inflammatory and easier to digest. Many dairy products also contain hormones and added sugars and have had the fat removed (the healthy part from an organic source). Lactose-free milk, coconut milk, and full fat almond milk are good alternatives. Full-fat dairy sources from organic and grass-fed cows, e.g. cottage cheese, sour cream, and cream cheese, and butter are also healthier choices.

Tip #1 ? Eat Up!

The foods we should be eating more of to fight inflammation include fruits and vegetables, probiotics for the gut (available in pills or formulated dairy-like drinks), and more Omega 3 fatty acids from olive oils, fish, shellfish, walnuts, and avocados. The type of fat in olive oil (monounsaturated) turns into anti-inflammatory molecules that help prevent asthma, arthritis, and protect the heart . Other spices like ginger, turmeric, rosemary, and basil, can be anti-inflammatory. Ginger acts like an NSAID (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like aleve), suppressing inflammatory molecules, but with no side effects. Turmeric, the yellow colored spice in curry, contains curcumen, which blocks inflammatory chemicals in the body. Fruits and veggies specifically known for their anti-inflammatory properties include broccoli (vitamins C and K, beta-carotene, and calcium), pineapple (contains bromelain that helps break down proteins, aid in digestion, reduce swelling, and aid in circulation), and sweet potato (contains lots of vitamins B6 and C, manganese, beta-carotene, and fiber).


1. Kobylewski, S., and Jacobson, M. E., PhD (2010). Food Dyes, A Rainbow of Risks. Center for Science in the Public Interest. Retrieved from

2. Harvard Health Publications, Harvard Medical School (2005). What You Eat Can Cool or Cool Inflammation, a Key Driver of Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Other Chronic Conditions. Retrieved from

3. Sly, B. (n.d.) An Athlete’s Guide to Inflammation: What to Eat and What to Avoid. Retrieved from

4. Hoolihan, C., Streeck, R., MPH (2008). Exercise and the Inflammation Process. Retrieved from

5. Weil, A., MD (n.d.). 4 Favorite Anti-inflammatory Foods. Retrieved from

6. Strawbridge, H. (July 16th, 2012). Harvard Health Blog. Artificial sweeteners: Sugar- free, but at what cost? [Web Log]. Retrieved from

7. Katz, A.E., et al. 2005. Zyflamend, a unique herbal preparation with nonselective OCX inhibitory activity, induces apoptosis of prostate cancer cells that lack COX-2 expression. Nutrition and Cancer, 52 (2), 202?212. ?


Back to the Basics — Foods to Fuel Ultimate Workouts

By: Katy Harris, ?MSPH, CSCS, NS ?| ?Originally Published in ULTIMATE USA
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With the club season and championship series now behind us for another year, are you already hungry for more and thinking about next year? Ideally, the off-season is where most of your fitness, strength and power gains should occur. You will likely be doing many different types of workouts throughout the year, and each type of workout and training has its own nutritional demands.


Because there is no one specific diet or calorie requirement for all athletes in any given sport, it is up to us as individuals to see how our bodies react to training. What we do know is that ultimate is a demanding sport, requiring both cardiovascular and muscular fitness, strength and power. Similar to determining when to eat, the simplest way to determine what to eat is to go back to the basics and decide 1) what type of workout you are doing (e.g., strength, agility, endurance, etc.), 2) how intense the workout is going to be (e.g., how hard you will be working on average, on a scale of from zero to 100 percent), and 3) how long the workout will be. Then you decide what to eat and when. Done.

Well, okay, maybe it?s not quite that easy, but if you can answer those three questions, you can use the resources below to choose your foods and decide when to eat them.

The next step is to understand each type of workout and what kind of energy you are using for the workout, so you know what you?ll need to replace. Below are two tables describing each type of workout and the foods needed to fuel each of those workout types before, during and after. All recommendations are based on starting exercise three to four hours after a meal (so you basically have an empty stomach) and are assuming individuals are at their goal weight. Carbohydrates refer to healthy grain-based sources (e.g., dense bread, pasta, flour products, etc.) with no added sugar. Protein sources include meat, fish or eggs and some vegetable and grain combinations (e.g., beans and rice), and sources of good fats are high in Omega 3s, including nuts and nut oils; coconut and coconut oil; olives and olive oils; avocados; and whole-fat, organic dairy sources.


Keep the five tips listed below in mind when planning what to eat and when for your workouts. Then use the tables to determine what energy source is used and how to refuel after the workout.

Things to Remember when Planning Meals and Snacks around Workouts

1. Blood starts to leave your stomach and go to the muscles once you are exercising at approximately 70 percent of your heart rate max (HRM), about when you start sweating.

2. Leaving undigested food in the stomach when you start your workout can leave you with a bad stomachache a few hours later, and your performance may be affected due to a delay of energy and blood flow to the muscles.

3. One handful of carbs takes about one hour to digest.

4. One handful of protein takes four hours to digest.

5. One handful of good fat can take up to nine hours to digest!

Using the tables above can help you determine which foods are best at supporting your workout. For example, you can see that if you eat a meal within three or four hours of an endurance run, you probably won?t need a pre-workout snack. But if you are a little hungry, you can follow the instructions in the table to determine that, for an endurance run, you would only need about one handful of carbs within an hour of the run, then liquid carbs about every 30 minutes during the workout, and some carbs (one or two handfuls) and good fat (about half a tablespoon) after the workout. If this is how you work out most often, your normal diet would only require about one handful of complete protein per meal.

The requirements for an ultimate tournament are quite different. As an extreme example, during a tournament, ideally you would have a small meal an hour or two before playing and continue fueling during and between games with liquids and carbohydrate beverages, handfuls of carbs and protein. Then you would have a snack ? two or three handfuls of carbs, one or two handfuls of protein and some good fat ? right after playing AND a normal meal a few hours later.


As an ultimate player with a defined season and pre-determined tournament competition dates, you should ideally be following a periodized workout cycle. This means you will rotate through different types of workouts to 1) build an endurance base in the off-season, 2) focus on strength and speed during the pre-season, then 3) focus on power and agility during the season. Your dietary and caloric needs will need to cycle as well, which can sometimes catch us off guard. Using these simple guidelines and charts can help keep you healthy and performing well all year long!


  1. American College of Sports Medicine, Sawka MN, Burke LM, et al. American college of sports medicine position stand. Exercise and fluid replacement. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007;39(2):377-390. doi: 10.1249/ mss.0b013e31802ca597 [doi].
  2. Baechle TR, Earle RW. Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Human kinetics; 2008.
  3. Garzon RC, Mohr C. Meeting the nutritional demands of high-intensity interval training. ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal. 2014;18(5):25-29. auth.php?url= =true&db=s3h&AN=102476061&site=ehost-live.
  4. Horner KM, Schubert MM, Desbrow B, Byrne NM, King NA. Acute exercise and gastric emptying: A meta-analysis and implications for appetite control. Sports Medicine. 2015;45(5):659-678.
  5. American Dietetic Association. Dietitians of Canada; American College of Sports Medicine, Rodriguez NR, Di Marco NM, Langley S.: American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Nutrition and athletic performance. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009;41(3):709-731.

Myths & Mirages: What Athletes Really Need to Know about Good Nutrition

By: Katy Harris, ?MSPH, CSCS, NS ?| ?Originally Published in ULTIMATE USA
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Carbs are bad for you. Fat is bad for you. A high-protein diet is bad for you.

So what is left to eat? It seems like no one can agree. There are so many mixed messages and fad diets and changes in the science, we are all dizzy from being pulled in every direction. Of course, there are many important things we have learned from years of research about what foods are good for us and why, but the most important lesson of all is that what may be healthy can mean very different things for different people.

Health and performance are tied to a complex variety of factors, including body weight, stress levels, activity, muscle composition, body mass, psychology, etc. Each individual is so different that it becomes very difficult to make sweeping generalizations about whether one food is healthy or not. To break down all these complex messages, below are several questions many of us have had about what we hear in the media every day regarding what foods are ?healthy? and what is bad for us. Ultimately, each athlete should decide what is healthy for him or her based on knowledge and experience. Following the ?myths? of the media can have dangerous consequences, and any changes to your diet should be supervised by a physician or nutritionist. Health and performance cannot be separated, and myths can lead to mirages if you are not careful to listen to your body and continue to search for credible sources of information.


Answer: Sometimes, but not usually. Although some people have an actual allergy to gluten and tend to avoid bread products all together, those of us with no allergy do not necessarily need to avoid bread any more than other non-nutritive calories like sugar, juice, fake sweeteners, etc. While an allergy to gluten is now common (there is 20 times more gluten in wheat products now than there was 25 years ago), eating gluten-free products is not necessary unless you have this allergy. Gluten is just ONE of the potentially harmful proteins in wheat, and even gluten-free wheat products still contain many of the other harmful proteins. So eating gluten-free crackers, Cheez-its or cookies is no better for you and is just putting money in advertisers? pockets. Products made of other substances and labeled gluten-free (i.e., rice crackers, soy or tofu) are not made of wheat and are therefore gluten-free. But these foods are mainly empty calories as well, since they provide carbohydrates and immediate energy but not much other nutritional value. The carbohydrates and antioxidants in these foods, however, may be useful to athletes with higher?caloric needs, but altering the food to be gluten-free takes away most of the calories and fiber, making the food less healthy when consumed for that purpose.


Answer: Sometimes, but most of the time, not really. Dairy is unusual in that it is a single food source that contains all three macronutrients: carbohydrates (the lactose), protein (casein and whey) and fat. The good part about dairy is the fat, and it?s even better in organic dairy products. Since the harmful toxins, hormones and heavy metals are contained in the fat, organic milk is a better choice. The same is not necessarily true of the proteins and the lactose. Cheese is mostly casein and fat, which are both good for athletes – fat for energy and casein as the only slow-digesting protein available in a food source. However, cheese, especially aged cheeses like blue cheese, can cause a histamine response (meaning inflammation). These chemicals are also able to slip past the blood-brain barrier, causing morphine-like effects. Wine and cheese anyone?

Since most of us lose the ability to digest lactose at weaning, the carbohydrates in dairy (particularly milk) are also not so good. Not only does milk fill you up with quickly-releasing sugars, but the whey contains insulin (a fat-storing hormone). Fitness and marketing professionals have promoted the whey in protein powders since it is filtered and has been associated with a quicker uptake of carbohydrates post-exercise due to the insulin (and thus increases in performance).

However, this effect is only possible under certain training conditions in some people, and most of the time, excess insulin leads to weight gain, bloating and high blood sugar and replaces the desire for healthy, more nutritive foods.


Answer: It depends on what type of fat and whether your diet has an imbalance one way or the other. You need some of each type of fat, including saturated fat from animal sources, and other types of fat from oils and foods like nuts, olives, avocados, fish and shellfish. The typical American diet is overloaded with seed oils and saturated fat and does not include enough nut, olive and fish oils, since fried foods, animal fats and potato chips and French fries are so frequently consumed (McDonald?s, anyone?). Seed oils are unstable to begin with, and when exposed to high heat, light and refining chemicals, the oils become very unstable and release free radicals into the body. Salad dressings and foods fried in vegetable oils (e.g., potato chips) should be avoided in a normal diet so as not to disrupt the balance of healthy saturated fats and fats from oils, nuts, olives, avocados, organic butter and dairy. Olive and nut oils are slightly more stable, but again make sure it is in a dark container and store in a cool, dark.

Since we are highly exposed to animal, seed and vegetable oil fats and are lacking in those from other sources, it is important for us to take every opportunity to have fish and fish oil and be aware of the balance of fats in our diets. Since the fat is the healthy part, try to get organic, high-fat dairy sources like butter, cottage cheese and ghee (Indian clarified butter without the milk proteins). Hydrogenated oils, a very unhealthy type of fat mistaken for a normal one and used to create faulty cell membranes (as well as many other dysfunctions), should be avoided whenever possible.


Answer: Although it is true that the food athletes typically eat during games and competition (e.g., animal crackers, juice, Gatorade, cookies, etc.) is not technically healthy since they are higher in carbs than nutrients, healthy here is a relative term. If by junk food we mean potato chips, fried foods, high amounts of animal fat, then no, that athlete would likely not be healthy. Even if they were thin, these individuals are likely to have ?silent? inflammation, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, etc., even at a healthy weight. However, carbohydrates in the form of whole foods with little to no added sugar are a very useful and necessary source of energy during competition where athletes are expending large amounts of energy in a short period of time. Carbohydrates are the only quickly accessible source of energy, as protein takes between one and four hours to digest, while fat can take up to nine.

Ideally, each athlete should experiment with what sources they like and tolerate best and have these foods accessible throughout the day. Animal crackers, Wheat Thins, bread, juice and fruit are all possible options. Liquid calories in the form of 100 percent juices and coconut water mixed with juice or water are also good alternatives for quickly digesting calories. Things like crackers, Fig Newtons, and fruit are best between points or during halftimes. Protein should be consumed during a break, with fat consumption in the early morning and after playing. These whole foods are better alternative to many foods contrived by the marketing and food industry, as more processed foods typically require more energy to break down and store than the benefits are worth.


Answer: Sometimes, but most of the time, eating when you are hungry is the healthiest option. If you are hungry, it?s 10 p.m. and you are going to bed within an hour, a small snack of one or two handfuls of carbohydrates and some fat and protein is best, perhaps half a handful of each, since you don?t want to go to bed on a full stomach. If you are going to bed in two hours, eat something with mostly carbs and a little more protein and fat. These guidelines are the same that apply to activity, so think about timing your meals and snacks before bed the same way you would before a workout. You may wake up not feeling so well if you eat a full meal late at night and go right to bed. This habit can also disrupt your normal hormonal response, so you could wake up starving as well.

There is a real concern that stress eating carbohydrates can lead to unhealthy eating patterns and binge eating, but the body is under breakdown when you are under stress. Cortisol is being released and telling the body, ?Please eat, I?m breaking down here; I need some calories!? So it is actually important to increase your protein and good fat intake, as well as that of carbohydrates under certain circumstances and when under more stress, to replenish the proteins being broken down. This is exactly what happens during a workout, and you wouldn?t starve yourself during or after a workout, right? The concern comes if you are continually using food to feed a negative thought or feeling. So make sure not to get so hungry that you turn to bad foods. Instead, eat a balanced meal or snack, and you will be much less likely to develop an unhealthy stress relationship with food.


Answer: Please never do this! Retaining fat is common when the body does not get enough protein or fluids and gets too many empty calories. It can also be a result of too much stress (high cortisol release) or too many artificial sweeteners and/or sugar. If the body is low in necessary nutrients like good fat and protein, it will tell you to eat high-fat, high-sugar foods to satisfy excessive hunger. But an hour later, all that energy is gone, and there is still not enough protein or good fat, so your body tells you it is hungry again. So getting adequate calories from protein and good fat (see MYTH: Foods with fat are bad for you) is step one. Step two is actually addressing excess stress in your life, and/or REDUCING high-intensity exercise if you have a lot of stress. If you need to lose fat, you have to ?burn? it off with tough workouts and sprints, right? But actually the muscle burns fat most efficiently when you are at rest, but only if there is enough protein and good fat in the system to support your brain function, organs, tissue, immune system, stress and activity. Being under-nourished can lead to cortisol release, so exercising and creating more breakdown when the body is already low in nutrients is just going to release more cortisol and have the opposite of the desired effect. Low-intensity exercise is best under these circumstances to help release cortisol in small amounts over time and build the body?s ?immunity? to cortisol for when it is released in response to real stress in everyday life.