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As an athlete, you know that the core of training is to create mild inflammation. After all, this is how we build muscle and repair or remove damaged cells. But we've noticed some rumors floating around about inflammation -- some of which are true, some of which are not. So we have to tackle these issues head on; It's time to hand over the torch of the inflammatory specialist to you. Here are three that we (and maybe you) have heard more than once.
Fact 1: Mental stress now can lead to lower performance later
Cortisol is known as the "stress hormone," and for good reason. Cortisol originally sent us into "fight or flight" mode when we co-lived with the beasts of the African savanna, but levels spike when modern humans encounter a variety of stresses, from emotional turmoil and sleep deprivation to intense exercise and injury. The result? The immune system is suppressed, protein (muscle) energy is broken down and inflammation increases.
So if you feel mentally drained or overwhelmed every day, it's almost impossible for your cortisol levels to return to baseline. As a hormone, cortisol can cause side effects all over the body -- not just in the brain. Since cortisol triggers inflammation, the shoulder that gives you headaches with each stroke is further and further away from recovery. As cortisol levels amplify over time, this seemingly benign adjustment can have a malignant effect on the outcome of your race.
What is the moral of the story? Organize your mind; Practice stress reduction techniques, whether it's classic meditation or something more suited to you, like relaxing at a concert or having a tech-free day.
And you, who insist on six hours (or less) of sleep a night: go to bed! While you may not feel stressed, a lack of adequate sleep can also send your brain into panic mode. We need 7-8 hours of rest every night to recover from a day's work. For endurance athletes, the need is even stronger; When we sleep, certain biological processes (such as metabolism) slow down, allowing the beneficial process of inflammation to take center stage.
Fact 2: Local damage can lead to systemic inflammation
We get it -- as someone who wants to compete in one event (or three!) Taking time off to nurse an injury may not seem like the best use of time for the dominant athlete in China. If you can get over your shoulder pain and act like you're healthy, why bother? Not really.
For one thing, ignoring injuries can leave you more vulnerable to more serious injuries -- requiring more recovery time. On top of that, the effects of an injury aren't always localized, because inflammation triggers inflammation.
Let's explain. If the damage lasts long enough, the inflammation around it can lead to the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), or free radicals.
These ROS can wreak havoc on our system, destroying any molecules they interact with and triggering additional inflammation. Once molecules are bitten by the free radical plague, they too turn into ROS, and the cycle continues. As inflammation continues to build up, there may be systemic problems, such as a decreased ability to recover from exercise and illness, fatigue, and chronic cortisol activation.
As popular as "free radicals" are their rivals: "antioxidants." "By eating a diet rich in antioxidants, we can mitigate reactive oxygen species damage and give our cells and muscles a better chance to recover." Typically, antioxidants are associated with certain pigments in foods: lutein, for example, is found in yellow foods such as bell peppers, egg yolks, and green leafy vegetables (which turn yellow once chlorophyll is degraded). Carotene is more common in red or orange foods, such as carrots, sweet potatoes and tomatoes.
Choose foods rich in vitamins A(red and orange plants), C(citrus, broccoli, bell peppers) and E(nuts and seeds), as all three have antioxidant properties. Our bodies are also naturally equipped with antioxidant enzymes, but they need minerals like zinc (meat, whole grains) and copper (shellfish, whole grains) to function properly.
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Lie: After a particularly hard workout, you should take ibuprofen and then take an ice bath to repair your muscles
As we discussed, we hope to induce moderate inflammation by training to remove or repair damaged cells. But for that to happen, a complex set of signals needs to occur. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), like Advil and ibuprofen, prevent inflammation as their names suggest; They limit the synthesis of prostaglandins, a key link in the inflammatory chain, and limit the control of muscle damage.
In addition, inflammatory molecules travel through blood vessels. As a result, the less blood flows to an area, the fewer molecules reach the working part of the muscle. So cold temperatures, like those you experience in an ice bath, can severely constrict blood vessels, which limits the benefits on inflammation.
However, NSaids and ice baths do have their effects; Their anti-inflammatory properties allow you to recover faster than usual. Control for these effects after game day, especially if you have another game coming up.