5 foods for recovery and inflammation

It’s no surprise that some of our top inflammation fighting foods are all plants. While there are individual nutrients we could add to this list like vitamin D, omega 3 fatty acids and protein from beans, the synergistic effects of antioxidants like vitamin C, vitamin A, folate and beta-carotene with phytonutrients like flavonoids, anthocyanins and lentinan work like a team of support for overworked muscles and the cardiovascular system, and they’re easily available at your grocery store.

Food is a powerful ally in a dancer’s recovery toolbox. Make sure you eat a veggie-heavy meal with a protein source within one hour after dance, and don’t forget to hydrate. You don’t have to break the bank with expensive superfoods or supplements to feel results. Simple foods like sweet potatoes, greens and black beans are cheap and nutritious. These five listed below are only a starting point but have the research to back up some of the health claims. The bottom line is: eat more plants. 

Foods to Fight Inflammation

#1. Tart cherries and cherry juice

One of the ways we can reduce soreness, inflammation and boost recovery is through antioxidants and compounds in foods such as the polyphenols in tart cherries. Tart cherries and tart cherry juice are popular with endurance athletes because they can reduce the post-exercise inflammatory cascade that happens3. They may even reduce pain and enable dancers to return to the studio faster after a long rehearsal the day before3,4.

#2.  Pineapple

Bromelain is an enzyme in fresh pineapple that is believed to contribute to reducing inflammation when consumed in sufficient amounts5. Pineapple is also an excellent source of vitamin C, also an antioxidant that enhances immune function and can boost iron absorption from foods. Bonus points if you can make a fresh grated ginger and pineapple salad or smoothie because ginger is another anti-inflammatory powerhouse.

#3. Beets and beetroot juice

Sports nutritionists have long known about the ergogenic (performance-enhancing) effects of beets because of the way that naturally occurring nitrates enhance endurance and physical performance1. These are not the same nitrates that give hotdogs and processed meat a bad name. Nitrates are in many veggies, but beets win the prize for having some of the most. Current research shows that beetroot juice has several compounds such as betalaine that have strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which means better recovery for dancers1,2.

#4.  Turmeric

The active component of the root turmeric is curcumin, and research suggests that it has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects. Turmeric is widely available as a spice and is popular as a tea, but to get enough to see a measurable benefit, dancers might need to supplement with curcumin powder or capusles. However, black pepper can enhance turmeric’s efficacy, and ingesting turmeric regularly through the diet has been clearly shown to have health benefits.

#5.  Mushrooms

Shiitake, maitake and portabella are all mushrooms that are inexpensive, easy to find and prepare. Even common button mushrooms that are exposed to UV light have vitamin D. Mushrooms’ medicinal properties have been known to Chinese medicine for thousands of years. These days, performance-enhancing mushrooms like cordycepts, reishi and lion’s mane are big business and can be found in powered form in everything from coffee to hot chocolate packets. Packaged or fresh, it couldn’t be easier or more delicious to get mushrooms in your everyday life. They have been shown to have performance- and immune-boosting effects and can reduce inflammation6. They continue to be the focus of promising cancer research6.

By Emily C. Harrison MS, RDN, LDN of Nutrition for Great Performances.

Photo By Belinda Strodder of dancephotography.net.au for Dance Informa.


  1. Hord NG. Dietary Nitrates and Nitrites from vegetables and fruits: how can something so bad be so good? SCAN’s Pulse Winter 2013, vol. 32, No.1 pp11-13.
  2. Clifford T, Howatson G, West DJ, Stevenson E. The Potential Benefits of Red Beetroot Supplementation in Health and Disease Nutrients. 2015 Apr; 7(4): 2801–2822.
  3. Bell PG. et al.Montmorency cherries reduce the oxidative stress and inflammatory responses to repeated days high-intensity stochastic cycling.  Nutrients. 2014 Feb 21;6(2):829-43
  4. Vitale KC, et al. Tart cherry juice in athletes: a literature review and commentary. Current Sports Medicine Reports. 16(4):230–239, JUL 2017
  5. Heaton LE.Selected In-Season Nutritional Strategies to Enhance Recovery for Team Sport Athletes: A Practical Overview. Sports Med. 2017; 47(11): 2201–2218.
  6. Isokauppila T. Healing Mushrooms. Avery: Penguin Random House. 2017


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