Athlete or weekend warrior, regardless of your degree of physical activity, you need to protect your tissues. Here’s why.
Connective tissue is the most abundant tissue in the body.
Connective tissue “connects” things in your body to help maintain structure. It basically supports and anchors parts together.
For example, your joints have ligaments (that attach bones to each other), as well as tendons (that attach muscles to bones). These are examples of “dense” connective tissue made mainly of collagen.
Your joints also have cartilage and fluid to “cushion” the ends of the bones when you move so they don’t rub against each other and cause pain or “wear and tear”. Cartilage and fluid are also part of your connective tissue.
Basically, connective tissue is composed of collagen and elastic fibers (elastin), cartilage, other specialized cells, with a healthy dose of cushioning fluid too.
All connective tissue is super-important for a well-functioning body, and of course, there are certain key foods and nutrients that support optimal tissue health. Because some parts of your joints don’t have a huge blood supply, they can take months (or longer) to heal after an injury.
So, let’s make sure that you’re constantly supplying your joints (and the rest of your body) with ample nutrition to make them as robust as possible!
Here are a few top “ingredients” for your tissue health.
I mentioned collagen and elastin above, and you probably won’t be surprised to know that both are made of protein.
As a result, protein is incredibly important for optimal tissue health.
Protein itself is made up of a bunch of amino acids strung together. When we eat them, our digestive enzymes break down that “string” so that you can properly absorb and digest the individual amino acids. Your body uses those amino acids to create the myriad of proteins that it needs, things like muscle, bone, skin, collagen and elastin. Eating enough essential amino acids is key.
Examples of protein-rich foods:
- Grass-fed beef
- Organic chicken
- Wild-caught Salmon
- Black beans
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY FATS (omega-3s)
Omega-3s are “essential” for good health and have been researched extensively for their potential to lower the risk of many heart and brain issues. Omega-3s can also help with tissue health because of their amazing anti-inflammatory properties.
The problem is that most people simply don’t get enough essential omega-3s.
What foods should you eat more of to increase your intake of omega-3s?
- Nuts (particularly walnuts)
- Seeds (especially flax, chia & hemp)
- Egg yolks
I also recommend taking a high quality, professional grade Omega-3 supplement such as NutraSea Omega-3 Liquid Gels by Ascenta.
ANTI-INFLAMMATORY AND ANTI-OXIDANT PLANTS
You don’t need to be a vegan to know that eating plants is good for you.
One of the many reasons why is that they contain excellent anti-inflammatory compounds. Since inflammation is part of so many short-term and long-term health concerns, including joint pain, adding more plants to your diet is a great way to help lower inflammation.
Many plants are anti-oxidant powerhouses as well.
Which plants have the most anti-oxidants?
Colourful ones! Eat a rainbow by choosing from a variety of colourful foods.
- Wild blueberries
- Goji berries
- Dark chocolate
- Green tea
- Kidney beans
Collagen is a critical part of your connective tissue, especially in joints. You need amino acids as building blocks to make the collagen.
Vitamin C is a critical “assistant” that helps your enzymes make the collagen from those amino acids that you get when you eat protein.
So, vitamin C works hand-in-hand with protein for healthy collagen in your tissues.
Vitamin C is also an anti-oxidant, and since exercise can cause increased production of free radicals, anti-oxidant nutrients are extra-important for athletes and those who exercise regularly.
Foods rich in vitamin C include:
- Black currant
- Red bell pepper
- Green bell peppers
- Brussels sprouts
Magnesium is extremely important for your health because it is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body. About 50% of your body’s total magnesium is stored in your bones, while the remaining part is predominantly found in the cells of body tissues and organs. Among its many roles in the body, magnesium plays an important part in protein synthesis, and we know how crucial protein is to tissue health.
Foods rich in magnesium include:
- Sea vegetables
- Dark leafy greens
- Pumpkin, sunflower and sesame seeds
- Black beans
While I was studying for my final exams at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition, I used little tricks to help me remember all the different vitamins and minerals. For Manganese, it was “Manganese is for the knees.” In other words, manganese plays a critical role in the formation of connective tissue.
Foods rich in manganese include:
- Brown rice
- Chick peas
- Pumpkin seeds
Since your connective tissues and joints need fluid (synovail fluid) to cushion them, water is essential for tissue health. Approximately 60% of joint cartilage is made from water, so it is critical that we keep well hydrated, otherwise our production of synovial fluid will be reduced and we increase our risk of friction pain and cartilage deterioration.
Drink half your bodyweight in ounces of water. If you weigh 160 lbs, drink 80 oz of water or 10 cups each day.
Tissue health is important for everyone, especially athletes and people who exercise regularly. Eating a variety of nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods is key. Include foods that contain enough high-quality protein, omega-3 fats, magnesium and manganese as well as foods that are rich in anti-oxidants and vitamin C. And finally, don’t forget to stay well hydrated.
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