The Pain Free Diet Blog

Plant-based, Paleo, probiotics, prebiotics, antibiotics, GMO, gluten-free, organic, all-natural, cleanses, detoxification, supplement, don’t supplement. Pretty confusing right? What is truly healthy and what is not? What is missing in the healthcare system that can treat your pain safely and effectively? Weekly articles explore trending topics, dig into the science, and debunk myths while giving you a sustainable approach to eliminate pain and improve your long-term health, function and vitality.


By: Jonathan Tait, D.O.

You may feel like you already have a pretty good understanding of what foods may help help you feel better, or improve your performance and recovery pre- and post-workout.

But what if some of the very same foods you consume on a daily basis, thought to be healthy, were actually killing your performance and slowing your recovery?

How could this be?

One word – inflammation.

I’m not talking about the inflammation in muscle or joint tissue that comes with hard training or an injury. The inflammation that could be robbing you of gains in the gym is not felt like the aching in your muscles a couple of days after a grueling workout. This inflammation is often silent, and is going on under the hood.


In your gut.

Now before you think this is going to be another article pitching a cleanse protocol or probiotic, I’ll tell you that you’re throwing your money away on those products if you don’t put a long-term system in place that can prevent the dietary injuries you may be subjecting yourself to on a daily basis.

Your gut lining has a very important role as the primary barrier of defense against foreign invaders such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. It also has an integral relationship with the immune system, 70-80% of which is housed within the wall of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.

The immune system responds to injury from external toxins (pesticides, herbicides, chemical in tap water, artificial colors or preservatives), internal toxins (the body’s “exhaust products” from digestion of foods), infection, and injury by mounting an inflammatory response to wall off, remove the offender, and allow the system to heal. Therefore, inflammation is a very necessary function for recovery.

Dietary injuries on the other hand, due to food allergies, intolerances, or sensitivities will also trigger a significant immune system mediated or non-immune system mediated response causing significant inflammation within the gut. With repeated exposure to certain foods the gut lining becomes compromised, leading to what’s called a leaky gut.  The normally tight cellular junctions in the gut wall become compromised and allow entry of foreign invaders and larger food particles into the blood stream.

Did you know?

  • Studies have shown that even intense physical exercise of one hour in duration can cause short-term small intestinal injury and gut barrier dysfunction in otherwise healthy individuals.1
  • This is a very good reason who some people experience additional GI distress if they eat anything too close to a workout – otherwise referred to as “the runner’s trots”.
  • Allowing the body recovery between bouts of exercise usually takes care of this issue with no long-term effects.

This resulting combination of ingestion of inflammatory foods coupled with continued bouts of exercise can lead to increased systemic inflammation.  The immune system, and your body as a whole, has to expend a considerable amount of resources to battle against toxins, inflammatory foods, and true foreign invaders, now that the barrier of defense is compromised.

Because the gut is compromised in a constant state of inflammation, it is not able to optimally process and extract vital nutrients from the good foods being consumed.

Symptoms of this systemic inflammatory state typically includes GI distress (bloating, gas, pain) of some degree, but also can include diffuse muscular or joint pain, fatigue, poor sleep quality, a lack of mental clarity or focus, headaches, irritability, anxiety, or depression.

Going a step further, about 95% of serotonin production occurs in the gut, often why the GI tract is called the second brain. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that has a direct impact on mood, mental focus, and sleep cycle quality, but it is also strongly linked to the release of growth hormone (GH).

You undoubtedly know how important GH is for repair of damaged muscle tissue and stimulation of new muscle growth, but it also has a significant impact on mood, carbohydrate metabolism, and indirectly to sleep quality, as production peaks during sleep.

We can make the leap then that if the GI tract is not functioning optimally due to repeated dietary injury and chronic systemic inflammation, serotonin and GH production is going to plummet.

Not a good thing if you want to feel and function at your best in life, or in the gym.

To determine what foods are most inflammatory, stay tuned for Part 2.


1. Van Wijck K, Van Eijk HM, Buurman WA, Dejong CH. Exercise-induced splanchnic hypo-perfusion results in gut dysfunction in healthy men. PLoS One. 2011;6(7);E22366.

2. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, “Mayo Clinic Discovers NewGenetic Candidates for Irritable Bowel Syndrome, July 22, 2011.