Nutrition for flexibility
Your diet can play an important role in improving your flexibility. While you can't eat yourself flexi, a sensible, balanced diet can optimise your efforts.
This advice is general only. For specific recommendations, consult a dietitian or nutritionist.
Nutrition for flexibility
Nutrition can support your flexibility training in four main ways:
- Reduce inflammation
- Muscle growth and repair
- Lubrication and extensibility
- Calories to support performance and recovery
Inflammation is an important part of our bodies immune response. It protects our body against pathogens (such as viruses and bacteria) and is required for tissue healing, repair and growth. We need to stimulate inflammation to cause our joints to adapt to the load of our flexibility training; however, chronic, systemic inflammation results in increased pain sensitivity, global stiffness and reduced healing capacity, which slow our flexibility progress.
Foods that increase inflammation and should be limited to improved flexibility (and reduced the risk of many chronic health conditions) include:
- Refined carbohydrates
- Red meats
- Processed foods
- Foods high in sugar and saturated fats
Foods that may have some anti-inflammatory effects:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Fish high in Omega 3 fatty acids
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Muscle growth and repair
Dietary protein is esential for muscle protein synthesis. Exercise, including flexibility training, results in the breakdown of the protein that forms our muscles. We need to convert the amino acids derived from the food we eat to maintain our muscle mass. The more active and strength-based our flexibility training, the greater our protein requirements will be. Most people require about 1g per kg of body weight a day, spread throughout the day. You may need double that if you are heavily training strength. About 30 min after exercise is a great time to have a portion of protein (approx 20g) as this is the best time for protein synthesis.
High protein foods
There are many high protein foods. However, it is worth considering the macro profile of food when deciding the best protein source.
- Milk & yogurt
- Chicken and turkey
- Nuts, seeds and beans
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Lubrication and extensibility
Hydration is vital for flexibility training. All of our tissues contain water, and it is essential for all cellular processes. The average adult is 45-65% water, depending on factors such as sex, age, and muscle mass. Our total body water decreases as we age, which is a key reason we tend to be stiffer as we get older. Our muscles are approximately 80% water. The water in our muscles makes this tissue extensible and contributes to muscle fibre creep (Fibres stretch passively when under a constant load). Connective tissue such as the fascia that wraps our muscles, tendons and joints hold water in their web-like structures to allow these tissues to slide smoothly over each other. Articular cartilage is over 80% water, which helps spread load and protect our joints. Even a drop in total body water of a few degrees will leave our joints stiffer and muscles less extensible. While how much water you need to intake each day depends on many factors, around 2-3.5 litres is required to maintain good function. You may need more than this if it is hot and you are exercising.
Foods with high water content include;
- Berries, citus fruits and melons
- Leafy green vegetables, especially lettuce, cucumbers and spinach
Be aware that caffeine and alcohol are diuretics and will have a dehydrating effect. You will need to drink more water to compensate.
Calories to support performance and recovery
You need to ensure that you are consuming enough calories for your training. You need to be eating enough to allow your body to recover and adapt to the stimulus of your training; otherwise, at least some of your efforts have been in vain. This means eating to support your training even on rest days, when you are less active. In addition, Undereating can activate your sympathetic nervous system fight, flight response which can increase pain sensitivity and reduce your tolerance to stretch.
- Nutrition can support your flexibility training by reducing inflammation, supporting muscle growth and repair, improving tissue lubrication and extensibility, and ensuring sufficient calories to support performance and recovery.
- Foods that increase inflammation and should be limited. Some foods may have anti-inflammatory properties.
- Protein is important for muscle growth and repair. Consuming a serving of protein 30 mins following training supports muscle protein synthesis.
- Hydration is essential for flexibility training. Even a small drop in total body water can leave your joints stiffer and less extensible.
- It is crucial to ensure your calorie intake is sufficient to support both your training and recovery.
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