Is Inflammation Affecting Your Training and Recovery?

Explore more about exercise-induced inflammation symptoms to uncover how inflammation may impact your training and recovery.

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By Staff Writer
Lucia Gcingca
Edited by Lucia Gcingca

Published March 6, 2024.

a man laying on the floor next to a red kettle

Are you an athlete focused on functional fitness? If so, and you're anything like me, those feelings of being utterly drained after a WOD, collapsing on the floor, and not being able to walk the next morning are all too familiar. We've all been there. These feelings of exhaustion and muscle soreness aren’t simply signs of a good workout; they’re your body’s way of telling you it’s in recovery mode.

It’s repairing itself from strenuous activity and the inflammation caused by heavy squats, high-rep pull-ups, or those sprint intervals you just crushed. The immune system and your body’s inflammatory response are vital in your recovery, but if they aren’t kept on a leash, they can wreak havoc and cause severe problems.

Exercise-induced inflammation symptoms

Inflammation is your body’s natural response to a potentially harmful stimulus. The sore or tight feeling in your muscles, the “fire-breathing” or “WOD cough” we sometimes get, our dripping sweat, and our racing heart are all signs and symptoms of increased inflammation during a workout. You are tipping the pendulum far to one side, and your body tries to swing it back to normal.

» Discover effective pain relievers for sore muscles after exercise

Why exercise gives you sore muscles?

When we do squats or pull-ups, we repetitively contract and relax our muscles under heavy loads. This can cause muscle fibers to tear and subsequent muscle cells to break apart. When we work out, we damage our muscles. Then, our bodies repair them and grow even stronger

Inflammation occurs during the repair process when the body increases blood flow to the affected area to replenish oxygen, fuel muscles, and clear out waste. During this period of increased inflammation, the immune system scours the area to clean up harmful waste products and cellular debris, then signals the body to begin the repair process and fix the damage caused.     

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Post-workout inflammation markers

High-sensitive C-reactive protein

After strenuous exercise, inflammation markers, specifically hs-CRP levels, increase. [1, 2] High-sensitive C-reactive protein (hsCRP) is a biomarker that assesses inflammation levels. Other biomarkers often present are elevated creatine kinase (CK) levels, increased white blood cell count (WBC), and increased stress hormone cortisol.

What high hs-CRP levels may mean?

hs-CRP levels rise when the body is in a high inflammatory state, such as fighting an infection, and can even be a good predictor of cardiovascular disease.

Creatine kinase 

Creatine kinase is an enzyme used to provide energy, or ATP, to our muscles, and when we break down those muscles during a workout, CK leaks into our bloodstream, causing the levels in our blood to rise.

A small increase in serum CK levels is okay and will typically subside as our bodies recover. Still, if those levels are too high and remain high, the level of muscle breakdown in our body is too great and can lead to the dreaded “rhabdo” or rhabdomyolysis. 

White blood cell count and inflammation  

Your test results might show an increased white blood cell (WBC) count after a tough or strenuous training session.

InsideTracker tests measure WBC levels in the complete blood cell count (CBC) panel. Regarding the cells that make up our blood, we have erythrocytes, commonly called red blood cells (RBCs) responsible for carrying oxygen throughout our bodies.

Platelets are responsible for clotting and plugging up any leaks from injuries. And lastly, there are leukocytes, or white blood cells, which make up the immune system and defend against all foreign invaders or pathogens.

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How WBCs increase quickly after exercise

Though WBCs comprise only a small percentage of the total cells in our blood, they are by far the toughest! They move around our body’s circulatory system, continually scanning the environment for cells or pathogens that don’t belong.

When the immune system finds foreign bacteria or a virus, it attacks, signaling other WBCs to join the fight against the infection. Typically, WBC levels are elevated when the body is fighting off infections like the flu or a common cold, but we can also see high WBC levels in our blood results after hard physical training.

How the body's repair process is kicked into gear

Hard exercise and strenuous activity in the gym cause muscle cell breakdown with increased inflammation. Our immune system is there to clean up the harmful waste and broken-up cells left behind and to signal the repair process to begin.

» Uncover how inflammation is affecting your inner age

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Inflammation is needed for recovery after exercise  

Like all good things in life, our bodies love balance and moderation, or scientifically speaking, homeostasis. When we are too cold, our body heats itself back to normal. When we are too hot, we sweat to cool ourselves down. The immune system works the same way. With too little inflammation or a weak immune response, our bodies become compromised, and we get sick.

Likewise, too strong of a reaction can cause chronic inflammation and autoimmunity, or our body fighting itself. So, while it is good for inflammation to rise and repair the damage done during intense workouts, we need time for our bodies to heal and recover to keep our inflammation at bay.

» Discover the hidden dangers of inflammation and understand your CRP levels

Regular exercise leads to a stronger immune system

To be clear, the intent is not to scare anyone away from working out or training. Quite the opposite! Research has shown that routine exercise can strengthen your immune system. When you add exercise to your daily routine, not only are you strengthening your weaknesses in the gym, but you’re also working your immune system.

Those who participate in regularly scheduled exercise programs have been shown to have stronger immune systems, can recover faster, and can respond quicker to infections compared to those who exercise sporadically or lead sedentary lifestyles.  

Help your body respond better to exercise-induced inflammation

Now that we better understand our immune system and inflammatory response to training, we must understand how to ensure our bodies respond properly and recover optimally.

The first thing to do is to get your blood tested. It will provide an accurate, inside look at how your body responds to your training and recovery. By analyzing biomarkers such as hsCRP, CK, and WBC, you can see your body’s inflammatory state and how you respond to your training. Training on a schedule with planned recovery days is essential for proper recovery and mitigating inflammation. [3, 4]

Is it okay to train while you're sick?

We know your body uses a lot of energy to fight off an infection. Therefore, if you train hard while sick, there won’t be enough energy. Most likely, your workout will suffer, and your body will prolong the time it takes you to recover from training and your cold.

When your nose doesn't stop dripping, dial back the workouts and opt for low-intensity, interval work to get your blood flowing, but not enough to put you on your back.

Sleep: An underestimated recovery tool 

Getting 7-8 hours of quality sleep will give your body the rest and recovery time it needs to repair itself.[5] Good, quality sleep will also help lower cortisol levels from high physical and emotional stress and will help keep testosterone levels high.

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Avoiding high-sugar foods and foods with unhealthy fats

Eat fruits high in antioxidants, carbs with a low glycemic index and high fiber content, and protein with reasonable omega-3 fatty acids.

Supplementation with vitamins C and D has been shown to increase your body’s infection-fighting power. Both vitamins are essential for the proper function of immune cells, and herbal remedies such as garlic supplements and ginseng have also been found to help decrease inflammation. [6, 9]

» Check out supplements for effective workout recovery

Optimize your immune system       

By analyzing your biomarkers for inflammation and optimizing your immune system, you can ensure your body is getting the recovery it needs. In turn, you’ll be ready to attack each training session with more energy and focus and be prepared to fight off whatever inflammatory attack may come your way.


[1] Fedewa, M.V., E.D. Hathaway, and C.L. Ward-Ritacco, Effect of exercise training on C reactive protein: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised and non-randomised controlled trials. Br J Sports Med, 2017. 51(8): p. 670-676.

[2] Ispirlidis, I., et al., Time-course of changes in inflammatory and performance responses following a soccer game. Clin J Sport Med, 2008. 18(5): p. 423-31.

[3] Hayney, M.S., et al., Age and psychological influences on immune responses to trivalent inactivated influenza vaccine in the meditation or exercise for preventing acute respiratory infection (MEPARI) trial. Hum Vaccin Immunother, 2014. 10(1): p. 83-91.

[4] Matthews, C.E., et al., Moderate to vigorous physical activity and risk of upper-respiratory tract infection. Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2002. 34(8): p. 1242-8.

[5] Prather, A.A., et al., Behaviorally Assessed Sleep and Susceptibility to the Common Cold. Sleep, 2015. 38(9): p. 1353-9.

[6] Charan, J., et al., Vitamin D for prevention of respiratory tract infections: A systematic review and meta-analysis. J Pharmacol Pharmacother, 2012. 3(4): p. 300-3.

[7] Josling, P., Preventing the common cold with a garlic supplement: a double-blind, placebo-controlled survey. Adv Ther, 2001. 18(4): p. 189-93.

[8] Martineau, A.R., et al., Vitamin D supplementation to prevent acute respiratory tract infections: systematic review and meta-analysis of individual participant data. Bmj, 2017. 356: p. i6583.

[9] Seida, J.K., T. Durec, and S. Kuhle, North American (Panax quinquefolius) and Asian Ginseng (Panax ginseng) Preparations for Prevention of the Common Cold in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med, 2011. 2011: p. 282151.