If you’re already practising yoga regularly, you’ll be seeing some improvements in your strength, flexibility, and overall well being. But, we all have our weak spots. Hamstring stretches can be challenging, for instance. It can take a lot of practice to be able to achieve a full stretch.
But, if you’re keen to progress, addressing how you fuel your body is key. A careful diet with the use of supplements can make a huge difference to your Yoga progress.
So, we’d like to recommend some simple diet changes you can implement to improve your flexibility.
What Is Flexibility?
Flexibility in your joints means functioning connective tissues that join the skeleton and muscles. These connecting tissues help your body to move in specific ways and stabilise the body. These issues include:
Ligaments: These can be band or string shaped collagen fibres that connect bones with each other.
Tendons Are similar to ligaments. Also, band or string is shaped, but they connect muscles to bones.
Fascia: is a densely woven mesh that wraps around every blood vessel, bone, muscle, organ, and nerve in the body. You could picture it like the skin that covers the segments of an orange.
When these tissues become stiff from inactivity or poor diet, it limits the body’s range of movement. And, if you have less flexibility, you become more prone to injury. Consistent Yoga practice conditions these connective tissues.
The Link Between Food and Flexibility
A well-balanced diet full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants is vital to nourishing the connecting tissues in the body.
If the body isn’t receiving enough nutrients, the ligaments, tendons, and fascia are less able to achieve a full range of motion. Vitamins C, D, A, and B vitamins are vital for overall health, including flexibility.
When the body is dehydrated, it holds on to water, causing fluid retention, which leads to stiffness. To keep the tissues plumped up with enough water, eat fruit and vegetables with high water content and drink plenty of water.
Processed food also tends to have a high salt content. Too much salt causes swollen joints as the body tries to hold on to fluid.
As ligaments, tendons, and fascia consist entirely of collagen, a diet focused on nourishing cells and boosting collagen production is the most vital element to consider if possible.
The Bottom Line: Collagen
Collagen is a fibre-like protein that makes up the connective tissues. As we age, collagen production naturally declines. This is completely unavoidable. Smoking, sun exposure, lack of sleep, and excess alcohol will also accelerate this decline.
The good news is that exercise, including Yoga, helps to boost collagen. So if you’re already practising regularly, you’re already helping to keep your collagen levels up. Strength building exercise stimulates collagen synthesis through fibroblasts which are a type of connective tissue cell.
Fibroblasts are called upon to secrete collagen when they are damaged from loading the muscles with a heavy weight. Put simply, collagen is a continual process of damage and repair.
On the nutritional side, it was previously believed that eating protein can help to maintain collagen levels. But a recent study shows that eating just protein such as milk, whey, or eggs has little effect on collagen. Instead, the study found that gelatin products from ox hide, pigskin, lungfish, shark skin, and cod bone, can increase collagen production.
The active amino acids in these gelatin products are effective because they contain high traces of glycine and proline. These super amino acids occur naturally in the body.
What Dietary Changes Can Help Boost Collagen and Flexibility?
So based on what we know about the biology of flexibility, here are some recommendations.
Limit Your Sugar and Salt Intake
Blood sugar levels are also a vital factor in enhancing flexibility. Keeping your sugar intake low is vital. This is because sugar destroys the collagen in your skin and connective tissues. This means avoiding processed foods, ready meals, junk food, biscuits and chocolate. Alcohol is also pure sugar, so must be avoided.
The more you can avoid insulin spikes, the better your flexibility will be as you’ll be protecting your collagen. Studies show that if you eat vegetables before carbohydrates, the insulin spike is much reduced. Just eating celery humus before your meal can help.
Eat Foods With A High Water Content
If you can afford organic fruit and vegetables, you’ll be getting denser nutrition. Organic fruit and veg are grown in soil that is rich in nutrients and without pesticides. But any is better than none.
Aim to eat at least five portions of fruit and veg a day. Opt for raw as much as possible. There are so many delicious salad recipes to try out. Bottom Ottolenghi for instance, is the master of flavourful salads and recipes. Check out his recipes here.
To help you get creative in your collagen boosting kitchen, here is a list of plant foods that are high in water:
Why not dress your salads with some beautiful dressings made from olive oil and lemon juice. Or even better vinegar and olive oil. Vinegar is known to reduce insulin spikes (great for protecting collagen).
Drink Five Glasses of Water a Day
If there is one most effective thing you can do to plump up your collagen levels, that is to drink plenty of water. As mentioned earlier, dehydration is the enemy of a flexible body. Dehydrated connective tissues will not help you to get deeper in stretches and poses. So try to make this your priority.
Eat Bone Broth
Eating broth made from boiled animal bones is said to improve collagen as they contain glycine, proline, and hydroxylysine. However, research from 2019 suggests that while it can be beneficial, it does not have as high concentrations of these amino acids as supplements.
Still, if you’re not vegetarian or vegan, it’s worth trying. Boil beef bones and skin for 8 hours, then drink the broth.
A 2021 review of research on collagen peptide supplements concluded that 15g taken daily successfully improves joint health. Collagen peptide supplements are different to gelatin as a process called ‘hydrolysis’ which uses water to break down collagen from pigs, cows, and fish. Gelatin, on the other hand, comes from heating or treating collagen from animals.
Cod liver oil capsules are also a good source of Omega 3 which also benefits connective tissue health.
If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you may want to take Alpha Hydroxy Acid instead as it is derived from citrus fruits. This supplement is typically used for skin anti-ageing. However, while it won’t boost collagen necessarily, it is widely recommended for people who suffer from joint pain. This may help to increase the range of motion.
By eliminating foods that destroy collagen, and focusing on foods that reduce insulin spikes, and hydrate your connective tissues you can improve your flexibility.
In fact, why not come along to one of our Yoga retreats, where you can try the types of cuisine that are perfect for getting more flexible. You’ll have some delicious nutritious meals prepared while you practise, meditate, and discuss philosophy. You’ll deepen your stretches with daily Yoga sessions located in a beautiful location.
Check out our upcoming retreats here.