How often do you encounter sore or stiff muscles after a good workout? While some level of soreness is normal after a strenuous sweat sesh, there are things you can do to reduce it. Incorporating some of the best foods for muscle recovery can help get you back in the workout game sooner.
There are several things that can speed recovery, but diet is a major factor. Certain nutrients in foods can play a role in recovery and in reducing inflammation from exercise. Combining recovery foods with supplements can ensure you get what you need.
In this article, we’ll explain what causes muscle soreness, share the best foods for muscle recovery, and how to get enough of these critical nutrients on a regular basis.
Keep reading if you want to recover faster, feel better during your workouts, and reap more benefits from your exercise routine.
Here’s everything we’ll cover:
- The causes of muscle soreness
- Food to recover muscles
- How supplements can help
Muscle soreness is a normal side effect of working out. It occurs as a result of lactic acid buildup and muscle fiber breakdown during strenuous workouts. If you’re working yourself at a higher intensity, at a longer duration, or are working muscles you haven’t worked in a while, you’re more likely to feel sore afterward.
Muscle soreness typically starts around 6-8 hours post-workout. However, sometimes this soreness is delayed and doesn’t show up until 24-48 hours later. This is known as Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS), which can set you back for your next workout if you’re not recovering properly.
Refueling properly can replenish nutrients lost during exercise, minimize exercise-related muscle damage, and help get you back to your workouts feeling faster and stronger. During exercise, your muscles break down (as they should), and the right nutrients can help them rebuild. But without targeted post-workout nutrition, muscle growth and recovery will be very difficult.
Certain nutrients in particular such as B-vitamins, vitamin D, omega-3 fats, and protein can speed recovery and replenish nutrients lost during exercise.
12 Best Foods for Muscle Recovery
Even if you don’t feel hungry, it’s important to eat something within 1-2 hours after exercise for optimal recovery. This also ensures you get the biggest results from your workouts.
The following are some of the best recovery foods and drinks.
Eggs are an incredibly nutritious food to recover muscles and a post-workout favorite due to their high protein content. The protein in eggs is highly bioavailable, meaning it’s well utilized by the body. This is the type of protein you want to help repair and rebuild muscle after a hard workout.
And don’t fear the yolk – studies show those who eat the whole egg experience greater muscle growth than the egg white alone. This may be because the yolk contains vitamin A, selenium, and zinc, which may further increase muscle protein synthesis.
2. Whey protein
Whey protein shakes are a quintessential post-workout snack for good reason. Whey is a high quality protein that can support muscle recovery and function after workouts.
If you’re in a pinch, whey protein shakes are a convenient way to recharge after a workout and potentially reduce recovery time. It’s important to note that whey is derived from milk, so if you are lactose-intolerant it may not be the best choice for you.
3. Tart cherry juice
Feeling sore after your workout? Exercise increases oxidative stress and inflammation in the body. Tart cherry juice is rich in anti-inflammatory antioxidants called anthocyanins, which can help reduce soreness. The juice can also provide additional hydration after a sweaty workout.
Several studies have shown the ability of tart cherry juice to reduce perceived soreness and exercise-induced muscle damage. If you try it, cherry juice appears to be most effective when you start it several days before you exercise and continue it for a few days afterwards.
4. Fatty fish
Fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and sardines are wonderful workout recovery foods. Fish is an excellent source of high quality protein to repair muscle, and fatty fish in particular are rich in anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats. These fats are essential for recovery and can boost muscle growth.
Fish is also a naturally rich source of vitamin D, a critical vitamin that can stop inflammation in its tracks.
Enjoy 3-4 ounces of these fatty fish 2-3 days a week. If you’re not a fish fan, omega-3 fats are also found in chia and flax seeds, walnuts, and supplements.
5. Pomegranate juice
Not only is pomegranate juice thirst-quenching after a tough workout, but pomegranates are one of the best foods for muscle recovery. Pomegranate juice contains polyphenols and potent antioxidants with anti-inflammatory properties.
Studies have shown natural pomegranate juice and or pomegranate juice supplements may decrease muscle soreness, reduce inflammatory markers, and facilitate faster muscle recovery. It also appears to be the most beneficial when you take it several days before the workout and continue to take it after.
You may think of caffeine as more of a booster and ergogenic aid during exercise, but it can also help you after your workout is said and done.
This is because caffeine can block pain receptors in the body. It targets a chemical called adenosine, which is commonly released after strenuous exercise or injury, helping to block the pain receptors associated with its release. A recent study found those consuming caffeine 24-48 hours after exercise had improved recovery in muscle power and reduced soreness.
Incorporate a daily dose of natural caffeine from coffee, tea, or a pre-workout supplement to boost your chances of recovery. Always consult with your doctor regarding individualized caffeine recommendations if you’re caffeine sensitive.
Popeye downed spinach for a reason – it is great for your hard-working muscles!
This green leafy powerhouse contains protein, antioxidants, and minerals for recovery such as iron, zinc, magnesium, and calcium. It also contains other important vitamins for recovery like vitamins A, C, and folate.
Iron in particular can reduce the damage from muscle breakdown and facilitate a smoother recovery. If you’re not into spinach or are not getting enough iron in your diet, a multivitamin supplement can help bridge this gap.
Bananas are an energizing food to recover muscles. Not only are they super convenient, but they are packed with critical nutrients for recovery like carbohydrates and potassium, an electrolyte lost in sweat.
Having a banana as a snack post-workout or with added peanut butter can help replenish nutrients lost and restore glycogen stores to pre-workout levels. Glycogen is the storage form of glucose in the body, and having enough stored will help fuel you for your next workout.
Bananas are also a quick-digesting carbohydrate, allowing you to re-energize shortly after your workout.
Were you ever told chocolate milk was the ultimate post-workout beverage?
Milk is the perfect 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein, facilitating a prompt recovery process post-workout. Eating both carbs and protein together supports optimal muscle growth and allows your glycogen stores to replenish. Milk is also a good source of sodium, important for rehydration.
According to a 2019 research review, 12 studies found that chocolate milk may improve exercise performance and muscle recovery, so drink up if milk is your jam.
10. Beet juice
Beets are rich in dietary nitrates, compounds that shunt oxygen to your muscles to fuel your cells. In doing this, they may also reduce the inflammation associated with exercise.
Beet juice contains a concentrated source of these same nutrients. Studies have shown those who drank beet juice post-workout experienced reduced muscle soreness and a speedier recovery.
Sip on a glass of beetroot juice immediately after or within 24 hours of a strenuous workout. If you prefer whole beets, enjoy them on a salad as part of your post-workout meal.
Potatoes are the perfect food to recover muscles, as they are rich in complex carbohydrates needed to refuel. After intense exercise, your glycogen stores are depleted, which can leave you feeling fatigued. Potatoes are a source of complex carbs to replenish glycogen stores, recharging you and setting you up properly for your next workout.
Combine a baked sweet or white potato (yes, white potatoes are completely healthy!) with a protein source like eggs or chicken to replete glycogen and facilitate muscle growth.
12. Blueberries and raspberries
Blueberries and raspberries are particularly rich in antioxidants, but also contain a unique ingredient called sirtuins. Aside from assisting with recovery, sirtuins support a healthy metabolism and certain inflammatory pathways in the body.
Studies have also shown eating these berries may assist with recovery by reducing oxidative stress after a workout.
These are some of the best foods for muscle recovery if you want to be able to work out harder and more often. However if you aren’t able to eat these nutritious foods regularly enough, a supplement can supply additional nutrients and bring peace of mind.
Your body needs key nutrients to function at its peak, but it’s not always possible to get in enough through diet alone. Supplements can help bridge this gap and provide the following benefits:
- Contains ingredients in higher amounts than is found in foods – Many supplements contain more concentrated doses of nutrients compared to those found in foods. This can make it easier to get what you need, especially if you don’t always eat the same amount of specific foods from day to day.
- You know exactly how much you’re getting – A supplement label provides specifics on how much of each nutrient is in that supplement, so you know exactly what you’re getting. A lot of factors can affect the nutritional profile of food such as cooking method, level of ripeness, or soil quality. This can make it hard to know how much you’re getting on a given day.
- It’s easy to remember and build into your daily routine – A supplement can be easily incorporated into your morning or evening routine and requires minimal effort.
- Provides necessary nutrients lacking in certain diets – If you are a vegan or you don’t eat red meat, your diet may be lacking in certain amino acids or iron. A supplement can provide the nutrients you wouldn’t otherwise get enough of in your diet.
Incorporating a women’s multivitamin is a convenient way to boost your nutrient levels and help you feel your best. There are multivitamins designed to meet the unique nutritional needs of active women.
Additionally, a pre-workout supplement containing nutrients such as caffeine and B vitamins can further support the recovery process.
The types of foods you eat can make or break your muscle recovery. Eating the right foods can maximize your physical performance and strength during each and every workout. Incorporate these foods into your meal rotation as well as the right supplements to fill in the gaps in your diet.
A pre-workout containing caffeine and a multivitamin supplement designed for women can reduce muscle soreness and speed workout recovery. But nutrition isn’t everything! Don’t forget to also stretch, get enough sleep, and include enough active recovery time each week.
All of these habits will help you feel your best so you can keep on crushing your workout goals.
Disclaimer: The information on the Powher blog does not constitute medical advice and should not be used as such. If you would like to learn more about your dietary requirements and related aspects of your health, speak with a registered medical professional.