8 Best Foods for Muscle Recovery

8 Best Muscle Recovery Foods

Although high-intensity exercise can make us feel exhausted in the moment, the results make it all worthwhile. From building muscle mass to increasing physical endurance, pushing your body to its limit takes both physical and mental stamina. 

While the workout itself was strenuous, it’s usually the resulting exercise-induced muscle soreness that can be more of a hassle! Not only can sore muscles cause a ton of discomfort, but they tend to affect your day-to-day routine as well. 

That’s where muscle recovery foods come in! 

Follow along as we dive into the best muscle recovery foods that can help reduce muscle soreness and speed up muscle recovery. 

What is Muscle Soreness?

Exercise-induced muscle soreness can come from any type of workout – from a long run out in the mountains to an intense weight training session at the gym. When the body is put under a certain degree of physical stress, it creates tiny micro-tears within the muscle cells. 

Rest assured that this is completely normal!

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), these tears make us sore in the early stages of healing, but ultimately help us build muscle mass during the repair process. 

While some forms of exercise may result in immediate muscle soreness, it’s also very common to experience a delayed effect known as ‘delayed onset muscle soreness', or DOMS for short. This type of muscle soreness manifests within 6-8 hours after exercise and can last up to 24-48 hours post-workout [1].

How Muscle Recovery Foods Can Help

Proper nutrition plays a critical role in both the performance and recovery of our muscles. In preparation for a heavy workout, it’s important to increase our glycogen stores by consuming a mix of healthy carbohydrates and proteins. Together, these macronutrients can supply our body with energy, support muscle growth, enhance muscle performance, boost muscle recovery, and prepare us for our next workout [2].

So you may be wondering, what are the best carb-rich foods and lean protein sources to help prevent exercise-induced damage, improve exercise performance, and aid in the muscle recovery process? Read on to find out!

Top 8 Foods that Promote Muscle Recovery 

Among the different foods that help energize our bodies, here are some of the best that work to promote muscle recovery following an intense workout. 

1. Bananas

Bananas are a quick and convenient source of carbohydrates that can be used as fuel during exercise. As an easily digestible snack, bananas are quick to supply our bodies with sugar and phytochemicals – both of which are important to improve metabolic recovery and reduce post-exercise inflammation at the cellular level [3].

Bananas are also rich in potassium which is a form of electrolyte that helps the body maintain fluid and blood volume during exercise making them the perfect post-workout recovery food. Potassium may also be helpful in reducing muscle cramps during or after exercise.

2. Green Tea 

Green tea extract is another beneficial post-workout supplement that helps promote muscle recovery. 

Rich in antioxidants and polyphenols, green tea works to minimize oxidative damage surrounding the muscle to help speed up cellular repair. Although green tea was not found to decrease the sensation of DOMS, the antioxidant properties play a role in reducing the muscle damage caused by intense exercise [4].

3. Chia Seeds 

When it comes to pre-exercise nutrition, chia seeds have a lot to offer. Although tiny, these seeds are packed with a range of minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium, as well as omega-3 anti-inflammatory fat. These nutrients are known to help support exercise recovery. 

Chia seeds are a complete protein containing all nine essential amino acids to support muscle protein synthesis, encourage healthy muscle function, and most importantly, facilitate successful muscle recovery [5].

4. Oatmeal

Oatmeal is a staple post-workout meal for many athletes. Not only is it quick and easy to make, but it’s an effective way to replenish glycogen stores after a strenuous workout. 

The reason oats are unique compared to other sources of carbohydrates such as fruits or vegetables is that it's high in fiber. Since fiber is slower to break down during exercise, it gives our body more time to absorb and use it as fuel. Together with protein, oats can support muscle growth and recovery.

5. Tart Cherry Juice 

Tart cherry juice is a lesser-known workout supplement that can aid muscle recovery. Rich in plant compounds known as anthocyanins, tart juice has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce pain caused by exercise-induced muscle damage, accelerate strength recovery, and reduce blood markers associated with inflammation and oxidative stress [6].

Since 100% tart cherry juice can be high in sugar and calories, it’s best to drink 6-12 ounces either right before or immediately after your workout. 

6. Fatty Fish 

Fatty fish like salmon, sardines, or mackerel are excellent sources of nutrients that work to ease muscle soreness and speed up recovery time. 

On the one hand, fatty fish are rich in protein which helps rebuild muscle tissue and promote muscle growth [7]. On the other hand, these types of fish help us supplement omega-3 fatty acids which are shown to reduce the sensation of DOMS by minimizing inflammation in the muscle [8].

7. Beet Juice 

Beets are one of the best muscle recovery foods available. Packed with dietary nitrates and betalain pigments, beet juice is shown to help promote muscle performance and reduce DOMS following exercise. 

Nitrates are an effective compound that helps improve oxygen transport to the muscle to improve performance (i.e. endurance, strength, and power) [9]. Meanwhile, betalain pigments are shown to fight inflammation and oxidative damage caused by strenuous exercise to help speed up muscle recovery [10].

Drinking beet juice is an excellent way to get immediate nutrition both pre- and post-exercise.

8. Whey Protein Powder

Protein powder is a common nutritional supplement that athletes take on a regular basis. Whey protein is a complete protein source containing a blend of amino acids that aid in protein synthesis thereby stimulating muscle growth and supporting muscle repair.

According to the American College of Sports Medicine, adults engaging in regular physical activity should be consuming between 1.2-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight to improve muscle tone, size, and function [11].

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