The 10 Best Foods For Muscle Recovery

by Evelyn Valdez

Nutrition and exercise - Two of the most important things needed to build muscle and to promote weight loss. Getting the motivation to workout can be difficult at first, but once you start going consistently you start building the habit of going thus helping you maintain that routine. Nutrition on the other hand is the most difficult to control, but it's also the key to getting results.

Nailing post-workout nutrition is essential for quicker recovery, building muscle, improving the immune system, replenishing glycogen stores, and even reducing muscle soreness. And what do these all have in common? They are the building blocks that prepare you for your future workouts.

Neglecting proper nutrition after intense workouts will extend the time you have sore muscles and it will reduce your body's abilities to repair muscles in order for them to grow. Not only that it can make you feel sluggish and unmotivated, which can reduce future exercise performance! Do you want all that hard work and dedication at the gym to go to waste? No! So start paying more attention to what you're feeding your body after your workouts. If you want to enhance your workout recovery then keep reading to learn about the foods you need to stock your fridge with!

Best foods that support muscle recovery

When eating to promote muscle-building and support muscle recovery, prioritize whole foods that are rich in protein, carbs... and don't forget the micronutrients, specifically phytochemicals! Foods that are rich in phytochemicals have been linked to reducing post-exercise delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

Our list of muscle repair and muscle-building foods will have a combination of proteins, carbs, and phytochemicals to really boost recovery. Even if you follow a strict diet or prefer a vegan lifestyle, there will be something here that you can eat that supports your goals and dietary preferences!

Blueberries

Fruits are a fast-acting carb and have antioxidants that give them the ability to quickly replace glycogen levels and help your muscles repair themselves after a workout. Blueberries are on this list because they contain the highest amount of antioxidants, plus they're delicious! Blueberries or other berries like raspberries contain anthocyanins, which are flavonoids found in the skin of berries. The reason we bring this up is that anthocyanins are proven to enhance blood flow and reduce muscle inflammation, especially after intense workout sessions. [1]

You can eat a handful by themselves or use them to make a protein-rich snack to promote muscle growth! You can add blueberries with other of your favorite ingredients into a smoothie, or use it as a topping on Greek yogurt or cottage cheese.

Cottage cheese

Although yogurt seems to be increasingly popular, you might be surprised to hear that cottage cheese is the better option for your muscles! Both are great, but cottage cheese has more grams of protein per servings, and it even has approximately 3 grams of leucine per one cup - Which is ideal for building and maintaining muscle. It also contains whey protein and casein. For those who don't know, whey protein is known for replenishing muscles quickly after a workout, whereas casein is slower-acting which allows your muscles to continue recovering throughout the day and/or night. To make things even better, cottage cheese is packed with live cultures, AKA good bacteria, so it helps maintain good gut health in order for your body to break down and absorb nutrients. 

Opt for plain cottage cheese and make a sweet snack out of it by topping it with some berries and honey. Or make a savory breakfast and have it with some whole-grain toast topped with avocado.

Green tea

This one is not technically a food, but we had to add it to the list! Here's why...

Green tea is packed with catechins which is a natural antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory effects and helps prevent and reduce muscle cell damage. In fact, a study published in 2018 found that men who supplemented with 500mg of green tea extract had reduced markers of muscle damage that is caused by exercises. [2]

Not only that, but it's commonly known for its ability to boost your metabolic rate which is ideal for those working out because it can boost the number of calories burned! So definitely consider drinking iced or hot green tea in the morning, night, or right after your workout.

Nuts and seeds

Nuts and seeds make for an excellent post-workout snack! They are a great source of protein and even provide essential omega-3 fatty acids that help fight inflammation, have protein for muscle synthesis and growth, provide electrolytes for hydration, and even have zinc which helps boost immunity. And it makes for a convenient snack, just grab a handful of walnuts, almonds, and/or pumpkin seeds and put them in a ziplock bag to munch on after your training.  

Chia seeds are especially one you want to start adding into your smoothies, yogurts, or oatmeal. One serving of chia seeds contains three grams of complete protein, meaning they have all nine essential amino acids. They also supply key minerals that support exercise recovery, like iron, calcium, and magnesium.

​Salmon

Salmon is another food you want to add to your grocery list because it's high in omega-3 fatty acids which are known to help fight inflammation. Research also has shown that omega-3 fatty acids found in certain fish, like salmon, can help reduce levels of DOMS after exercise [3] Plus it's a lean protein, which is key for muscle restoration and to build muscle strength!

Obviously salmon is something you have for dinner, maybe lunch, which makes it a better option for those who train in the evenings. But there is an option for the early birds... Smoked salmon! Top a whole-grain bagel or toast with cream cheese and some smoked salmon for a tasty breakfast filled with protein and healthy fats!

Spinach

If spinach isn't one of the veggies you eat regularly, then it's time to fix that! Spinach contains vitamin A, C, K1, iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Plus, it packs 5 grams of protein per cup! The reason why you want to incorporate this into your post-workout meal or snack is that first, it has a good amount of protein, and second it is rich in potassium and magnesium which are key electrolytes that hydrate you and help your body recover after a sweaty training session.

You can easily add spinach into your protein shakes, omelets, salads, pasta... You name it!

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are more than just delicious... They can also help your sore muscles recover faster. As most know, exercise can deplete your body's glycogen stores, and one way to replenish them is by eating carbs. Sweet potato is not only a carb, it's a complex carb! So they are high in fiber (keeps you full and satisfied longer), are a great source of beta carotene, vitamin C, A, and potassium which all help to keep your body healthy and your muscles strong!

They can be eaten in several ways, roasted, baked, mashed. Add some spices like paprika, pepper, garlic powder, or even cinnamon to spice things up!

Tart Cherry Concentrate Juice

Earlier we mentioned phytochemicals and how they help to reduce DOMS, well this is one of them. Phytochemicals are found in a lot of food sources (some on this list), but you want a good amount of it in order to reap all the benefits. And one way to do that is by consuming it in a concentrated form, like tart cherry juice.

Tart cherry juice is loaded with antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory compounds that have been shown to help athletes recover from intense training. A particular study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggested that tart cherry juice can minimize post-run muscle pain, promote muscle recovery, and even has the potential to improve performance and reduce post-exercise recovery time for lifters [4] Another study found that tart cherry juice made a great recovery aid for soccer players after intense practice. [5] 

Look for Montmorency tart cherries in a concentrated form, but they also come dried, canned, or frozen!

Turmeric

This spice is a kitchen pantry must-have! Turmeric is widely known for its anti-inflammatory properties, making it an excellent spice to add to your post-workout foods or drinks. In fact, recent research has shown that it helps decrease DOMS. The group that was taking a turmeric supplement of 2.5 grams (twice daily) showed reduced pain associated with DOMS and some evidence of enhanced recovery of muscle performance. [6]

There are so many ways to incorporate turmeric into your diet! Turmeric can be added into soups, rice, juices, and can be sprinkled on roasted veggies. It's also widely used to be made into a latte, known as "golden milk", this is great to drink after morning workouts. All you need is 2 cups of milk (dairy-free works too), a teaspoon of turmeric, and a teaspoon of ginger.

Whole eggs

When it comes to muscle repair and building, protein is the nutrient you want to make sure you're getting enough of. High-quality protein helps rebuild damaged muscle tissue and fibers in order for your muscles to grow stronger and be prepared for the following workout. Eggs have high protein content making it a great protein source to consume after your workout for optimal recovery. But not just egg whites, whole eggs, yolk and all! The yolk is what contains all the good stuff that supports muscle growth - Healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals.

For those who want to build lean muscle and promote recovery at the same time, eat eggs in the morning or afternoon after your workout. You can do an egg scramble with some spinach and other veggies, and pair it with a turmeric latte to boost recovery even further!

Foods to avoid

The foods listed above are optimal for muscle recovery in order to promote muscle building. Just as there are foods that can help you achieve your goals, there are some who will have the opposite effect and should be avoided.

Here are four that you should avoid:

  1. Salty processed foods: You lose a lot of electrolytes after an intense workout, which could be the reason you have an intense craving for salty foods after. Don't give in to it, what your body needs is potassium and magnesium. A better option would be to eat a handful of nuts or make a potassium and protein-rich smoothie with banana, spinach, chia seeds, blueberries, and some almond milk.
  2. Sugary drinks: As always, you want to avoid added sugars as much as possible. Unfortunately, most sports drinks contain a lot of sugar, and drinking too much of those after a workout can decrease your metabolism. Instead of sports drinks, hydrate the old fashioned way, with water! You can also drink pure coconut water to rehydrate without any of the added sugar and calories!
  3. Fast food: Do not eat a fast food meal after your workout! That should be a given, but in case you need reminding, fast foods are high in calories, fat, and sodium. These foods are also deficient in essential recovery nutrients.
  4. Packaged protein bars: Packaged protein bars and shakes are an easy food to eat on-the-go, which is why so many people eat those as their post-workout snack. However, a lot of those packaged 'healthy snacks' aren't so healthy... Most are packed with artificial sweeteners, low in fiber, and have little to no essential vitamins and minerals you need for recovery. If you are always on-the-go and need a quick simple protein-filled snack make sure to look at the ingredients list of protein products you plan to purchase to make sure it's not filled with unwanted junk your body doesn't need or benefits from.

Muscle recovery is a key component of working out. Which makes eating the right foods just as important, if not more, as working out. Not giving your body the proper rest and nutrients to recover will make it difficult for your muscles to repair which leads to the breakdown of muscle, decrease in performance, increased risk of injury, and it can put a halt on your progress! Start paying attention to watch you eat before and after your workouts - So you're able to recover, feel your best, and continue making progress!

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