Hands up if you’ve ever encountered sore or stiff muscles, or DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness)? Or perhaps you’re too sore right now to even put your hand up! Most of us have been there — and that means dealing with muscle recovery. While foam rolling, low-intensity cardio workouts and staying hydrated can work to promote muscle recovery and repair, so can eating the right food!
Foods that help muscle recovery
When eating to support muscle recovery, prioritise foods that are rich in protein and carbohydrates. Whether you follow a vegetarian, vegan, pescaterian, keto or paleo diet, there are so many tasty foods you can consume to help repair your muscles.
These foods will help your muscles go from strength to strength.
Cottage cheese is an excellent source of both whey protein (known for its role in replenishing muscles quickly post-workout) and casein protein (a slow-acting protein which allows your muscles to continue recovering even as you sleep).
Given this fact, cottage cheese is a great snack to have before or after a workout! Enjoy it on wholegrain toast or with fresh fruit.
Exercise can deplete your body’s glycogen stores, so it’s important to eat carbs afterwards to rebuild them — sweet potatoes are perfect for this as they are high in complex carbohydrates, as well as providing a range of other important nutrients, including vitamin A and potassium.
Roasted, baked, mashed or even sliced to make toast, sweet potatoes are delicious in every form.
One of the most refreshing fruits, you’ll want to add watermelon to your diet intake when your muscles are feeling overly sore. Watermelon is made up mostly of water (about 92%), so it’s fantastic for hydration. Watermelon also contains vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium and magnesium.
In addition, watermelon can help to reduce muscle inflammation, thanks to its vitamin C content.
Salmon packs a powerful punch with its high omega-3 fatty acids, protein, vitamin B, potassium and selenium counts.So, how does salmon support your muscles? Studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids can reduce inflammation in the body. In addition, the potassium found in salmon can help to replace electrolytes that were lost during your workout
And let’s not forget protein: required to help repair and rebuild muscles after working out.
Eggs are rich in protein, which is good news when you’re trying to support muscle recovery. Consuming protein after working out gives your body the amino acids it needs to repair and rebuild muscle tissue. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, or as a snack — eggs are versatile, easy to cook and relatively inexpensive.
Spinach is hard to beat. Containing vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K1, iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium, spinach ticks almost every nutritional box. When you work out and sweat a lot, your body becomes dehydrated. When this occurs, the level of electrolytes in your body decreases. Spinach, being rich in potassium and magnesium (which are key electrolytes), is a great food to eat to help your body recover.
Spinach is suited to savoury breakfast dishes, as well as many lunch and dinner meals (think salads, pastas, bakes, casseroles and risottos), so it’s easy to incorporate into your day, whenever you work out.
Bananas are a fantastic source of carbohydrate, potassium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium and fibre. Bananas are a great choice for those who work out because they provide a quick source of energy, as well as some essential vitamins and minerals. It’s also thought that eating bananas can help to reduce exercise-related muscle cramps and soreness, due to their high potassium content.
The best time to eat a banana? Before or after a workout — they’re a great option all day long. Team a banana with some protein in a smoothie for a nutritious snack.
With its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric is a no-brainer, go-to food for recovering muscles. Better yet, there are so many ways to cook with turmeric! Turmeric can be sprinkled on roast vegetables or added to curries, soups, rice, juices and smoothie bowls.
Nuts and seeds
Loads of nut and seed varieties are great sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which work to fight inflammation and improve bone and joint health. In addition, they are also a good source of protein which is essential for muscle recovery! The star players are? Walnuts, chia seeds, flax seeds, pecans and hazelnuts.
Snack on them while you’re on the go, add a handful to your smoothie or sprinkle them onto an acai bowl to get your dose in.
Green tea is packed with catechins (a natural antioxidant) that can help prevent and reduce muscle cell damage caused by exercise. Green tea is also known for its ability to boost your metabolic rate — the higher your metabolic rate is, the more calories you’ll burn during your workout!
Foods to avoid
While some foods are optimal for supporting muscle recovery, there are others that won’t provide as many of the key nutrients you need to repair post-workout.
Where possible, minimise your intake of the following:
Salty processed foods
If you’re feeling low on energy and dehydrated after a workout, you might crave something salty! This is totally normal, as you lose water and nutrients like potassium, when you sweat.
While salty fries or crisps might be tempting, a better option would be a banana smoothie. The banana replenishes your potassium and carbohydrate levels, while the milk, chia seeds or nuts provide the protein you need to help repair those sore muscles.
Packaged energy or protein bars
When you’re running low on time, packaged bars can be an easy food to grab-and- go. However, many types of energy and protein bars are full of artificial sweeteners that may wreak havoc on your digestive system. They’re also generally low in fibre and the essential vitamins and minerals you need to repair post-workout.
Instead of reaching for a soda or sweetened sports drink, choose plain water or pure coconut water, as these options will hydrate you without the added sugar and chemical sweeteners. Being mindful to keep hydrated in the days following your workout is also going to ensure you recover well and stay energised.
Food is recovery fuel. Food can power you up to work out, and can work to mend your muscles, too! With so many tasty and nutritious options to aid muscle recovery out there, it’s easy to include some in your diet when you’re facing muscle soreness or DOMS.