How to Speed Up Muscle Recovery: Nutrition, Supplements & Tips

Woman With Muscle Recovery Drink

If you're prepared to put in the effort, there are huge benefits to getting yourself in shape. But no matter how determined and resilient you are, there will be hurdles along the way that you’ll need to tackle.

One of these hurdles is muscle soreness—an inevitable part of getting stronger and fitter. It's not something to be overly concerned about, but you should be prepared and know how best to deal with it. 

Some people can become disillusioned with working out when it comes to constantly sore muscles—but the fact is—if you don't get aches and pains at some point during your exercise schedule, you're probably doing it wrong.

Your recovery sessions are just as important as your exercise sessions. If you know how to deal with post-workout soreness, you'll be able to recover quicker, progress at a faster pace, and reduce muscle soreness—as well as the risk of injury. 

The best thing for muscle recovery is nutrition, light exercise, rest and the right supplementation

If you ignore the muscle soreness and keep working the same muscles—you’ll have a high risk of injury, so don't underestimate the importance of knowing how to deal with it properly.

Are you ready to tackle muscle soreness head-on? Read on.

Why do muscles hurt after exercise?

When you exercise harder than before, it puts your muscles under stress. As a result, small muscle tears occur, which then repair to form bigger muscles

Getting your recovery period right is essential to repair the tissues which have been damaged by exercise. 

To progress, you must work harder to train your muscles to perform under more challenging conditions. Your muscle tissue will tear—and inflammation will occur. This is part of the repair process, and your muscles will rebuild and become stronger as a result. 

The soreness you experience after exercise comes from those muscle tears. Muscle soreness after exercise, or DOMS, is nothing to be concerned about and is a natural part of the process, usually lasting around a day or two. 

It's a soreness you want to reduce as soon as possible. But thankfully, it's a process that you can speed up through nutrition, exercise, and supplementation.

Man suffering with DOMS
Select an Image

What impacts muscle recovery?

Diet, exercise, hydration, nutrition and rest will be your best friends along your exercise journey—they’re the key areas to concentrate on to alleviate muscle soreness. 

Here are some of the best recovery techniques to reduce DOMS and help you to progress more quickly towards your goals.

Hydration

It's essential to stay hydrated throughout the day—but drinking water throughout your workout is even more important to help combat fatigue and speed up post-workout recovery. 

Replenishing your system with water is only part of the battle, as sweating will also cause you to lose electrolytes, including magnesium, calcium and sodium—which help with muscle contractions. 

SmartTip: Drinking water and consuming electrolytes will keep you on top of your game and help your body push through a tough workout. You can find electrolytes in fruit, vegetables, milk, and the right supplements.
Man drinking a bottle of water
Select an Image

Nutrition: foods for muscle recovery

When your muscle fibres need to repair, your body immediately looks for the nutrients needed to do the job. 

So, making sure you're topped up with essential muscle-repairing foods is important. Getting your fill of quality carbohydrates, healthy fats, and protein before (2) as well as after a challenging workout will help to turbocharge the muscle repair process.

Why? Well, because your body will have enough essential nutrients you need to build stronger muscles.

Here are some of the essential nutrients you need for muscle recovery.

Protein-rich food

Eating plenty of protein is a must if you want stronger muscles and to help accelerate recovery. 

Chicken and red meat are excellent sources—salmon is also a protein powerhouse. It’s packed with protein and contains omega-3 fatty acids, which are great for reducing inflammation and having numerous other health benefits. Oatmeal, granola, and milk are other protein-rich foods to consume post-workout.

Fast-digesting carbs

Your body will be crying out for carbs after a workout to refuel your body. So it's a good idea to get some food containing fast-digesting carbs to help refuel your glycogen stores and aid recovery. 

It's important to note that some sugary, fast-digesting carbs should be consumed in moderation—but there should be some to hand after working out. 

The prime window to intake fast-digesting carbs is 10 to 15 minutes post-workout. Bananas, berries, rice, fruit juice and carbonated drinks are ideal for a post-workout carb top-up.

Potassium-rich foods

Foods that contain potassium can help with post-workout issues such as muscle cramps. 

When we sweat, we lose minerals like potassium—and it's a good idea to restock after a heavy exercise session. 

Leafy greens are a rich source of potassium, as are dried fruits, beans, potatoes, bananas, and avocados.  

When is the best time to eat?

The best time to eat after a workout for muscle recovery is between 30 and 60 minutes—this is also known as the anabolic window (1) (or muscle repair ‘sweet spot’). 

SmartFact: Post-workout muscle repair can go on for days—but the first hour is generally accepted as the most critical period for recovery. 
Bowl Of Oats With Mixed Berries
Select an Image

How long does it take for muscles to recover?

Good question. As a general rule of thumb, after a fairly light or routine workout, your muscles should recover within 24 hours.

But, if you take on a bigger challenge or push yourself to the limit, muscle recovery can take up to three days. During your recovery period, you should give your muscles the best possible chance of bouncing back by actively resting, eating well, and staying hydrated (but more on that later).

Taking the right muscle repair supplements will help, too—which brings us to our next subject.

Muscle repair supplements 

The main source of your nutrition for post-workout recovery should come from whole foods— but it's also a good idea to use dietary supplements to fill in any gaps.

If there’s a weak link anywhere in your diet, your body will almost certainly find it. So making sure you have a decent amount of the proper nutrients in your system will help keep you strong and speed up the recovery process with confidence.

Let’s take a look at the types of supplements you need to succeed.

Electrolytes

Supplements containing electrolytes can help muscle recovery by replenishing essential minerals lost during exercise. 

Sodium, calcium, and potassium can be lost when we sweat—so you must replenish them afterwards.

Protein

Protein contains essential muscle amino acids, which are necessary for muscle repair and recovery. 

This is a process known as protein synthesis. Without it, you cannot build stronger muscles. 

Taking a protein supplement pre as well as post-workout can enhance your recovery immunity and muscle growth.

Vitamins

Many vitamins can aid in muscle recovery—and vitamin C is one of them. Primarily known for its immunity-boosting properties, vitamin C reduces post-workout discomfort and muscle damage. 

Vitamin D also plays a vital role in muscle function and recovery from inflammation caused by intense exercise, and Vitamin B complex is excellent for promoting muscle repair. 

A decent multivitamin supplement will cover all bases and make sure you're adequately topped up.

Creatine

Creatine supplements are great for boosting energy for a high-intensity resistance exercise. These post-workout powerhouses can also play an essential role in muscle recovery by speeding up the healing process. 

It also helps to take creatine (3) before exercise, as it will give you an energy boost and the added strength you need to push harder and limit injury.

How to recover sore muscles faster: bonus tips

To help turbocharge your muscle recovery even more, here are some bonus tips to add to your training plan.

Warm-up and cool down

Going into an exercise without warming up is like starting your car on a cold day and going from 0 to 100. 

Your chances of injury can skyrocket if you don't slowly prepare your body for the challenge ahead—and the same goes for the cool down afterwards. 

An effective warm-up and cool-down routine is a great way to reduce muscle soreness and move the repair process along more quickly. 

Your warm-up should include dynamic stretches to the muscles you will work on during your exercise. This will help prevent muscle strains and injuries during your workout. 

Cooling down will allow your muscles to relax and your heart rate to recover again, which will help to reduce stiffness. Your cool-down should include plenty of stretching as well as some walking. 

This kind of active recovery can be the difference between finishing a tough workout in good shape or failing to hit the target. 

Foam rollers can also help your muscles stretch and become more flexible before and after a workout. 

Take a bath

Inflammation is a natural part of the repair process of your muscles as they adapt to the more challenging workouts. 

Taking a cool bath can help reduce inflammation and speed up recovery. Adding magnesium bath salts can also help relax your muscles and reduce swelling. 

SmartTip: Cold water immersion can also help to reduce swelling and help to relieve DOMS (so release your inner Wim Hof).

Don't underestimate the power of rest

When you're all fired up and determined to power your way through your exercise schedule, you can sometimes forget that you also need to rest occasionally. 

It might seem like you're not putting it all in if you take a day off—but this couldn't be further from the truth. When you're in the zone, it sometimes takes tremendous discipline to take the sensible option and take some time off. But if you're reluctant to take a day out when you're experiencing muscle soreness, remember that it's better to lose a day or two by allowing your muscles to recover than to put your schedule back months due to injury. 

Always allow for around two complete rest days every seven to 10 days when preparing your workout schedule. Oh, and if you need an extra day to recover from tough workouts, take it. 

Rest days will speed up your progress in the long run, helping your muscle tears to repair and rebuild in the process.

Stressed Out Man Sitting
Select an Image

Try to keep the stress down

Your focus is essential if you want to progress through exercise, and each session requires you to concentrate fully on what you’re doing. 

The better quality of workout you have, the faster you'll progress. If you’re too stressed, your mind can wander, which not only means you'll not get the best out of your intense workouts but can also lead to potential injuries. 

Your mental health is important. So, wherever possible, you should try to keep your stress levels low—not just in the gym. 

When you’re stressed, your brain will signal your body to prioritise that stress over muscle recovery. It can also affect your immune system, slowing down the repair of muscle tears. 

Stress will also affect your energy, which will most definitely affect the quality of your workout and your ability to build muscle.

Most of us lead busy lives, and trying to keep the stress levels down can be challenging. Some days you'll have so much going on in your head that you won't feel up to any challenge, and there can also be occasions when you simply don't have enough time to fit in a decent session. 

Here are some quick tips on how to reduce your stress levels…

  1. Get at least seven hours of quality sleep each night
  2. Try meditation, mindfulness, and yoga
  3. Talk to friends, family, or a professional counsellor or therapist

Don't ignore the pain

Pain is your body's way of telling you that something isn't right—so it’s important to listen to your body. 

We've already discussed the normality of DOMS after a workout, and it's unlikely that you won't experience some soreness after working out—especially if you’re new to it. 

Once you exercise regularly, you'll become familiar with the aches and pains you normally experience when pushing your body harder. This means you'll also be able to tell when something isn't right. 

Sometimes, this can be a non-exercise-related injury—from picking up something heavy to the muscular pain linked to sitting down at work all day. When this kind of pain flares up, take action and seek the advice of a medical professional.

Level up your post-workout recovery the Smart way

There are no shortcuts to fitness, but proper nutritional planning and supplementation are vital to your overall muscle recovery and general wellbeing.

Armed with the right foods and supplements, you’ll turbocharge your muscle recovery, decrease muscle soreness, and keep hitting those all-important fitness goals.

To level up your post-workout recovery the Smart way, take our quick quiz for tailored suggestions on the supplements that will help you achieve your personal goals.

Sources

Smart Protein is committed to sourcing only the best and scientifically-backed research in our articles.

1. Anabolic window: Georgia State University:

https://lewis.gsu.edu/2021/10/13/fact-or-fiction-the-anabolic-window/

2. Protein: National Library of Medicine:

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24435468/ 

3. Creatine: National Library of Medicine:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3763311/ 

Back to blog

Let’s get Smarter together!

Ready to level up your goals? Join our supportive community today for exclusive product news, expert advice and epic rewards