The Best Muscle Recovery Foods: Your Smart Nutritional Guide

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Whether you’re a budding bodybuilder, a seasoned sprinter, a keen cross-fitter, or anything in between, there’s no doubt that you’ve experienced your fair share of muscle soreness after an intense workout.

Muscle soreness can seriously affect your ability to recover between workouts—it’s inconvenient, too. But, with the right nutrition, you can really power up your post-workout recovery.

Eating the right foods and taking the right supplements will help you reduce muscle soreness, give you extra energy, and help you smash those fitness goals, time after time. 

And, we’re going to tell you what you need to consume to promote muscle recovery—the Smart way.

Ready? Let’s go, go, go.

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The best muscle recovery foods & nutrients 

Now that you’re in the zone—let’s get down to the nutritional nitty gritty.

To boost muscle recovery consistency, getting the right nutrients is key. Keeping hydrated while consuming the right foods and supplements will not only benefit muscle recovery—you will also improve exercise performance.

SmartTip: To keep your glycogen stores stocked up, prompt muscle protein synthesis, and reduce recovery times, you should aim to take a supplement or eat a well-balanced meal within 30 to 40 minutes of your workout or training session.

Nutrients that support muscle recovery 

As one of the biggest influences on overall health and well-being (alongside sleep), nutrition is vital for muscle repair after a strenuous workout.

Consuming the right mix of nutrients will help you replace any 'endogenous substrate stores' (these are essential to physical and mental function) as well as essential vitamins and electrolytes you lose after a workout.

To boost your muscle function, reduce soreness, and improve recovery for your next workout, here are the main nutrients you need to succeed…

Protein

For muscle growth and recovery, you need protein in your life. Proteins from meat and a variety of plant-based sources will flood your body with the essential amino acids you need to repair damaged muscles and boost recovery. It is an essential nutrient for anyone looking to build muscle.

Carbohydrates

A staple of any good ‘recovery meal’, carbohydrates are essential to better muscle recovery. Not only will eating enough healthy carbs boost your glycogen stores, but it will also restore your energy levels after an epic workout or training session. The best muscle recovery foods in carb form include sweet potato, ripe bananas, brown rice, quinoa, pasta, mango, and beets.

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Omega-3 fatty acids

As a big-hitting muscle recovery nutrient, omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, which, in turn, will combat any muscle damage or soreness. Getting your fix of this tip-top nutrient will also help you to boost muscle performance. There are plenty of tasty omega-3 options, including salmon, mackerel, flaxseeds, herring chia seeds, and walnuts.

Antioxidants

By going for recovery foods packed with antioxidants, you can combat the oxidative stress caused by intense workouts. Going for a vibrant mix of fruits and vegetables will give you all of the antioxidants as well as the essential nutrients you need to improve muscle performance, reduce soreness, and boost recovery.

Vitamins and minerals

Getting your fill of the right vitamins and minerals is essential to any good post-workout nutrition plan. If you’re looking to reduce inflammation and speed up muscle recovery, taking supplements and eating foods rich in magnesium, calcium, and vitamin D is essential. This melting pot of muscle recovery nutrition will keep your muscle function in tip-top condition while working to reduce muscle soreness. So, get plenty of dairy, fruits, nuts, and seeds into your diet.

Spices

That’s right…’getting spicy’ with your muscle recovery foods will also help you to repair muscle tissue and boost your recovery. The likes of turmeric, curcumin, and ginger all boast powerful anti-inflammatory powers that will help to speed up the recovery process while keeping any DOMs-based soreness to a minimum.

Probiotics

Getting a regular dose of probiotics will not only improve your gut health and level up your general wellbeing, but this flurry of good bacteria will also maintain solid muscular function while tackling any inflammation you may experience after a big workout, adventure or training session. If you’re searching for foods packed with probiotics, give sauerkraut, miso, tempeh, and cheddar cheese, kimchi, and pickles.

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Water

We touched on this earlier—but it’s important, so we’ll say it again—keeping hydrated is absolutely essential to combating soreness and boosting muscle recovery. Get your daily dose of H20, and you’ll…

  • Flush out any toxins that may contribute to soreness.
  • Fight inflammation and muscle cramps.
  • Speed up muscle recovery
  • Boost your energy after a workout or training session.

So, if you ever wondered what to drink for muscle recovery, the answer is plenty of water, among other things, such as post-workout supplements, which will get more in detail soon.

As a general rule of thumb, you should aim to drink between 11.5 and 15.5 standard cups of water a day to stay in the hydration zone.

SmartTip: In addition to water, Getting your daily dose of tart cherry juice will help your muscles recover. Good news if you’re a fan of cherries.

Why? Well, a mix of studies suggests (2) that the compounds found in tart cherry juice help to fight muscle pain while speeding up recovery after strength-based exercise. 

Foods that help muscle recovery 

You know which nutrients to get into your system when picking your muscle recovery foods. Now, for some added information and inspiration, here’s a quickfire checklist of some of the most effective recovery foods on the planet.

So, let’s take a look at the muscle recovery nutrition you need to succeed (starting with something juicy).

  • Watermelon
  • Fatty fish (including herring, tuna, salmon, and mackerel)
  • Beetroot
  • Blueberries
  • Starchy veg
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potato
  • Eggs
  • Lean meats
  • Tofu and tempeh
  • Cottage cheese
  • Ricotta
  • Wild rice
  • Quinoa
  • Wholegrain bread
  • Natural yoghurt (kefir is one of the best yoghurt-based muscle recovery foods)
  • Pistachios
  • Tart cherry juice
  • Coffee
  • Whey protein
  • Casein protein
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How can supplements help with DOMs?

In addition to getting your fill of the best foods for muscle recovery, taking the right post-workout supplement will also help you fight muscular soreness while powering up your recovery between training sessions.

Taking a post-workout supplement packed with a balanced mix of nutrients, you’ll gain the power to turbocharge your muscular recovery between workouts.

Here are the main ways post-workout supplements can work with the right muscle recovery foods to help you smash your health and fitness goals…

  • Reduce post-exercise pain
  • Promote protein synthesis (boosting your muscle mass in the process)
  • Increase blood flow to your muscles
  • Reduce the symptoms of DOMs
  • Prevent unnecessary inflammation
  • Boost your mental and physical energy level
SmartTip: With so many post-workout supplements available making bold promises, knowing which one to trust can seem like a nutritional minefield. So, here are a few tips to help you find a post-workout supplement that will deliver the muscular recovery goods…

  • · Look for ingredients that are known to boost performance and target muscle soreness
  • · Go for supplements that contain trusted ingredients and largely natural ingredients
  • · Check user reviews and try supplements with good ratings and testimonials
  • · Take pre-workout supplements endorsed by trusted athletes or fitness experts
  • · Use supplements that also work for muscle growth and protein synthesis

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Why does muscle soreness happen after a workout?

To understand the role of nutrition in muscle repair and recovery, you should know why you get sore after an intense workout.

Let’s take a look.

A case of ‘excess stress’

Basically, when you work out, your muscles and the connective tissue around them get damaged. This kind of exercise-induced muscle damage is normal and plays an important role in building mass while boosting strength. We call it ‘excess stress.’ 

Often, muscles feel sore when they are exerted more than usual—usually when you perform a new exercise or fitness routine. Your muscle tissue can also become pretty tender when they are in repair mode.

SmartFact: The idea that an exercise-induced lactic acid build-up creates muscle soreness isn’t true. In fact, some studies suggest that a little lactic acid may actually benefit muscle recovery (1). Myth busted.

Understanding delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMs)

To understand all you need for optimal muscle recovery, let’s talk DOMs for a moment.

DOMs—or delayed onset muscle soreness—is pretty much exactly as it sounds. It’s the feeling of muscle fatigue and soreness you get a little while after you work out. And it usually happens when you’ve pushed yourself hard or challenged your muscles in new ways.

It’s something that doesn’t show up right away, hence the ‘delayed onset’ part. DOMs usually show up between 24 and 72 hours after you exercise, when your muscles are in the recovery process.

While it can be inconvenient, DOMs are usually a pretty standard part of the post-exercise recovery process—and there are ways of reducing the symptoms (more on that soon). 

SmartFacts...

  • · DOMs is considered to be a form of temporary muscle inflammation that flares up post-exercise
  • · The three main symptoms of DOMs are mild muscle swelling, stiffness, and soreness
  • · Heat, massage, and the right nutrition are all effective ways to reduce DOM symptoms and improve muscle recovery

Read: Our ultimate guide to turbocharge post-workout muscle recovery for more top tips and insider advice from Smart Protein HQ. 

Recover the Smart way

If you’re looking to level up your exercise performance and speed up your recovery that Smart way, try our Peak Performance creatine monohydrate powder.

Packed with the best muscle recovery ingredients, this punchy supplement will keep soreness at bay while levelling up your exercise performance and keeping your energy levels in the green, day in and day out.

SmartTip: To consistently reduce the symptoms of DOMs and give yourself the best chance of a swift recovery between workouts, your post-workout supplement should complement a balanced diet rich in recovery foods. That’s the Smart way.

Nutrition for muscle recovery: final thoughts

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a competitive athlete, a part-time fitness enthusiast or a  working parent trying to get fit—to fight the symptoms of muscle soreness, you should place nutrition high up on your priority list.

So, use our muscle recovery foods checklist to power up your nutritional plan, take a Smart post-workout supplement, drink plenty of water, and you’ll boost your muscle recovery times faster than you ever thought possible.

We hope you find this Smart guide useful.For tailored SmartSuggestions on the right products or supplements for your personal goals, take our quick Smart Quiz.

Sources

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

1. Houston Methodist:

https://www.houstonmethodist.org/blog/articles/2021/oct/is-lactic-acid-buildup-really-what-causes-muscle-soreness-after-a-workout/#:~:text=Put%20simply%2C%20lactic%20acid%20clears,that's%20been%20almost%20completely%20disproven.

2. C NET:

https://www.cnet.com/health/nutrition/how-cherry-juice-can-help-you-bounce-back-from-a-workout

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