Looking to bounce back faster from your workouts? Then you need to make sure your diet includes some of the best foods for muscle recovery.
A lot of people focus on stretching and foam rolling after a workout, but your diet is an often-neglected way to make sure your muscles recover and repair properly. The right foods can help repair damaged tissues, reduce inflammation, and provide the necessary nutrients for muscle growth.
In this article, we'll take a look at some of the best foods for exercise recovery that will help reduce delayed onset muscle soreness and build muscle. We'll make sure you know exactly what to reach for with your next post-workout snack or meal.
Which Types of Foods Are Best for Muscle Recovery?
Before we cover the best foods for muscle recovery, it's important to understand the role nutrition plays in recovering from workouts.
Your post-workout meal or snack should include plenty of lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. These will help to repair damaged muscles, speed up the healing process, rehydrate your body, and provide long-term energy to fuel your next workout session.
When you eat the right foods, you'll experience less soreness, build more muscle faster, and be ready for another sweaty session at the gym in no time.
The Best Foods for Muscle Recovery
Now let's take a look at some of the best muscle recovery foods:
First on the list of the best foods for muscle recovery is dairy products. This includes foods like milk, yogurt, and cheese.
Dairy foods are an excellent source of nutrition for muscle recovery. They contain high levels of protein, which is crucial for repairing damaged muscle tissues and building new muscle fibers.
Additionally, dairy products provide essential nutrients like calcium and vitamin D, which play a key role in maintaining strong bones and improving muscle function. The calcium in dairy products also helps regulate muscle contractions, making it easier to perform exercises and reduces the risk of injury.
Plus, the protein and carbohydrate content in dairy can help replenish energy stores, reduce muscle fatigue, and allow for quicker recovery.
- Greek yogurt
- Fruit smoothie made with milk
- Cottage cheese
- Oatmeal made with milk
- Chocolate milk
Another good food for muscle recovery is starchy vegetables. Starchy vegetables are foods like corn, potatoes, butternut squash, and sweet potatoes.
These foods provide complex carbohydrates which are an important source of energy for the body, especially after intense physical activity. The body uses carbohydrates to restore glycogen levels in muscles, which are depleted during exercise, leading to fatigue.
Additionally, starchy vegetables contain vitamins and minerals like potassium, which help regulate fluid balance and prevent muscle cramps. Plus, the fiber content in starchy vegetables can aid digestion and reduce inflammation, contributing to overall muscle recovery.
- Baked sweet potato fries
- Grilled corn on the cob
- Roasted mixed vegetables with potatoes
- Sweet potato smoothie bowl with fruit and yogurt
- Potato and vegetable stir-fry with protein
Next on the list of the best foods for muscle recovery is watermelon. Watermelon tops the list because it contains high levels of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery after exercise.
Watermelon is also a good source of hydration, with its high water content helping to replenish fluids lost during your workout. This can prevent dehydration and improve overall physical performance.
Another bonus is that watermelon contains electrolytes like potassium and magnesium, which play a crucial role in regulating fluid balance and preventing muscle cramps. The natural sugar in watermelon can also provide a quick energy boost, making it an ideal snack after a workout.
- Fresh watermelon slices
- Watermelon and feta cheese skewers
- Watermelon smoothie with yogurt and berries
- Watermelon, mint, and lime juice
- Watermelon, cucumber, and avocado salad
- Watermelon, berry, and yogurt parfait
- Watermelon popsicles
Salmon or Other Fatty Fish
Salmon and other fatty fish, such as sardines and mackerel, are excellent sources of nutrition for muscle recovery. They are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have anti-inflammatory properties that can help reduce muscle soreness and improve recovery time.
Fatty fish is also a great source of high-quality protein, which is essential for repairing damaged muscle tissues and building new muscle. They also contain vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D and calcium, which are important for maintaining strong bones and improving muscle function.
- Smoked salmon and cucumber roll-ups
- Sardine and tomato bruschetta
- Smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel
- Sardine and crackers
Another good choice for your post-workout snack is eggs. Eggs are an excellent source of high-quality protein, which helps rebuild your muscles.
Eggs also contain all the essential amino acids needed for optimal muscle growth and recovery. In addition to protein, eggs are a good source of vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin D, which is important for muscle function, and B vitamins, which help convert food into energy.
Eggs also include some omega-3 fatty acids, like those found in fatty fish, which can help reduce inflammation.
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Scrambled egg wrap with vegetables
- Egg omelette with mushrooms and spinach
- Poached eggs on whole grain toast with avocado
- Deviled eggs with smoked salmon
- Fried egg and bacon sandwich
Next on the list of the best foods for muscle recovery is spinach. Spinach contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that can help reduce muscle soreness and speed up recovery time.
Spinach is also an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, such as iron, which is important for oxygen transport to the muscles, and potassium, which helps regulate fluid balance and prevent muscle cramps.
Spinach also contains protein and fiber, which can help support muscle recovery and overall health.
- Spinach and egg muffin cups
- Spinach smoothie with berries and almond milk
- Spinach and hummus wrap
- Spinach and chicken salad
- Spinach, avocado, and tomato sandwich
Bananas are another food that is great for muscle recovery. Bananas are a good source of carbohydrates, which are important for replenishing glycogen stores in the muscles that are depleted during exercise.
Bananas also contain vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, which helps regulate fluid balance, and vitamin B6, which is important for energy metabolism. They're also a good source of fiber, which can help support digestive health and reduce inflammation in the body.
- Banana and almond butter smoothie
- Banana and peanut butter sandwich
- Baked banana and oatmeal cups
- Frozen banana and yogurt bites
- Banana and honey toast
- Banana and chocolate chip protein shake
- Banana and walnut oatmeal
- Banana and nut butter energy balls
Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are a nutrient-dense snack that can help with muscle recovery. They are a good source of healthy fats, protein, and fiber, which can help support overall health and reduce inflammation in the body.
Nuts and seeds also contain vitamins and minerals, such as magnesium, which is important for muscle function, and vitamin E, which is an antioxidant that can help reduce muscle damage and improve recovery time.
Nuts and seeds are also good sources of plant-based protein, which can support muscle recovery and growth.
- Trail mix with nuts, seeds, and dried fruit
- Roasted pumpkin seeds
- Almond butter and fruit smoothie bowl
- Flaxseed crackers with hummus and veggies
Next on the list of the best foods for muscle recovery is turmeric. Turmeric is a spice that's been used for centuries in traditional medicine and has been found to have a number of health benefits, including supporting muscle recovery.
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which is a powerful anti-inflammatory agent that can help reduce muscle damage and improve recovery time. Curcumin has also been shown to reduce muscle pain and stiffness, and enhance muscle endurance, making it a great ingredient for post-workout recovery.
In addition to its anti-inflammatory effects, turmeric is also a rich source of antioxidants, which can help protect cells from damage and support overall health.
- Turmeric latte with almond milk
- Turmeric and ginger smoothie
- Roasted sweet potatoes with turmeric and sea salt
- Baked turmeric and cumin chickpeas
- Turmeric and black pepper roasted almonds
- Turmeric and coconut oil roasted vegetables
- Golden turmeric hummus with vegetable sticks
Blueberries & Raspberries
Blueberries and blackberries are next on the list of the best foods for muscle recovery. Both fruits are rich in antioxidants which help support muscle recovery.
They are also high in vitamins C and K, as well as manganese, which are important for healthy bones. Both berries also contain anthocyanins, which are powerful antioxidants that can help reduce muscle damage and inflammation.
Additionally, blueberries and blackberries are a good source of fiber, which can support overall health and digestion.
- Fresh blueberries and blackberries with yogurt and granola
- Blueberry and blackberry smoothies
- Blueberry and blackberry chia seed pudding
- Blueberry and blackberry frozen yogurt bites
- Blueberry and blackberry oatmeal
Lastly, chia seeds are one of the best foods for muscle recovery. They are high in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, fiber, and antioxidants, which are all important for post-workout recovery.
Omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation and muscle damage, while the protein and fiber help promote muscle repair and satiety. The antioxidants reduce oxidative stress and prevent cell damage, which can be especially important after intense physical activity.
- Chia seed pudding with mixed berries
- Chia seed smoothie bowl
- Chia seed jam on whole-grain toast
- Chia seed avocado toast
- Chia seed energy bites with dates and nuts
The Best Drinks for Muscle Recovery
When it comes to using nutrition to help your body recover, it's not all about what you eat. A lot of drinks can also give your body that added boost after your workout.
It goes without saying that water is the best option for hydration and muscle recovery. But beyond that, the drinks listed below will also help you recover faster and more efficiently:
Whey Protein Shakes
Whey protein shakes are a great way to replenish your muscles with the nutrients they need for recovery. They contain all the essential amino acids your body needs, as well as plenty of protein to help rebuild muscle tissue.
Tart Cherry Juice
Tart cherry juice is another drink you can add to your post-workout routine. It's high in antioxidants, which can help reduce inflammation and muscle damage. It's also rich in melatonin, which helps improve sleep quality and overall recovery.
Pomegranate juice is another great option for muscle recovery. It contains several beneficial antioxidants, including anthocyanins and ellagic acid, which can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress.
Beet juice is one of the best drinks for muscle recovery. It's high in nitrates, which can help improve blood flow to the muscles and reduce fatigue. Additionally, it contains antioxidants that can protect cells from damage and reduce inflammation.
Coffee is more than just good for helping wake you up in the morning, it's also great for recovering from tough workouts. It can help reduce post-workout inflammation and muscle soreness, as well as improve performance in the gym.
Green Tea Extract
The last drink that's great for muscle recovery is green tea. Green tea contains catechins, which are powerful antioxidants that can reduce inflammation and oxidative stress. It also contains caffeine, which can help increase energy levels and improve performance.
Foods to Avoid for Better Muscle Recovery
As much as it's important to know what you should eat to help with muscle recovery, it's equally as important to know what you shouldn't eat.
Here are some of the top foods to avoid for better muscle recovery:
Processed foods should also be avoided after intense physical activity. Processed foods are high in sugar, fat, and calories, but low in the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients that our bodies need for muscle recovery.
They can also contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress.
Protein or Energy Bars
Although it can be tempting to reach for a protein bar or energy bar, they aren't the best choice. Despite being marketed and promoted to be good for athletes and muscle recovery, they usually contain processed and artificial ingredients that are best avoided.
Most of these bars also contain high levels of sugar, which can slow muscle recovery and lead to bloating.
The next food, or I should say drink, you should avoid for muscle recovery is sweetened drinks. Sweetened drinks are loaded with added sugar, which can be detrimental to muscle recovery.
They contain empty calories and raise blood sugar levels, which can lead to fatigue and decreased performance.
Finally, alcohol is best avoided after a workout as it can interfere with your body's natural recovery process. Alcohol has diuretic properties that can lead to dehydration and slow down muscle recovery.
It can also interfere with sleep, which is an important part of the muscle recovery process.
When Should You Eat Post Workout?
Now that we've covered the best foods for muscle recovery, let's talk about when you should eat them.
There is a lot of varying advice out there. The Mayo Clinic recommends eating a meal that contains both carbohydrates and protein within 2 hours of your workout.
A study published in 2017 noted that "the interval for protein intake may be as wide as several hours or perhaps more after a training bout depending on when the pre-workout meal was consumed."
If you ask me personally, I suggest eating within 30 minutes of your workout.
Conclusion to the Best Foods for Muscle Recovery
Overall, incorporating these best foods for muscle recovery into your diet can help you bounce back faster after a tough workout and keep pushing toward your fitness goals. From the best fruits and vegetables to the best drinks for muscle recovery, there are plenty of options to choose from.
Just be sure that your post-workout snack or meal contains plenty of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats and you'll be good to go!