There aren’t many better feelings than that post-workout glow – with your blood pumping and endorphins flowing.
Whether it’s lifting heavy weights or completing a pregnancy HIIT workout, that feeling after exercising hits you all the same.
What can follow in the days after this though can be quite uncomfortable.
We’re talking about the soreness in your muscles. It’s something that everyone who exercises will face at some point.
Even seasoned athletes still get muscle soreness.
A main factor that contributes to the recovery of your muscles is the food you eat.
In this article, we will cover what are the best foods for muscle recovery. That way you can be as prepared as possible when it comes to your recovery after workouts.
Let’s get into it.
Why recovery food matters when eating for post-workout recovery
Recovery food plays a massive role in the post-workout phase as it influences the body’s ability to repair and replenish after intense exercise.
Consuming the right combination of nutrients is essential to optimise recovery and maximise the benefits of a workout.
Proteins, with their amino acids, are crucial for repairing and rebuilding muscle tissues that get stressed during exercise.
Carbohydrates replenish glycogen stores which are the body’s primary energy source during physical activity.
Incorporating healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals from diverse sources such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts supports overall well-being and aids in the reduction of inflammation.
Timing is also crucial, as consuming recovery food within the post-exercise window enhances nutrient absorption and promotes a more efficient recovery process.
Recovery food is not just about satisfying hunger.
It’s used to help facilitate optimal recovery, reduce muscle soreness and ensure sustained energy for future workouts.
What should you eat after the gym?
Your post-workout meal is a key component of optimising recovery and promoting muscle growth.
Ideally, it should be a balanced combination of protein, carbs, and healthy fats.
Including a source of high-quality protein, such as:
- Lean meat.
- Fish – check out our chilli salmon recipe.
You can also go for plant-based options like beans and tofu if that is your preference.
Foods such as whole grains, sweet potatoes, and fruits are excellent carbohydrate choices to help replace lost glycogen.
Incorporating healthy fats from sources like avocados, nuts, or olive oil supports overall nutrient absorption and provides sustained energy.
Hydration is equally important, so be sure to drink plenty of water to replace fluids lost through sweat.
Consider a post-workout meal within the first hour after exercise to take advantage of the body’s heightened ability to absorb nutrients during this window.
Foods to avoid during muscle recovery
While it’s great to understand the foods that will help you on your muscle recovery journey, we also feel it’s wise to talk about the foods that are not so good.
We live in a world full of fast and convenient food that is highly processed and easily accessible.
The truth is a lot of the food we see advertised and sold isn’t ideal when it comes to getting fit, healthy and strong.
While there aren’t specific foods that you must completely avoid, certain dietary choices may hinder the recovery process or contribute to inflammation, these include:
Refined sugary foods
Foods high in refined sugars and trans fats can contribute to inflammation. They also contain zero nutritional value, therefore they needlessly add calories to your diet with no benefits.
Sugary drinks often have more than your recommended daily amount of sugar. This sugar spike can raise your blood glucose levels and cause insulin to store energy as fat
Should your blood sugar levels surge following the consumption of sugary beverages, your body may experience a reduced efficiency in protein synthesis, leading to the breakdown of protein rather than building it.
Alcohol can interfere with protein synthesis and hinder muscle recovery. Limit alcohol consumption, especially in the immediate post-exercise period.
One study looked at how excessive alcohol consumption can lead to muscle weakness due to its suppression of protein synthesis.
Best foods for muscle recovery
Proper nutrition is crucial for muscle recovery after intense exercise. Here are some of the best foods to support muscle recovery:
Lean meat is an excellent choice for muscle recovery due to its rich protein content and high-quality amino acid profile.
Protein is a fundamental building block for muscles, providing the essential amino acids required for repair and growth.
Lean meats, such as chicken, turkey, and lean cuts of beef or pork, offer a concentrated source of protein without excessive amounts of saturated fat.
These meats are also abundant in nutrients like iron and zinc, which play crucial roles in various physiological processes, including immune function and tissue repair.
The leanness of these meats helps you maintain a balanced diet, supporting overall health and aiding in the development of lean muscle mass.
Dairy products are beneficial for muscle recovery primarily because they are rich sources of high-quality protein, particularly whey and casein.
- Whey protein – found in milk, is rapidly absorbed, making it an excellent choice for post-exercise recovery, as it quickly delivers amino acids to the muscles.
- Casein – another protein in dairy, has a slower digestion rate, providing a sustained release of amino acids over a more extended period, which can support muscle recovery during periods of rest.
Dairy products are a good source of calcium which is crucial for muscle contraction and overall bone health.
Plant-based proteins are valuable for muscle recovery as they offer a diverse range of nutrients that contribute to the body’s overall health.
These proteins are typically lower in saturated fats, making them heart-healthy choices that support long-term fitness goals.
Here is a list of plant-based foods you could incorporate for muscle recovery:
- Quinoa – a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids. It also provides carbohydrates for replenishing glycogen stores.
- Lentils – rich in protein, fibre, and various vitamins and minerals. They offer a good combination of essential amino acids and are versatile for use in various dishes.
- Chickpeas – Chickpeas are a versatile protein source that can be included in salads, stews, or made into hummus. They provide protein, fibre, and carbohydrates.
- Tofu – Tofu is made from soybeans and is a complete protein. It’s a versatile ingredient that can be used in savoury or sweet dishes to boost protein intake.
- Tempeh – Tempeh is another soy-based protein that is fermented, making it more digestible. It’s a good source of protein, iron, and calcium.
- Edamame – Edamame can be a tasty and convenient snack that provides protein, fibre, and various vitamins and minerals.
Although not the most common type of food known for muscle recovery, beet juice has been studied over the years and has been proven to assist in muscle recovery.
Beets are full of dietary nitrates. These help enhance the delivery of oxygen to your muscles and optimise the function of mitochondria.
Mitochondria (membrane-cell organelle) generate most of the chemical energy needed to power the cell’s biochemical reactions.
Beets also include betalains which may also reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
A study from 2021 showed the positive effects of drinking beetroot juice when it came to recovery for a football team of 13 players.
Fruits can play a beneficial role in muscle recovery due to their nutrient content, particularly vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and natural sugars.
Some are rich in vitamin C, which contributes to collagen formation, a crucial component in the repair of connective tissues such as muscles.
A study in 2019 showed that collagen peptides had a positive effect on muscle recovery.
The antioxidants found in fruits, such as flavonoids and polyphenols, help combat oxidative stress induced by intense physical activity, potentially reducing inflammation and aiding in the recovery process.
Fruits such as bananas are high in potassium which is important for muscle function and can help muscle recovery also.
Carbohydrates play a pivotal role in muscle recovery, serving as a crucial energy source and aiding in the restoration of depleted glycogen stores after intense exercise.
Glycogen, the stored form of glucose in muscles and the liver, becomes a primary fuel during physical activity.
Consuming carbohydrates post-exercise helps replenish glycogen levels, ensuring a readily available energy source for future workouts.
This study from 2021 backs up the science behind this when it was suggested that athletes should consider ingesting at least 1.2 grams of carbohydrates per hour after exercise.
Build and repair muscle with POW8R
When embarking on your fitness journey you should be mindful of the foods you eat as they can not only help with your recovery but contribute to your overall well-being.
Or if you want to learn more about low-calorie foods for weight loss, we have a great online resource to help you get started.
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