A lot of people make the mistake of dismissing muscle recovery as something that’s too complicated or that they don’t have time for. They think of long, painful ice baths, massages that they really can’t afford, and ibuprofen or other NSAIDs that have side effects.
In fact, one of the most effective ways to accelerate recovery and reduce muscle soreness is with food. By using a few simple (and delicious) nutrition strategies you can target multiple systems in the body that get beat down by training.
Eat High-Quality Proteins To Increase Muscle Recovery
Many protein foods including fatty fish and free-range beef provide the array of amino acids to maximally stimulate protein synthesis and muscle repair. They also contain the omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA, that improve cellular signaling and have anti-inflammatory effects.
Studies show EPA and DHA may reduce muscle soreness and can help restore range-of-motion after a muscle damaging workout. Researchers recommend fish oil for trainees who are under intense physical and environmental stress, such as competing at high altitudes or in extreme heat or cold because it fights oxidative stress and reduces waste production during intense eccentric exercise (1).
Fish oil can be convenient and provide highly concentrated doses of EPA and DHA, but there’s no reason you can’t rely on whole proteins if you prefer. Both salmon and cod have performed well in studies aimed at reducing inflammation. When including red meat, choose free-range animals that feed on grass (the source of EPA and DHA) rather than grain-feed animals that are high in the inflammatory omega-6 fats).
Include Eggs To Speed Tissue Repair
Eggs are a perfect protein source, and they have the second highest concentration of leucine after milk, which is the most important amino acid for building muscle (2, 3).
In a review that discusses egg protein, researchers write that eating eggs can enhance energy production, stimulate protein synthesis, and aid in recovery from intense training (4). In addition, eggs provide the antioxidants selenium, lutein, and zeaxanthin, and eating eggs has been found to reduce inflammation in the body (4).
In case you haven’t heard, eggs have been vindicated as a delicious food to include in a healthy diet that’s low in refined carbs. They aren’t the deciding factor in elevated triglycerides, high cholesterol, or heart disease. Rather, the spotlight is on unhealthy lifestyle habits and diets high refined foods for increasing risk of metabolic and heart disease.
Protect Your Gut With Fermented Foods
If there is something off with your gut or digestion, you won’t recover efficiently. Think about it. A well-functioning gut allows for all of the following key recovery actions:
- Full absorption of nutrients needed for tissue repair.
- The metabolism of waste byproducts produced during intense training.
- The eradication of oxidative stress and inflammation.
- The production of neurotransmitters involved in neural drive and motivation.
Eating a high indigestible fiber diet and plenty of probiotic foods can enable a gut that works like clockwork. Probiotics are found in fermented foods such as high-quality yogurt, fermented dairy, pickled veggies, and kefir (a fermented grain beverage), among other things.
Studies show that probiotic supplementation in athletes can reduce inflammation and boost immunity—both factors that support a speedy and pain-free recovery from a tough workout (6, 7).
Probiotic foods such as sauerkraut, kim chi, and pickled ginger add tang and spark to meals when used as condiments.
Use Almonds & Other Nuts To Accelerate Repair of Damaged Tissue.
Eating a variety of fats from whole sources has a protective effect on the body. For example, bone repair is improved when the omega-3 fat and the omega-6 fats are balanced.
Almonds are an omega-6 fat source that have performed especially well in aiding recuperation from intense exercise. A study that had trained cyclists eat almonds daily for 4 weeks found that they improved time trial performance by boosting energy use and antioxidant capacity (8).
In the short-term this means healthy fats make you faster, but in the long run it means you’ll have a quicker recovery because the body will produce less oxidative stress during training.
Variety Is Best:
Brazil nuts, most known for raising testosterone, are another powerhouse nut, containing selenium, magnesium, and zinc, a trifecta of minerals essential for hormone balance and recovery. Walnuts are also nutrient-rich and may have anti-fatigue effect due to their ability to improve energy use in the body (9).
Use Blueberries To Reduce Muscle Soreness
Both blueberries and tart cherries reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and may help recuperate strength faster (10). These dark-colored fruits have potent nutrients that accelerate the elimination of waste products produced during training.
Tart cherries provide the added bonus of raising the sleep hormone melatonin in the body so that you get better rest. It’s been found to help both good sleepers and those who suffer insomnia (11, 12, 13, 14).
Other nutrient powerhouses include raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, and plums—all of which may be medicine for sick muscles, though they haven’t been specifically tested in exercise studies (15).
Avoid drinking milk products at the same time as berries and cherries because there’s evidence that the proteins in milk will inhibit antioxidant activity in the body. Wait at least an hour after a whey protein shake to get your berries.
If muscle soreness has been dogging your training, there’s no reason to keep suffering. Minimizing soreness is not the same as avoiding high intensities or heavy weight. By developing a well-rounded nutrition plan to maximize muscle recovery, you can train more often, leading to more frequent, consistent improvements in strength and performance.