7 Muscle Recovery Foods for After Your Next Workout

Chugging water is excellent, but your body needs a little more than that sometimes.

There's nothing like the feeling you get after smashing a sweat-dripping, intense workout. Whether you're the kind of person who loves to crush treadmill sprints or you prefer to hit the yoga mat for a vinyasa flow, you get a particular rush when you're filled with endorphins.

The not-so-desirable part? The post-fitness soreness.

Stressing your muscles—regardless of your go-to exercise method—creates microscopic tears (don't freak out, it's OK). Those tears make you sore at first but ultimately help make you stronger by increasing muscle mass, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

The good news is you can get a leg up on that "I can't move my arms" feeling with the proper post-workout nutrition. Foods with the right nutrient profiles can help you recover and even lessen next-day soreness.

"Aim to get in your post-workout meal sooner rather than later, preferably within three hours of training," explained Ryan M. Greene, DO, MS, medical director at Monarch Athletic Club in West Hollywood, Calif. "You're aiming for a two to one carbohydrate to protein ratio since protein is best absorbed with a carbohydrate co-transporter."

Here's what you need to know about the foods that are great for post-workout recovery so you can help your muscles recover after your next intense workout.

Taro Root

Think of taro as sweet potato's purple cousin, Peter Abarcar, Jr., director of culinary and beverage operations for the Westin Hapuna Beach Resort, explained.

"Taro is a great source of carbohydrates as well as fiber," said Abarcar. "It's perfect to pair with a protein of your choice to really get in an ideal post-workout meal."

Cynthia Sass, RD, contributing nutrition editor for Health, agreed. According to Sass, the purpose of a good recovery meal is to "provide raw materials to heal from the wear-and-tear exercise puts on the body, which is ultimately what makes you stronger and more fit."

Spinach

Spinach, as well as other cruciferous vegetables, are jam-packed with nutrients that help stave off inflammation. Calcium, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese are minerals in spinach, per one study published in 2021 in Food Science & Nutrition.

Additionally, spinach contains essential vitamins, such as A, C, and folate. The leafy powerhouse also contains protein and antioxidant compounds known as flavonoids.

If you're looking for ways to add spinach to your post-workout meal, consider blending it into your post-workout smoothie or scrambling it in with some eggs.

Blueberries or Raspberries

All fruits have antioxidants, which may aid in muscle recovery. Per an article published in 2020 in Redox Biology, there are many good reasons to eat berries, like blueberries and raspberries. And muscle recovery may be one of these benefits. However, additional research is needed.

You may be wondering what berries to eat to maximize antioxidant consumption. According to an article published in 2015 in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, blueberries contain one of the highest antioxidant capacities among all fruits.

However, Dr. Greene said both blueberries and raspberries are excellent sources of carbohydrates and sirtuins. 

"Sirtuins modulate various cellular and organismal functions—like cellular death, inflammatory pathways in the body, metabolism, and longevity—and assist significantly with recovery," added Dr. Greene.

Chia Seeds

In two tablespoons, chia seeds boast about four grams of complete protein. In other words, chia seeds have all nine essential amino acids the human body can't make. 

"Chia seeds also supply key minerals, like iron, calcium, and magnesium, as well as anti-inflammatory fat, which helps support exercise recovery," said Sass. 

Chia seeds are one of the richest plant sources of omega-3 fatty acids, a fat source known for their anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits, per one study published in 2021 in the journal Nutrients.

Abarcar suggested adding chia seeds to Greek yogurt or a smoothie for a bit of crunch. 

"If you have time in advance, you can also make a chia seed pudding," added Abarcar. "All you need is a little coconut milk and some fresh fruit to top it off with."

Green Tea Extract

A study published in 2018 in Physiology and Behavior found that men who supplemented their diets with 500 milligrams of green tea extract had reduced markers of muscle damage caused by exercise. 

"[Green tea extract] is a rich source of antioxidants and polyphenols that assist with regulating oxidative damage introduced throughout training as well as everyday life," explained Dr. Greene.

Bananas

Not only are they super portable, but bananas are also loaded with carbohydrates and potassium, two muscle-friendly post-workout nutrients.

"Bananas replenish carbohydrates burned for fuel during exercise, along with potassium, an electrolyte lost in sweat," said Sass.

Oatmeal

Oatmeal is excellent because it's super easy to make in a pinch (and fast, too). Not to mention, oatmeal can also lead to a longer life, according to a study published in 2016 the journal Circulation

The researchers found that people who ate 33 grams of whole grains daily—which you'll get in a bowl of oatmeal—reduced their risk of premature death by 9% compared to those who barely ate whole grains.

A Quick Review

While some muscle soreness after a hard workout is inevitable, there are dietary steps you can take to be proactive. So, consider adding one (or more) of these muscle recovery foods to your next post-workout snack.

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