After not having worked out for a while, and then getting back into the gym, I was puzzled by the lack of muscle soreness as I increased my weight during strength workouts. I thought maybe I wasn’t pushing hard enough. Then I realized that I normally eat foods that are helpful for muscle recovery, and therefore was healing well without the usual soreness that comes with intense training. Here are those foods; incorporate them into your post workout meals for optimal regeneration.
1. Tart cherries
When you strength train, you actually cause microscopic tears in your muscles. Tart cherries can promote faster healing, leading to reduced strength loss and improvement of endurance exercise performance. Cherries are high in polyphenols, flavonoids and anthocyanins, which lessen oxidative damage and reduce toxins in muscles. Cherries are also anti inflammatory, a source of fiber, low calorie and rich in vitamin C.
Tart cherries are best, but any cherries will have helpful properties. Any form of cherry will do – dried, fresh, frozen, and juice! Try a cherry protein recovery bar or a red antioxidant smoothie after your workout.
Tart cherries also contain melatonin and can help with sleep. Since sleep is also very much needed for recovery, you get two benefits in one! Have some Cherry Moon Milk before bed or a slice of raw cherry pie for a healthy after dinner dessert.
Healing and muscle growth itself causes inflammation. Inflammation isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it means your body is working to counteract any issues. (chronic inflammation from a poor diet and lifestyle is a different story.) However, you don’t want to continue to be inflamed. Long term inflammation isn’t healthy and can be uncomfortable, causing muscle soreness and joint pain.
Turmeric has anti oxidant and anti inflammatory properties and can reduce the pain that comes with repetitive trauma, leading to faster recovery and increased performance. Turmeric may even help with fat loss as it slows down the division of fat cells.
You do need to consume black pepper or a healthy fat such as grass fed butter or coconut oil with your turmeric in order to absorb it well. A yellow anti inflammatory smoothie, a turmeric wellness shot or Moroccan spiced crunchy chickpeas make great post workout snacks, or have tandoori chicken for dinner!
Popeye was onto something. Spinach can replace electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium lost while sweating, helping to prevent muscle cramps. It’s rich in calcium, which along with your weight bearing exercises will help to keep your bones strong. Spinach is also a good source of iron. It can boost your metabolism and the phytoecdysteroids in spinach increase human muscle growth and help the body adapt to stress. Have a green smoothie post workout or a spinach salad for lunch to get in this important vegetable.
4. Green Tea
Hydration is important, especially during and after a workout. Drinking green tea post exercise provides you with antioxidants such as catechins to help boost immunity and burn body fat for energy. It can also prevent the decrease in iron that comes after a workout. While iced green tea (unsweetened of course) is a great way to hydrate, try a match latte to warm up on a cold day after exercising outdoors. You can “eat”’ your green tea too; make a salad dressing, cookies or even use it to make a healthy breading for fish.
5. Grass fed low fat cottage cheese
Protein is important after a workout. Cottage cheese contains both whey protein and casein protein. Whey protein is good for quick replenishment, and the casein, which is absorbed more slowly, helps you to continue recovery for a longer period of time, including while you sleep! Because dairy products also contain carbohydrates, cottage cheese helps to replace the glycogen, which is the “energy” stored in your muscles. Weight bearing exercises are great for bone strength, and cottage cheese provides calcium to add to it. Try a fruit bowl with cottage cheese as a snack.
6. Sweet Potatoes
When you exercise, you use up the glycogen (energy) in your muscles. The complex carbs in sweet potatoes help to replenish those stores, as well as keeping your blood sugar steady. They are also a good source of anti oxidants to protect your cells and help your muscles recover and rejuvenate. The fiber helps you feel full and keep from overeating!
Salmon is rich in omega 3 fatty acids which prevent damage from oxidative stress. It can reduce blood clotting factors to help protect your heart, lowers triglycerides and blood pressure, and increased your HDL’s (good cholesterol). Salmon can reduce the inflammation at the cellular level to lessen pain and soreness. Salmon also has vitamin D to support immune function and B vitamins which help breakdown nutrients into energy. The B12 in salmon supports aerobic energy metabolism by producing red blood cells to help transport oxygen.
Bananas are a great post workout food! The potassium in bananas help replace electrolytes lost during sweating, reducing muscle soreness and speeding up recovery. The carbohydrates can rapidly replenish your glycogen stores. Since bananas have a natural sweetness, they can help you cut back on sugar. You would still need to replace protein and sodium, so pair some nut butter with a banana for a healthy post workout snack.
9. Whole Eggs
Eat the whole egg. Egg whites are a good source of protein and amino acids, but the yolks have B vitamins and choline which can delay muscle fatigue. Whole egg consumption will help you repair and recover significantly more than whites alone. Other nutrients found in this near-perfect food include omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins, phosphorus, iron, calcium and zinc.
10. Nuts and Seeds
The antioxidants in nuts and seeds can help enhance performance. The omegas help fight inflammation. The protein works on muscle repair. The zinc boosts immunity. Need I say more? While all nuts and seeds are beneficial, the best nuts include almonds, pistachios, pecans, macadamias, cashews, walnuts and brazil nuts. Try chia, hemp, pumpkin, flax, sunflower and sesame seeds for all of these benefits.
Try combining these foods for an easy way to get them all in. A trail mix with nuts, seeds, dried cherries and unsweetened banana chips makes a good portable snack. Scramble up some eggs with spinach, smoked salmon, sweet potato, turmeric and cottage cheese for a power packed hash. Wash it down with green tea and watch your muscles grow!
Stevie Winsborrow is a professional chef, functional and integrative nutritionist and holistic health coach, as well as a published author, TV and radio personality and Editor In Chief of Align Body & Soul magazine.