Few things match the satisfaction you get from crushing a hard workout. You feel almost superhuman, ready to leap tall buildings in a single bound...that is until the next morning rolls around and you’re crippled by debilitating soreness.
You know the kind of soreness we’re talking about. The kind where even thinking about rolling out of bed makes you groan.
Unfortunately, soreness is a part of intense training. For some, the soreness is worse than others, but if you’re constantly challenging your body with harder training and/or new exercise routines, you’re bound to run into soreness.
The good news is that certain foods you can eat after your workout help reduce muscle soreness or stiffness.
Try these muscle recovery foods the next time you finish an intense workout!
Top 7 Muscle Recovery Foods
Eggs are considered by many as nature's perfect protein due to their high bioavailability, which measures how efficiently our bodies use the protein and amino acids contained within a food.
Some studies indicate that eggs have a perfect score regarding bioavailability.
Eggs are also packed with healthy fats and a wide array of critical micronutrients, including choline, calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, and B vitamins.
Now, many individuals wonder what’s better to consume -- whole eggs or just the egg whites (which is where all the protein in an egg comes from).
Well, if you’re interested in maximizing recovery (and growth), you want to focus on eating the whole egg, not just the egg white.
The reason for this is that research compared consuming whole eggs vs. egg whites in healthy resistance-trained men and found that, even though both groups consumed equivalent amounts of protein, the group consuming whole eggs experienced about 40% greater rise in protein synthesis compared to egg whites alone.
The authors theorize the essential nutrients in the yolk—healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, etc.—improve the muscles' utilization of the high-quality protein in the whites.
When it comes to maximizing muscle recovery and limiting delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), consuming enough daily protein is crucial. This is because protein supplies the body with the amino acids it needs (including essential amino acids and BCAAs) it needs to repair damaged muscle tissue and build new ones.
As such, if you're looking to optimize muscle recovery following training, you must consume enough protein every day.
Whey protein is an excellent protein source. It's fast-digesting, easy on the stomach, and highly bioavailable (in fact, some rating systems show whey protein being superior to egg protein!).
Whey protein is also naturally high in BCAAs, especially leucine, essential because leucine is the amino acid that stimulates mTOR -- the biological pathway that drives protein synthesis (and ultimately impacts muscle repair and recovery).
The high protein content, rapid digestion, and ease of preparation make whey protein an ideal choice for pre-workout or post-workout shakes.
Steel Whey® supplies 25 grams of high-quality whey protein from WPC-80 -- the highest quality whey protein concentrate available. Whey protein is ideal for pre- or post-workout, but it can also be used any other time of day and mixed into other foods like oatmeal, waffle/pancake batter, and to up the protein content of your bowl of cereal and milk!
Consuming enough protein is essential for muscle recovery. Still, the benefits of drinking enough carbohydrates not only around your workout but throughout the rest of the day can't be ignored either.
Simply put, carbohydrates fuel performance, and they also play a vital role in promoting muscle recovery and replenishing muscle glycogen.
Bananas are rich in healthy, fast-digesting carbohydrates that are easy on the GI system. They're also packed with essential vitamins and minerals, like potassium, one of the most essential electrolytes regarding hydration and proper muscle function. To top it off, bananas are also perfect for the on-the-go fitness enthusiast who doesn't have time to cook a meal immediately after training.
Toss a banana in your gym bag or car, and you have the perfect pre-or post-workout carbohydrate at the ready. Pair it with a whey protein shake, and you’ve got the ultimate muscle recovery combo!
Sweet potatoes are another high-quality carbohydrate that supports muscle recovery and glycogen replenishment. It’s also easy on the GI system and easy to prepare.
Besides being rich in complex carbohydrates, sweet potatoes are also rich in essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin A and potassium.
Pair it with our next best muscle recovery food for a dynamite post-workout meal!
In addition to muscle recovery, salmon is one of the best foods on the planet.
It's rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals, as well as omega-3 fatty acids -- something most individuals struggle to consume enough of each day/week.
What's more, research indicates that higher intakes of omega-3 fatty acids may lead to lower levels of delayed onset muscle soreness following resistance exercise.
One of the reasons that omega-3s may help combat muscle soreness is their anti-inflammatory qualities. Other studies also indicate that omega-3s may help boost the pathways in the body that drive muscle protein synthesis.
A summertime favorite, watermelon is an incredibly refreshing treat, not only during the dog days of summer but also after a grueling workout.
Watermelon is about 92% water, which makes it an excellent food for rehydrating after intense exercise, and it's also rich in essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, vitamin A, potassium, and magnesium.
The juicy fruit also contains high amounts of the amino acid L-citrulline, which supports nitric oxide production and blood flow, helping shuttle amino acids and carbohydrates to tired muscles, improving recovery and growth.
Like other fruits, watermelon is also high in antioxidants and polyphenols, which can help to reduce muscle inflammation.
When it comes to powerhouse foods, spinach is hard to beat.
It's low in calories yet high in essential vitamins, minerals, and other micronutrients, including vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
As you likely are aware, intense workouts cause you to sweat quite a bit, leading to dehydration.
Since spinach is rich in potassium and magnesium (two essential electrolytes), it's a great muscle recovery food to help replenish lost fluids and electrolytes.
This vegetable is also incredibly versatile. It can be added to omelets or scrambles, used as the base for a salad, tossed into smoothies, or mixed into pastas and/or marinara sauces.
Spinach is also high in naturally occurring nitrates which support blood flow (and subsequently nutrient delivery).
Because spinach is such a micronutrient-dense food, it was a no-brainer to include in our natural superfoods supplement -- Steel Greens®.
Steel Greens® was formulated to provide premium-quality, freeze-dried greens and reds that offer the benefits of whole plant foods to support muscle recovery, immunity, digestive function, and natural energy levels.
- Hoffman JR, Falvo MJ. Protein - Which is Best?. J Sports Sci Med. 2004;3(3):118-130. Published 2004 Sep 1.
- Stephan van Vliet, Evan L Shy, Sidney Abou Sawan, Joseph W Beals, Daniel WD West, Sarah K Skinner, Alexander V Ulanov, Zhong Li, Scott A Paluska, Carl M Parsons, Daniel R Moore, Nicholas A Burd, Consumption of whole eggs promotes greater stimulation of postexercise muscle protein synthesis than consumption of isonitrogenous amounts of egg whites in young men, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 106, Issue 6, December 2017, Pages 1401–1412, https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.117.159855
- DiLorenzo FM, Drager CJ, Rankin JW. Docosahexaenoic acid affects markers of inflammation and muscle damage after eccentric exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2014 Oct;28(10):2768-74. DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000617. PMID: 25029008.
- Smith GI, Atherton P, Reeds DN, Mohammed BS, Rankin D, Rennie MJ, Mittendorfer B. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids augment the muscle protein anabolic response to hyperinsulinaemia-hyperaminoacidaemia in healthy young and middle-aged men and women. Clin Sci (Lond). 2011 Sep;121(6):267-78. DOI: 10.1042/CS20100597. PMID: 21501117; PMCID: PMC3499967.