Chugging water is great—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, there’s a special rush you get when you’re filled with endorphins. The not so desirable part? That post-fitness soreness.
Stressing your muscles—regardless of your go-to exercise method—creates microscopic tears in them (don’t freak out, it’s OK!). These tears make you sore at first, but then ultimately help make you stronger by increasing muscle mass, according to the American Council on Exercise (ACE). The good news? You can get a leg up on that I can’t move my arms feeling with the right nutrition. That’s right: Certain foods boasting specific nutrient profiles can help you recover smarter, and even lessen next-day soreness.
“Aim to get in your post-workout meal sooner rather than later, preferably within three hours of training,” suggests Dr. Ryan M. Greene, DO, MS, and medical director at Monarch Athletic Club in West Hollywood. “You’re aiming for a 2:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio, since protein is best absorbed with a carbohydrate co-transporter.”
So now that we’ve got the basics down, it’s time to dive into the specifics. Here, experts suggest eats that are great for post-workout recovery—so you can give your muscles a fighting chance during your next workout.
1. Taro root
Think of taro as sweet potato’s purple cousin, says Peter Abarcar Jr., Executive Chef at the Westin Hapuna Beach, who incorporates responsibly sourced, organic items into the brand’s Eat Well menu. “Taro is a great source of carbohydrates as well as fiber,” he adds. “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 at Health agrees, adding that 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, as well as other cruciferous vegetables, is jam-packed with nutrients that help stave off inflammation including Vitamins B, C, and A. It also packs 5 grams of protein per cup (yes, please). It’s something that you can easily slip it into your post-sweat protein shake without altering the taste at all.
3. Blueberries or raspberries
While all fruits have antioxidants—which help your muscles to repair themselves after a workout—blueberries contain the highest amount. Both of these berries are a great source of carbohydrates as well as sirtuins, says Greene. “Sirtuins modulate various cellular and organismal functions like cellular death, inflammatory pathways in the body, metabolism and longevity and assist significantly with recovery,” he adds.
4. Chia seeds
Chia seeds boast three grams of complete protein, which means that they have all nine essential amino acids. “Chia seeds also supply key minerals, like iron, calcium, and magnesium, as well as anti-inflammatory fat, which helps support exercise recovery,” says Sass.
A bit confused about how exactly to use them? Abarcar suggests adding them 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,” he says. The best part? “All you need is a little coconut milk and some fresh fruit to top it off with.”
5. Green tea
An October 2018 study published in Physiology and Behavior found that men who supplemented with 500mg of green tea extract reduced markers of muscle damage caused by exercise. “It’s a rich source of antioxidants and polyphenols that assist with regulating oxidative damage introduced throughout training as well as every day life,” says Greene.
Not only are they super portable, but bananas are also loaded with both 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,” says Sass.
Oatmeal is excellent because it’s super easy to make when you’re in a pinch (and fast, too). Not to mention, it can also lead to a longer life, according to a 2016 study published in the journal Circulation. Researchers from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that people who ate 33 grams of whole grains daily—which is what you’ll get in a bowl of oatmeal—reduced their risk of premature death by 9 percent compared to those who barely ate whole grains at all.
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