For optimal sore muscle recovery after exercise, eat a balanced diet that includes foods like tart cherry juice, fatty fish, watermelon, and whey protein. Massage, foam rolling, and adequate rest can also help.
If you’re into working out or strenuous physical activities like long-distance biking or trail running, you likely experience occasional exercise-induced muscle soreness.
Not only can muscle soreness be uncomfortable, but it may also affect your workouts and day-to-day activities.
Fortunately, many recovery strategies can help reduce muscle soreness, minimise exercise-induced muscle damage, and speed muscle recovery.
This article covers the 8 awesome foods and drinks for muscle recovery.
1. Watermelon and Watermelon Juice
Watermelon is sweet, hydrating, and loaded with nutrients. What’s more, eating watermelon or sipping on watermelon juice could be a good way to promote muscle recovery after exercise.
Watermelon is rich in the amino acid L-citrulline. Besides being a building block for proteins, this amino acid may have antioxidant effects and increase the production of nitric oxide (NO). NO enhances blood circulation to muscles and improves cellular energy.
This could be why some studies show that watermelon juice might reduce muscle soreness and muscle damage post-exercise.
For example, a small 2013 study including 7 athletes found that drinking 16.9 ounces (500 mL) of either natural watermelon juice or watermelon juice enriched with L-citrulline reduced muscle soreness 24 hours after exercise to a greater extent than a placebo.
Still, because most available studies on watermelon juice’s effect on EIMD and DOMS have used enriched watermelon juice, it’s unclear whether natural watermelon juice would be as effective.
Nonetheless, watermelon contains important nutrients that promote exercise performance and recovery, including carbs, amino acids, and antioxidants. As a result, it remains a healthy choice for exercise enthusiasts, regardless of its potential benefits for muscle soreness.
2. Fatty Fish
Fatty fish like sardines, salmon, and trout are excellent sources of nutrients that your body needs for muscle recovery.
Mainly, fish is a highly bioavailable source of protein, a macronutrient that facilitates muscle repair — the process of regenerating muscle cells after exercise-induced damage.
Some experts suggest that consuming around 1.1 ounces (30 grams) of protein after exercise supports optimal muscle recovery. For reference, 4 ounces (113 grams) of cooked salmon provides 1 ounce (29 grams) of protein.
Fatty fish also contains omega-3 fats, which may help reduce DOMS, fight inflammation, and boost muscle growth.
Experts recommend that you get 0.06–0.11 ounces (1.8–3 grams) of omega-3 fatty acids after exercise to promote optimal muscle recovery. You can easily achieve this by having a serving of fatty fish like salmon or taking an omega-3 supplement after hitting the gym
4. Pomegranate Juice
Pomegranate juice is a rich source of polyphenols, which are plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. As such, drinking pomegranate juice may benefit muscle recovery.
In a small 2017 study, 9 elite weightlifters drank 8.5 ounces (250 mL) of pomegranate juice or a placebo 3 times per day for 3 days before Olympic Weightlifting training sessions. They had an additional 16.9 ounces (500 mL) of juice or a placebo 1 hour before training sessions.
Compared with the placebo treatment, pomegranate juice reduced the release of a marker of oxidative stress called malondialdehyde (MDA) and increased antioxidant defences. This indicates that the drink could promote muscle recovery.
Other studies have similarly shown that pomegranate juice and pomegranate supplements may decrease DOMS, reduce inflammatory markers, and accelerate muscle recovery.
4. Beet Juice
Beets are loaded with dietary nitrates and pigments called betalains.
Dietary nitrates may help send oxygen to your muscles and improve the efficiency of mitochondria — organelles, or parts of cells, that produce the energy that fuels your cells. Meanwhile, betalains may reduce inflammation and oxidative damage.
A 2016 study including 30 active men found that drinking beetroot juice immediately, 24 hours after, and 48 hours after completing strenuous exercise reduced muscle soreness and sped muscle recovery to a greater extent than a placebo.
Additionally, a 2021 study including 13 soccer players observed that drinking beetroot juice for 3–7 days before, on the day of, and 3 days after exercise reduced DOMS. It also improved exercise performance during the recovery period.
5. Whey Protein Shakes
Some research suggests that whey protein may promote muscle recovery after exercise in both athletes and nonathletes.
In a 5-day study, 92 men with obesity took 0.4 mg per pound (0.9 grams per kg) of whey protein divided into 3 doses per day before physical fitness tests. The whey protein significantly reduced markers of muscle damage compared with a control, although it didn’t improve DOMS.
Whey protein may also improve muscle function after resistance training.
However, not all research agrees. In some studies, whey protein did not benefit post-exercise muscle recovery.
As such, more research is needed to determine whether supplementing with whey protein after exercise could promote muscle recovery. Regardless, protein shakes can help you reach your daily protein targets and optimise muscle growth, so they might still be worth your while.
Eggs are known as a nutrient-dense food and favoured by athletes for their high content of bioavailable protein. Eating them after a workout helps stimulate muscle recovery.
Although many people opt to eat only egg whites, studies show that whole eggs may be a better choice after workouts.
In a small 2017 study including 10 men, participants ate a meal with either whole eggs or egg whites immediately after resistance training. Even though all meals had the same amount of protein, the whole-egg meals led to greater muscle growth.
Researchers suggest that this could be because the nutrient-dense yolk provides vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, such as vitamin A, selenium, zinc, and the fatty acid palmitate, which may increase the speed of muscle protein synthesis.
Milk and milk products like yogurt and cottage cheese are frequently used as post-exercise fuel — and for good reason.
Because milk is high in protein, it provides your body the nutrients necessary for muscle repair. Thus, it might reduce EIMD.
Milk and dairy products also contain carbs. Eating carbs and protein together supports muscle growth and helps your muscles refill their stores of glycogen — the stored form of glucose, or sugar. Milk also contains sodium, which is important for rehydration.
Some studies have found that cow’s milk significantly benefits exercise performance and the recovery of muscle functioning.
A 2019 review of 12 studies found that chocolate milk may improve exercise performance and post-exercise recovery. However, the researchers acknowledged that high quality evidence is limited, so future research is needed.
8. Starchy Vegetables
When you work out intensely, you deplete your muscle stores of glycogen, the stored form of glucose.
Having enough available glycogen in your muscles is essential for optimal athletic performance, so it’s important to replenish these stores after workouts. This is especially true for athletes participating in exhaustive exercise.
Eating carb-rich foods promotes muscle glycogen replenishment. Starchy vegetables like sweet potato, butternut squash, and potatoes make a healthy carbohydrate choice post-workout.
Combining starchy vegetables with a protein source like eggs or chicken is an effective and tasty way to replenish glycogen stores while also providing your body with the protein it needs for muscle recovery.