Whether you’re new to the gym or a fitness guru, we all know how important it is to incorporate a nutritious diet along with plenty of exercises to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
In fact, the right nutrition can help with your overall wellbeing, as well as support your workout routine.
From weight lifting to marathon running, working out causes some of the protein in your muscles to get damaged.1,2
With that in mind, eating a nutritious meal or snack after your workout is as important as your pre-workout fuel.
Below, we’ve put together some tips to help you make the right choices to help make your workouts as productive as possible.
What causes muscle soreness?
Delayed onset muscle soreness, or ‘DOMS’ essentially refers to the temporary damage your muscles experience as a result of exercise.3
Strenuous use of your muscles creates tiny micro-tears in your muscle tissue, which the body then repairs during a period of recovery.
Despite sounding like something to be avoided, these tiny muscle tears are a good thing as they cause your muscles to grow and become more defined.
If you’re exercising at a high intensity, or in a way that uses several muscles at once, you’re more likely to experience soreness as you’ll experience more micro-tears.
Similarly, if you’re using a group of muscles you don’t normally use, for example during a new exercise class, you’re likely to feel the burn over the next few days.
DOMS occurs alongside oxidative stress and inflammation within the muscle cells, which as well as causing you soreness and pain, can temporarily impair performance and lead to longer recovery times.
Eating the right foods to promote good recovery is very important, including a wide range of fruit and vegetables.
However, blueberries in particular have emerged as a force to be reckoned with in the fight against the pain of sore muscles.
What to think about when eating for muscle recovery
Simply eating a snack or a meal after your workout isn’t enough to reduce that post-workout soreness.
What you eat is really important, so try to avoid loading up on unhealthy food straight after your gym session or jog.
The timing of your post-workout fuel is also worth thinking about. The sooner, the better after exercise is usually the best option, or at most within three hours of your session.4
What food to eat for muscle recovery
Like we mentioned above, choosing the right options is essential when it comes to muscle recovery foods.
Try to choose protein-rich food, along with some carbohydrates, to kick start the rebuilding process.5
Eggs are a great source of protein and healthy fats, which make them an excellent choice for a post-workout snack.
You could try scrambled eggs on wholegrain toast or a simple hardboiled egg paired with spinach.
Look for protein-rich dairy products like a cottage or ricotta cheese.
The natural carbs and nutrients found in these dairy products can help to boost your post-workout recovery.
Try enjoying yours with a handful of berries or simply pick a flavoured cottage cheese option as a snack.
Fatty fish, like salmon and mackerel, are full of protein and healthy omega-3 acids. They can help to reduce inflammation around the body and restore electrolytes.
Try enjoying some smoked salmon on wholegrain crackers (perhaps with a smear of ricotta cheese) as a healthy post-workout snack.6
Some research has suggested that eating unprocessed carbs can lessen the drop in your immune system after you exercise.
Try choosing sweet potatoes, oats, fruit, or wholegrain bread and pair with your favourite protein.7
Some berries are thought to help with muscle soreness and recovery. It’s well known that blueberries are an anti-inflammatory food, which goes some way towards explaining why they are so good at helping sore muscles recover.8
However, blueberries have proved superior to other antioxidant-rich fruits in helping relieve muscle soreness.
This might be down in part to phytochemicals. Phytochemicals are compounds found in many plant sources.
In blueberries, the phytochemicals include elements called anthocyanins, which is what makes them blue.
This phytochemical works as a potent antioxidant which helps neutralise free radicals, which is the cause of oxidative stress in the body.
A study from New Zealand in 2012 examined the effect of consuming regular blueberry smoothies on induced muscle soreness in ten athletes.
The researchers used a machine to cause exercise-induced muscle damage in one of their legs, while including blueberry smoothies containing 200g of blueberries into their diets before and after they introduced the muscle micro tears.
Blood was then drawn from the subjects following the exercise to measure oxidative stress, antioxidant levels and inflammation.
Compared to a second test where the athletes were given smoothies which didn’t contain blueberries, the athletes experienced reduced muscle soreness and faster strength recovery after drinking the blueberry smoothies.9
Scientists think that it might be down to the interactions between particular phytochemicals found in high levels in blueberries alongside other vitamins found in healthy foods.
For best results, eat blueberries before and after exercise to help promote muscle recovery.
Using them to make a smoothie, as was done during the New Zealand study, is a great idea and makes it easy to pack plenty of blueberries into one serving.
Alternately, you could add handfuls of them to Greek yoghurt, cereal or porridge, or use them in baking.
Try a handful over Greek yoghurt or ricotta cheese as a protein-packed snack.10
While not strictly a berry, tart cherries are also claimed to help with post-workout recovery.11
Sometimes, it’s not always possible to put together a healthy and nutritious post-workout meal.
If you’re on the go or don’t have the time, look for supplements to help you build lean muscle.
These are a convenient way to promote muscle recovery after an intense workout.
What food to avoid for muscle recovery
Like with most diet plans, there are some foods you should avoid straight after a workout.
These types of ingredients are unlikely to provide you with the essential nutrients you need to recover. Some foods to avoid may include:
- Salty processed snacks like crisps
- Processed energy bars or protein bars, which often have lots of artificial sweeteners and low nutrient content
- Sweet sodas or sports drinks. Water should be enough to keep you hydrated
Instead, choose healthy and balanced food as your go-to for the best recovery possible.
Whatever snacks or meals you pick after a workout, remember to stay hydrated too!12
Handpicked content: Your guide to muscle strength – warm-ups, muscle fuel and muscle recovery
Last updated: 7 September 2021