Muscle Recovery Cookbook: Best Food and Drinks for Muscle Recovery

Food + Drink By Emily Leikam

Exercise should make us feel good by strengthening our bodies and increasing our overall health. However, a strenuous workout or challenging physical activity can cause exercise-induced muscle soreness. Follow an effective plan to reduce muscle soreness, minimize damage, and speed recovery to feel great in no time!

There are many recovery strategies to reduce muscle soreness, but what you put in your body will help what you get out of it. If you really want to feel good after a workout, you’ll need proper fluids, protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, and easy-to-digest foods to hydrate and fuel your body. The muscle-recovery foods and drinks listed below will help you restore and recover faster.

Mixed nuts in wooden bowls on black stone table.
Pure protein and nutrients. Photo by: Milan.

Muscle Recovery Drinks

Rehydration is essential, especially after an intense workout. Replenishing your fluid levels improves muscle flexibility, builds strength, and prevents muscle soreness. While water is always a quick and easy go-to for rehydration, your body may need fluids with more nutritional value and health benefits so you can recover properly and maintain endurance.

1. Beet Juice

Beets are amazingly healthy whether you cook or liquefy them, but juicing beets retains all of their nutritional value. These earthy root veggies provide many health benefits that assist in muscle recovery. They are full of dietary nitrates that can help send oxygen to your muscles and improve muscle function after strenuous exercise. 

Beets are also loaded with antioxidants and anti-inflammatory phytochemicals. A study investigated whether consuming antioxidant-rich beetroot juice would lessen muscle damage after an intense workout. It concluded that drinking beetroot juice after completing strenuous exercise reduced muscle soreness and sped muscle recovery.

2.  Tart Cherry Juice

Heavy exercise increases oxidative stress, cellular damage, and inflammation in the body. Tart cherry juice contains high levels of polyphenols known as anthocyanins. Anthocyanins have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that reduce oxidative stress and aid in the recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage

In a study, 20 marathon runners were asked to consume tart cherry juice before, the day of, and 48 hours after their races. They were examined for muscle damage, soreness, inflammation, and oxidative stress before and after their runs. It was determined that tart cherry juice aids recovery following strenuous exercise by increasing total antioxidative capacity, reducing inflammation, and aiding in the recovery of muscle function.

3. Golden Milk

One of the best muscle recoveries drinks out there is golden milk, thanks to its main ingredient turmeric. Turmeric is loaded with the inflammation-fighting antioxidant curcumin, which has been shown to decrease muscle soreness. According to research, supplementing with curcumin helps reduce post-exercise pain during a 48-hour recovery period.

Turmeric is a rich source of carbohydrates and fiber. It also contains pyridoxine, vitamin C, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus, making it a nutritionally-rich natural food powerhouse. Enjoy a soothing cup of golden milk and feel restored in no time. A simple, easy-to-make recipe includes:

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of almond, coconut, or your favorite milk
  • 1.5 teaspoons ground turmeric 
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon 
  • Sweetener of choice (honey, maple syrup, etc.)

Instructions

  • Add milk, turmeric, black pepper, and ginger to a saucepan 
  • Warm ingredients (don’t boil) over medium heat while slowly mixing everything together
  • Turn off the heat, add cinnamon and sweetener and enjoy! 
Golden milk is poured from a jug into a glass
Turmeric Golden milk with cinnamon. Photo by: Виктория Попова.

4. Green Tea

Green tea has a rich history of known health benefits thanks to its antioxidant properties. Just like tart cherry and pomegranate juice, it is loaded with polyphenols which have been shown to alleviate signs and symptoms of exercise-induced muscle damage.

In a study of 14 athletes, they were asked to perform bench press exercises after both a period without drinking green tea and while drinking the tea. After blood samples were taken, it was shown that green tea may reduce oxidative stress and offer protection against muscle damage from strenuous exercise. So sit back, relax and enjoy that cup of freshly brewed tea, it offers more benefits than you may think!

5. Pomegranate Juice

Pomegranate juice is a rich source of ellagitannins, a type of polyphenol with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that may aid in muscle recovery.  In a study, 9 elite athletes either drank pomegranate juice or a placebo 3 times per day for 3 days before Olympic Weightlifting training sessions. Compared with the placebo, those who drank the pomegranate juice showed reduced oxidative stress and increased antioxidant defenses, indicating that pomegranate juice could accelerate muscle recovery.

6. Watermelon Juice

The fruit itself is a thirst quencher, especially on a hot summer day. But did you know it actually has some incredible nutritional value? Watermelon juice is filled with the amino acid L-citrulline which has been shown to restore sore muscles.

During intense exercise, muscle fatigue and damage occur. When half-marathon runners were studied drinking watermelon juice prior to their races, it showed they experienced less muscle soreness and damage than those drinking a placebo.

Two glasses of green tea
Relaxing Green Tea. Photo by: Grafvision.

Muscle Recovery Foods

After a tough workout, your muscles are going to be sore. After all, you just put your body under immense stress. By fueling it with the proper nutrition, you can recover faster. Below is a list of nutrient-dense foods that will aid in muscle repair, reduce post-exercise soreness and get you ready for your next strenuous physical activity.

1. Bananas

Bananas are loaded with carbohydrates and potassium. These two nutrients are immensely beneficial to your post-workout meal plan. The carbohydrates, in both sugar and starch form, restore glycogen in the body, a form of energy that depletes during strenuous exercise. The potassium is needed to help balance the electrolytes that are lost during heavy sweating.

2. Berries

Berries contain rich supplies of polyphenols like resveratrol and anthocyanin. They are known to help reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the body. Blueberries, blackberries, black currants, strawberries, and raspberries top the list for their antioxidant content. In fact, black currants have been studied and shown to help alleviate oxidative stress in the body after exercise. 

3. Dark Leafy Greens

Not just any garden variety of lettuce, dark leafy greens like kale, Swiss chard, spinach, and beet greens are what you are looking for. These greens are chock full of antioxidants like vitamin C and beta carotene, both of which reduce free radical damage and oxidative stress. Dark leafy greens also contain vitamin K and calcium to support healthy bone structure.

In a study conducted to assess the effects of daily spinach supplementation in well-trained half-marathon runners, results showed that oxidative stress and muscle damage were reduced following their races.

Fresh berries with raspberries, blueberries, blackberries in bowl on a stone stand on wood background.
Fresh berries with raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries. Photo by: zadorozhna.

4. Nuts 

Just like berries, nuts are little nuggets of goodness that are easy to grab for a nutritious post-workout snack. They provide your body with protein and, best of all, nutrients like magnesium. In a study on the effects of magnesium supplementation on muscle soreness and performance, results showed that there was a significant reduction in muscle soreness and improved muscle recovery after strenuous exercise. Brazil nuts, almonds, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, and pine nuts are your best choices for magnesium-rich nuts.

5. Pineapple

Pineapple contains the protease enzyme called bromelain. When ingested, bromelain causes the body to make substances that fight pain and reduce swelling. A study of downhill runners who supplemented with the protease enzyme showed that they felt reduced muscle soreness and faster restoration of muscle function after intense exercise.

6. Seeds

Flax, hemp, and chia seeds are all terrific plant sources of the fatty acid omega-3. Omega-3 is not naturally created by your body, but it is essential in helping control inflammation, muscle contraction, and relaxation. Including foods that are rich in omega-3 into your diet will greatly improve your post-workout recovery.

crackers from flax seeds,first plan
Flax seeds crackers. Photo by: dream79.

Muscle Recovery Smoothie

Reduce your post-exercise soreness with this smoothie made with a combination of the foods listed above. This nutritionally-packed recipe will help fuel and restore your body.

Ingredients

  • 2  bananas
  • 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
  • 1/2 cup frozen raspberries
  • 1/2 cup strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • 1 tablespoon flax seeds
  • 1 large handful of spinach
  • 2-1/2 cups of preferred milk

Instructions

  • Combine all ingredients in a blender
  • Pour in your favorite cup and enjoy!
Glass and jug of healthy smoothie on table
Don't forget your greens. Photo by: Pixel-Shot.

Rehydrate and Refuel to Restore your Body

After a challenging workout, it’s important to replenish your body with proper nutrition for optimal recovery. Exercise-induced muscle damage can cause significant discomfort and impair future physical activities. Giving your body what it needs after strenuous training will allow you to bounce back quicker and reap the rewards of all your hard work.

Jars of healthy green smoothie with fresh spinach by: New Africa.

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Jars of healthy green smoothie with fresh spinach on grey wooden table
Emily Leikam
Emily is an avid traveler and has been all around the world from Alaska and Iceland to Peru and Bali. Her home base is Nashville, TN and when not traveling you can find her hiking, practicing yoga or cooking/baking!