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7 Foods to Help Improve Post-Workout Recovery

With the bounty of information on the best types of foods and supplements to consume shortly after an intense workout, I hope these science-backed nutrition ideas can help cut through the glut and put the pep in your muscle recovery step.

blueberries for recovery

1. Berry Good Muscle Recovery With Blueberries

These tasty little buggers are big on antioxidants that spur post-exertion muscle recovery. A 2012 study out of New Zealand fed test subjects blueberry smoothies prior to and post-workout concluded that a significant (p = 0.047) interaction effect was seen for peak isometric tension suggesting a faster rate of recovery in the blueberry intervention group.

Although indicators of pain and inflammation decreases were negligible the results were strong enough to indicate the role of this antioxidant in speeding recovery of isometric muscle peak strength. Throw a healthy handful into your recovery shake or add them to yogurt or cereal to brighten up these snacks.

2. Add a Zing to Your Recovery With Cherry Juice

Cherries for RecoveryNot only are cherries a powerful antioxidant, but they have the potential to reduce inflammation. A 2010 Oregon Health and Science University study showed that runners who used tart cherry juice had less inflammation and faster muscle strength recovery.

This study required participants to consume cherry juice consistently prior to their race, meaning that it’s effective for pain and inflammation relief based on pre and post-workout consumption.

3. Alkalize With Leafy Greens

Leafy greens are chock-full of potassium – the micronutrient most Americans don’t consume enough of. As athletes, we lose this key nutrient by way of sweating or dehydration, so we’re doubly at risk for low potassium stores. Potassium and magnesium are electrolytes that aid the body in preventing cramps by regulating your pH level.

Leafy greens are also rich in chlorella and chlorophyll, two nutrients that are protein-rich and alkalizing to the body. An alkaline resting body is important because as we exert effort our bodies become more acidic and we then experience muscle fatigue. Several great green options include Swiss Chard, Spinach, Kale, and Beet Greens. Combine variations of these in a salad, add them to your smoothie or sandwich!

4. Go Long With Legumes

TempehAn easy and meat-free way to pump up your protein intake comes from beans. Tempeh, which comes from fermented soybeans, is a phenomenal meat substitute with an average of 15 grams of protein per ½ cup.

Not only is the protein content high, but the fiber, mineral, and vitamin makeup (omega 3s, B12, B6, iron, magnesium, calcium, zinc) of Tempeh are additional perks that set this bean apart. It’s a hearty salad centerpiece and has much versatility in flavoring, so the entree combination options are unlimited. Unleash your imagination!

5. Greek Yogurt Goodness

Greek Yogurt

One of my favorite protein-packed snacks or meal add-ons is Greek yogurt. This thick, creamy, delicious yogurt is whey and casein-rich and has lower levels of lactose than traditional dairy sources.

It’s easy to add to a smoothie, mix up a spread (just add salt, lemon, garlic, olive oil, and black pepper) for sandwiches or wraps, or simply eat on its own. One of my favorite brands is Fage (Fah-yeh!). It’s oh-so-tasty and per one cup there’s an average of 23* grams of protein (*2% Greek yogurt).

6. Seeds (Not Just for the Birds)

These nutrient-dense foods pack a hefty punch. Seeds are great additions to any smoothie as they’re easy to add and contribute significant protein. Hemp, Flax, and Chia seeds are all protein-rich seeds to add to your post-pump smoothie and have the added benefit of being fibrous. For ideas, check out these protein smoothie recipes from Ella Waterworth.

Mind you, it may be a good idea to blend Flax seeds in a food processor as this increases the bioavailability of the nutrients. Simply store it in the fridge afterward. If you prefer to consume seeds in a more carb-based approach there are many great seeded breads to chow down on.

Carbs are an important part of muscle gain and recovery especially because they are quick to metabolize and will send the energy more directly into your atrophied muscles post-exercise. High glycemic foods can benefit you because they increase glycogen stores and spur insulin production which sends blood glucose into the muscle.

7. Plant-based Protein Powders

Vegan Protein Powder Smoothie

Plant-based protein powders can be an excellent source of nutrition for post-work recovery. Perhaps surprising to some athletes, vegan protein powder can offer a comparable protein count to whey and other animal-based proteins, but without the bloaty side effects. You can find performance vegan protein powders that have a high concentration of amino acids, particularly BCAAs (branch chain amino acids) which are essential to not only grow muscles but to prevent muscle cannibalization in endurance athletes. Our favorites are Garden of Life RAW Fit Protein and Vega Sport Protein.

In addition to finding plant-based protein powders with high amino acid profiles, seek sources that have the most concentrated sources, and less isolated sources. Some of the best sources include hemp seed, pea, brown rice. You can even take plant-based recovery to the next level by using chlorella, blue green algae, and spirulina, which can have upwards of 90% digestibility and instance absorption.

Post contributed by Bret Bowerman

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Head of Content at Better Triathlete | Website

Endurance athlete, professional off-road cyclist, and avid blogger, Tyler Tafelsky participates in long-course multisport and cycling events. Today, Tyler competes in ultra-distance cycling races at the professional level. Since starting Better Triathlete in 2014, he has been the head of content for the site's editorial team. Learn more about Tyler