9 Foods That Help Muscle Recovery

Clinically reviewed by our Board of Advisors

Shirtless muscular man in front of table with healthy food

If you hang around any gym long enough, you’re bound to hear the phrase, “No pain, no gain.” It’s a familiar motto that speaks to the necessity of enduring the physical demands of working out. In other words, it means you have to push through the pain if you really want results.

But what if we told you exercise doesn’t have to be painful? 

Wondering how to speed up muscle recovery? Although some fitness buffs would have you believe that beating yourself up is the best way to achieve your  fitness goals, most common pains of working out can be alleviated by staying hydrated and eating the right foods after you exercise. 

What should you eat for post-workout recovery? From protein-loaded dairy to fatty-acid-filled fish, this guide will break down the 9 muscle recovery foods for athletes that you can eat to help your body recover faster after your next workout. 

#1 Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese is packed with nutrients and is one of the best foods that can help your muscles regenerate after a strenuous workout. In fact, by choosing this creamy snack, you can get the proper post-workout dose of:1 

  • Carbohydrates
  • Calcium
  • Fat

What’s more, cottage cheese is rich in casein and whey proteins, both of which are well-known muscle-builders. That’s why athletes and anyone who wants to achieve muscle growth favor cottage cheese as an antidote to the  strain and soreness that can accompany intensive training. 

But perhaps one of the best things about cottage cheese is its versatility—it’s as enjoyable on its own as it is mixed with fruit or used as a topping. In lieu of a single meal, here are two delicious ways to indulge in cottage cheese after a workout:

Cottage cheese-stuffed baked sweet potato – Sweet potatoes are high in protein, potassium, and other vitamins that your body loves, so combining them with cottage cheese only doubles the appeal of both. To make this recipe, bake a potato at 425 degrees for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the skin is crispy. When it's ready, cut it open, scoop out the potatoes and mix them with one cup of cottage cheese. Then, stuff the mixture back into the skin. Toppings and seasonings are up to you! 

Apple and cottage cheese bowl – Apples are rich in carbohydrates that your body needs to make glycogen, the enzyme that powers your muscles. Cut one up and slip the slices into a bowl with one cup of cottage cheese for a quick snack with a big impact. You can even add nuts, berries, raisins, or other dried fruits to pump up the volume.

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#2 Salmon 

Fatty fish are highly recommended sources of protein for athletes, which is why they routinely appear on  lists of foods that help muscle  recovery. Salmon are some of the most nutrient-dense fish. But it isn't just among fish that salmon rules supreme. As one of the most nutritious foods around, salmon blows other protein sources out of the water. 

What makes salmon so special? For starters, it contains high levels of Omega-3 fatty acids, a vital nutrient that presents a range of benefits, from improving heart health to decreasing depression and anxiety symptoms.2 However, salmon is also loaded with:

  • Proteins that promote muscle recovery
  • Potassium, which helps replenish electrolytes, rehydrate you after a workout, and can potentially reduce the chance of prolonged sore muscles3

For a heart-healthy option, consider baked salmon seasoned with lemon, olive oil, and fresh garlic.

#3 Spinach 

There’s a reason Popeye reaches for a can of spinach whenever he needs to bulk up in a hurry. Chock-full of vitamins and teeming with potassium, magnesium, and calcium, spinach is one of the best gifts you can give your body after an intense workout to help with muscle repair and resolve muscle pain.

Thanks to its nutritious properties, spinach is a recovery food that can help:

  • Replenish electrolytes – Sweating while you work out depletes your body of the electrolytes that keep you hydrated, but thanks to all of its magnesium and potassium, spinach refills your reserves. 
  • Improve muscle function – Spinach is  rich in valuable nitrates—natural chemicals that are added to many foods and beverages as a preservative. Nitrates from spinach and other leafy greens have been linked to improved muscle function and performance.4

  • After your next work out, treat yourself to a hearty spinach salad topped with your favorite vegetables. 

    Don’t love the taste of spinach? Here’s a helpful tip: Add a vanilla plant protein powder to your post-workout smoothie with banana and peanut butter. The other ingredients will mask the flavor while providing the necessary nutrients. 

    #4 Watermelon 

    You probably associate watermelon with Fourth of July barbeques or family reunions. But if you aren’t also associating it with muscle recovery post-workout, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Here’s why:

  • It’s hydrating – Watermelons are more than 90% water, which means post-workout watermelon is guaranteed to quench your thirst.5 What’s more, it’s swimming with potassium and magnesium, essential hydraters in their own right.
  • It’s relieving – If you’re prone to muscle soreness when you leave the gym, you should definitely add watermelon to your menu. That’s because watermelon is a phenomenal source of vitamin C, which is known to reduce muscle inflammation that leads to soreness and discomfort. 

  • Plus, there’s no wrong way to enjoy watermelon. You can simply cut one open and dig in. You can even mix watermelon together with some cottage cheese to double-down on your muscle recovery. If you’re crunched for time, a magnesium L-threonate supplement will also replenish and nourish your body.

    #5 Eggs 

    You might have heard before that eggs are pretty incredible. They’re a rich source of protein that boosts your body’s ability to repair muscles and generate new muscle tissue, making them a vital component of any after-workout food plan.3 

    But that’s not all. Eggs also contain a smorgasbord of essential nutrients, from folate that helps your blood distribute oxygen throughout your body to calcium, zinc, and nearly every B vitamin you can think of.7 

    How can you incorporate eggs into your post-workout menu?

    • Eat them hard boiled 
    • Scramble them into a spinach and feta omelet
    • Cook them over easy and enjoy them with toast 

    #6 Bananas 

    Loading up on carbohydrates is important before and after you work out. When carbohydrates enter your body, they get turned into glucose, which eventually becomes glycogen—a form of sugar that your body stores in its muscles. Glycogen is the primary source of energy for your body, but it doesn’t store it very well. To stay active, it needs to be replenished. 

    Fortunately, you can get about 29 grams of carbohydrates from a single banana.7 They’re the perfect carbohydrate-rich snack for quelling your exercise-induced hunger and rewarding your body for its hard work. 

    Once you’ve left the gym, peel one to enjoy solo, or slice it up and smear  with peanut butter for an extra dose of protein and carbs. When you eat carbohydrates and proteins simultaneously, you only increase the benefits of both.8

    #7 Tumeric

    It might be a cliche, but sometimes, big things come in small packages. That’s certainly the case with turmeric, the little spice that packs a big punch. 

    Most of that punch comes from its main ingredient, curcumin—an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory effects that can ease muscle soreness following a rigorous workout. 

    Aside from relieving your muscles, studies suggest that curicumin may also: 

    • Improve heart health
    • Ease arthritis symptoms 
    • Reduce Alzheimer’s symptoms 
    • Prevent some cancers 

    The good news is that turmeric is a delicious seasoning for an array of dishes, making it easy to integrate into your meal plan. 

    That said, you’re unlikely to derive a substantial amount of curcumin from turmeric alone. Cymbiotika’s post-workout recovery supplements can help you meet your needs when your diet can’t. Made from the finest plant-based ingredients, it’s a natural and healthy way to work toward wellness. 

    #8 Chickpeas 

    When it comes to foods that help muscle recovery, you can’t go wrong with beans of virtually any kind. But chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, are particularly notable for their blend of:9

    • Essential vitamins that promote overall health
    • Valuable carbohydrates and proteins you need when you’re done working out

    Hummus is a classic way to enjoy chickpeas, but fresh or roasted chickpeas can also make a tasty addition to any salad. 

    #9 Nuts 

    Never underestimate the power of a peanut. Or any nut, for that matter. As the meat-free among us already know, nuts of all kinds contain nutritional wonders under their shells. 

    When it comes to foods that help muscle recovery, you want nuts that are highest in protein. That means reaching for:

    • Almonds
    • Brazil nuts
    • Cashews
    • Peanuts
    • Pine nuts
    • Walnuts 

    Absorb Nourishment with Cymbiotika

    If your workout routines have been leaving your muscles agitated and weary, it might be time to increase the number of nutrients you ingest after leaving the gym. From antioxidant-rich enzymes that prevent inflammation to carbohydrates and proteins that help your muscles grow, eating wisely and getting natural vitamins post-workout can help you get more gains with less pain. And food isn’t the only element that contributes to muscle recovery. Wondering what to drink after a workout? Smoothies, water, and other beneficial liquids can also be just as helpful to muscle recovery!

    At Cymbiotika, we know that reaching your personal wellness goals takes time. That’s why our plant-based supplements are designed to help you fill any nutritional gaps in your diet. Consider trying shilajit resin that’s packed with essential minerals and vitamins to boost your energy in time for your next workout. We're here to help you with the little things so that you can achieve lasting results. 

    At the end of the day, Cymbiotika can help you absorb nourishment better. Take our quiz to find out how. 



    Sources: 

    1. Healthline. Why Cottage Cheese Is Super Healthy and Nutritious. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/cottage-cheese-is-super-healthy#nutrition
    2. Healthline. 17 Science-Based Benefits of Omega-3 Fatty Acids.https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/17-health-benefits-of-omega-3#TOC_TITLE_HDR_7 
    3. Sweat. The Top 10 Muscle Recovery Foods. https://www.sweat.com/blogs/nutrition/foods-for-muscle-recovery 
    4. Healthline. Eating Your Greens May Help You Build Muscle Strength. healthline.com/health-news/eating-your-greens-may-help-you-build-muscle-strength#What-types-of-leafy-greens-should-you-eat?
    5. Mayo Clinic. The Wonders of Watermelon. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/the-wonders-of-watermelon#
    6. Healthline. Top 10 Health Benefits of Eating Eggs. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-proven-health-benefits-of-eggs 
    7. Healthline. Bananas: 11 Evidence-Based Health Benefits. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-benefits-of-bananas#TOC_TITLE_HDR_2 
    8. Healthline. The 10 Best Muscle Recovery Foods and Drinks. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-muscle-recovery-foods#8.-Dairy 
    9. Healthline. 26 Foods That Help You Build Lean Muscle. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/26-muscle-building-foods#TOC_TITLE_HDR_19 

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