As a top athlete or exercise enthusiast, you know how important it is to fuel your body with healthy, whole foods. Usually, this equates to pre-workout protein shakes and lean proteins for breakfast, in order to power through a high-intensity workout.
But what can you do about the aches and pains that come after you exercise? Check out the best vitamins for athletes.
If you take the best vitamins for athletes and you’re curious about the best pre and post-workout snacks and meals, you should know that there are plenty of healthy foods that help with muscle soreness by reducing inflammation, supporting cell and muscle repair, and building an overall healthy body.
Order up! The newest additions to your meal-prep routine are right here.
#1 Cottage Cheese
Cottage cheese can be a pretty polarizing food choice, but as far as muscle recovery, everyone should be able to get on board with its benefits.
It offers a two-pronged approach to post-workout bounce back because of the two different proteins packed into this creamy, salty cheese:
Together, the proteins in cottage cheese pack a powerful punch—the kind that eases, not adds to, your pain. It also contains live bacteria cultures that facilitate nutrient breakdown and absorption for healthy muscle growth.
Healthy ways to enjoy cottage cheese:
- Spread on toast with honey
- In banana pancakes
- With basil, pine nuts, and olive oil
- With yogurt, granola, and your choice of fruit
#2 Tart Cherries
Speaking of fruit, tart cherries are an excellent choice—not necessarily in your cottage cheese bowl, but just to munch on before and after practices.
Studies have shown that tart cherry juice has serious benefits for the average athlete:
- It can reduce muscle pain while running, if taken leading up to and during a big bout of physical activity.2
- It can improve post-exercise recovery, particularly of isometric strength—muscle ability in stationary exercises like planks, wall squats, and other static poses.
- It can delay the time to fatigue during exercise, supporting endurance athletes who maintain high physical exertion for long periods of time.3
Healthy ways to enjoy tart cherries:
- Dried cherries in trail mix
- Frozen cherries in a smoothie
- Tart cherry juice
If you’ve ever watched Popeye, then you shouldn’t be surprised to learn about spinach’s impact on muscular strength.
This magnesium-packed vegetable can help maintain optimal muscle function, meaning you may be able to avoid the peaks and valleys that come with arduous training. Plus, the natural nitrates present in spinach are seriously powerful (and likely the driving force behind their positive effect). In a study from the Karolinska Institutet, researchers discovered significantly stronger muscles in mice that consumed nitrate-laden water than those that didn’t.4
The best part? It doesn’t even take that much spinach to have a positive effect—that means a few leafy salads a week will do, not a lifetime of munching away like a rabbit.
Healthy ways to enjoy spinach:
- The base ingredient of your favorite tossed salads
- Spinach and artichoke orzo
- As an add-on to your go-to smoothie recipes
Variety is the spice of life, but spices might just be the elixir of life, or at least healthy muscle recovery. Several common cooking and baking spices also double as recovery-promoting additives:
Healthy ways to enjoy these spices:
- Sprinkle cinnamon or turmeric in your morning oatmeal
- Add turmeric to coffee, smoothies, and baked goods
- Ginger-turmeric herbal tea
- Ginger veggie stir fry
#5 Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are small but mighty, packing plenty of healthy proteins and nutrients in such tiny casings. Somehow, they manage to provide a whole handful of general health benefits. When consuming nuts or seeds, we always recommend buying them already sprouted or doing it yourself. The sprouting process increases the bioavailability and nutritional profiles of these foods, and also helps rid them of various toxic compounds they contain, which have been known to deplete minerals in the body (11).
When it comes to exercise-induced muscle damage and soreness, here’s what stands out about nuts and seeds:8
- Omega-3 fatty acids – These can help fight inflammation, one of the primary culprits of sore, achy muscles and a long road to recovery.
- Protein – They provide necessary protein for muscular development.
- Electrolytes – Nuts and seeds can help replenish the body’s electrolytes, leaving you fully hydrated and ready for action. On the other hand, dehydration often exacerbates muscle soreness.
- Zinc – This immunity-booster can also boost the way your body feels after an intense workout. The immune system is intricately involved with physical recovery, so protecting one automatically improves the other.
Healthy ways to enjoy nuts and seeds:
- A healthy, homemade trail mix
- Toppings on leafy green salads
- In a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt
Salmon is another Omega-3 powerhouse. In fact, most people automatically associated the fatty acid with fatty fish like salmon.
Not only is salmon a healthy, lean protein, but it boasts powerful inflammation-fighting properties. As one of the leading causes of muscle soreness, anything that can calm your aching body will be able to ease your pain, too. At the same time, it’s known to bulk up muscles for a multi-pronged approach to growth and repair.9
Healthy ways to enjoy salmon:
- Honey garlic glazed salmon
- Spicy salmon poke bowl
#7 Sweet Potatoes
We’ve all experienced this before: you start your workout feeling like you could take on the world and then some. By the end, you’re running on fumes and can hardly make it back to the locker room in one piece.
As you work out, your body breaks down glycogen to use as energy, fueling each lap you run and weight you lift. But once you’ve used up your entire glycogen store, that’s it. You’re like a car running on an empty tank of gas. And the muscles left operating the car experience serious fatigue, and usually soreness.
Consuming carbohydrates is the easiest way to replenish your depleted glycogen, especially with foods that are low on the glycemic index (GI)—this is where sweet potatoes come in. High-GI foods will set you up for an unpleasant crash and burn experience, whereas low-GI foods will sustain you for much longer. And when your body has the energy it needs to push through the final rep, you don’t run into muscle fatigue and pain.
Healthy ways to enjoy sweet potatoes:
- Roasted sweet potatoes as a side dish
- In a bowl with rice, lettuce, and vegetables
- Sweet potato salad
#8 Mānuka Honey
This unique type of honey, native to New Zealand, is considered to be one of the healthiest honey varieties available. Milder in flavor than the run-of-the-mill honey you might have in your cupboard, it still comes with its fair share of physical health benefits.
Mānuka honey has powerful anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Its soothing effect on swollen joints and muscles is especially effective after a long and arduous workout. Plus, it’s rich in carbohydrates, which are always good for replenishing the glycogen in your hard-working muscles.
Healthy ways to enjoy mānuka honey:
- Mānuka honey and oat granola bars
- Homemade honey butter
- Topping a bowl of cottage cheese or oatmeal, fresh fruits, and nuts
#9 Green Tea
Green tea is often enjoyed as a comforting, calming beverage, but it’s a surprisingly powerful supplement, too. Based on extensive research, green tea extract may be able to:10
- Reduce muscle soreness after eccentric exercise, where slow, muscle-building movements can lead to increased muscle strength and repair
- Mitigate some of the muscle damage caused by eccentric exercise, high-intensity aerobics, and strength training
- Preserve peak performance during arduous exercise
- Reduce oxidative stress, which often leads to muscle damage and pain
By protecting your muscles against stress and damage, you’ll be similarly protecting yourself against the associated discomfort.
The best way to consume green tea is basically the only way: brewed in hot water, with a sprinkle of sugar to your satisfaction.
Cymbiotika: Supplements for Muscle Recovery
Whole foods and home-cooked meals aren’t the only ways to support healthy muscles and eliminate soreness. The reason that these foods are so beneficial is because of the nutrients they carry—those same nutrients and other health-promoting properties are also found in daily supplements, just like ours.
For full-body wellness, healthy muscle recovery, and convenient formulas that fit into your everyday workouts, use Cymbiotika.
Nutrition & Metabolism. Effect of protein/essential amino acids and resistance training on skeletal muscle hypertrophy: A case for whey protein. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20565767/
Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Efficacy of tart cherry juice in reducing muscle pain during running: a randomized controlled trial. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-7-17
Antioxidants in Sports Nutrition. Chapter 11 Inflammation and Immune Function. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK299041/
Karolinska Institutet. Solved at last – why spinach makes us strong. https://news.ki.se/solved-at-last-why-spinach-makes-us-strong
European Journal of Applied Physiology. Curcumin supplementation likely attenuates delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25795285/
International Journal of Preventive Medicine. Influence of Ginger and Cinnamon Intake on Inflammation and Muscle Soreness Endued by Exercise in Iranian Female Athletes. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3665015/
BBC Good Food. 6 health benefits of cinnamon. https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-cinnamon
Men’s Journal. 10 Foods to Cure Sore Muscles and Speed Up Recovery. https://www.mensjournal.com/food-drink/10-foods-cure-sore-muscles-and-speed-recovery/4-nuts-seeds/
Greatist. The Best and Worst Foods for Sore Muscles. https://greatist.com/eat/foods-for-sore-muscles
Frontiers. Green Tea Extract Preserves Neuromuscular Activation and Muscle Damage Markers in Athletes Under Cumulative Fatigue. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphys.2018.01137/full
- Hyperbiotics. Why Should You Sprout Nuts, Grains, Beans, and Seeds?https://www.hyperbiotics.com/blogs/recent-articles/why-should-you-sprout-nuts-grains-beans-and-seeds