Recovery Foods for Athletes

Reviewed by: Dr. Pejman Taghavi

Athletic girl holding plate with healthy sandwitch

If you’re an athlete or a gym-goer who loves the challenge of a good workout, physical activity and fitness is likely among your top priorities in life. From building your muscles with weight-lifting to increasing your endurance through cardio, you feel best when you’re pushing your body to its limits. 

But even athletes in top shape know that exhaustion and soreness can follow after an intense training session. exercise can take quite the toll on your body’s nutritional resources. 

Once you’ve expended all that energy molding your body to excellence, it’s important to reward yourself with foods that will replenish your vital nutrients and boost your energy levels so that you’re ready to take on your next workout.

Wondering how to speed up muscle recovery? If you want to stay powered up for the gym and life in general, you’ll need to know these top recovery foods for athletes and why they’re important.

Why are Post-Work Recovery Foods Important?

Eating well after your workout is a necessary component for post-workout recovery. From sweating to burning calories, you expend a significant amount of your body’s energy, resources, and nutrients while getting in shape. So it’s important that you replenish them. 

Some of the vital nutrients and resources our bodies rely on include:

  • Water1
  • Protein 
  • Carbohydrates

These and other nutrients are the fuel that keep your body powered up and ready to meet whatever challenges you throw at it. 

However, these nutrients don’t renew themselves.And without them, your body can't perform to the standards you set for it. Failing to resupply your body’s nutritional reserves after you’ve been pumping iron can leave you feeling drained and prevent you from meeting your athletic goals. 

On the other hand, eating properly after a workout can:

  • Help promote muscle growth
  • Improve your immune system
  • Improve  bone mass
  • Enhance metabolism 

Many of the best muscle recovery foods are staples of a healthy diet for any athlete, which gives you even more reason to add them to your post-workout plate. here’s what you should be eating after your next session to reduce soreness and aid  recovery. 

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Recovery Foods: What to Eat After Exercise

There are three primary nutritional goals every athlete should set for themselves after a workout:

  • rehydrate 
  • repair your muscles
  • replenish  glycogen levels 

What you eat and drink after your workout needs to support these goals, which is why choosing the right recovery food or organic supplements is so crucial. So, let’s take a closer look at each goal and what you can do to reach it. 

Rehydration 

Our bodies are around 60% water.2 That simple mixture of hydrogen and oxygen is the elixir of life. Without it, our bodies cannot function.

This is because water is packed with electrolytes—charged substances that the body uses to perform an array of necessary functions, such as: 

  • Growing new cells
  • Balancing fluid levels3
  • Regulating chemical reactions
  • Moving muscles 

When you sweat, you lose electrolytes at a fast rate, so rebuilding them after your workout is crucial for athletes. But it’s not enough to hit the gym and then chug a sports drink afterward. You need to be adequately hydrated before, during, and after your workout for optimal recovery.4 

What does “adequately hydrated” mean, you ask? According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), it begins with ingesting fluids and eating well during the 24 hours before your workout. Then, the ACSM advises: 

  • Drinking at least 17 ounces of water roughly two hours before your workout
  • Drinking 4-8 ounces of water at regular intervals throughout your workout
  • Replenishing with at least 16 ounces per pound of lost fluid afterward5 

Depending on the intensity and duration of your workout, you may need to hydrate more.

Wondering what to drink after a workout? Aside from water, you can also rehydrate your body after a workout with: 

  • A protein smoothie
  • Natural fruit juice
  • Chocolate milk 
  • Water-rich fruits, such as watermelon

Muscle Repair 

After a workout, your body needs to repair damaged muscle tissue, build new muscle tissue, and strengthen existing muscle tissue. In order to do all this, it needs one thing in particular: protein. 

Even if your exercise goals don’t include bulking up like a bodybuilder, your body needs a significant amount of protein after a workout to support your muscles as they repair, recover, and build. This is why it’s recommended that you ingest just over an ounce of protein after you work out.6 

Here are the foods that help muscle recovery and can help you reach your post-workout protein goals:

  • Fish – Certain fish, known as fatty fish, are packed with proteins and other nutrients your body craves, particularly after an intense sweat session. Give your muscles a fighting chance at effective recovery by integrating tuna, salmon, trout, or sardines into your after-gym meal plan. 
  • Meat – Many types of meat are also great sources of protein. After an intense workout, meat-eaters should seek out white meats like turkey, skinless chicken, and pork loin or chop to aid in their muscle recovery.
  • Eggs – Protein stands out among the many nutrients eggs have to offer, making them a staple of the best recovery menus. If you’re concerned about cholesterol, you can easily skip the yolk and use only the egg whites.
  • Beans – There are almost 400 distinct bean varieties, so finding the one—or ones—that appeal to you shouldn’t be a chore. Garbanzo beans, lentils, kidney beans, black beans, soybeans, and others are all high in protein and other nutrients, so you can take your pick.7 You can even combine different varieties of beans into a tasty bean salad to supercharge your protein intake. 
  • Dairy – From milk and yogurt to cottage cheese and string cheese, you have a lot of options when it comes to boosting your dairy intake. This is good news, as dairy is rich in protein and an essential part of an athlete’s diet. 

  • Not getting the nutrients you need from your diet alone? Shilajit resin is packed with over 84 essential minerals, vitamins, and enzymes that aid in converting fats and sugars into cellular energy that can keep you powered up through your workouts and beyond. 

    Glycogen Replenishment 

    Glycogen is a form of sugar that’s stored in the muscles. If the body were a car, glycogen would be the gas: it fuels the body’s cells and gives you the energy you need to get through your workouts. 

    Unfortunately, our bodies aren’t super efficient when it comes to storing glycogen and maintaining high levels of it. Even when you’re kicking back after your workout, nearly 20% of the energy you’re using comes from glycogen.8 That can jump up to as high as 85% when you’re in the midst of your exercise. Because of this, no post-workout food plan is complete unless it focuses on replenishing your glycogen levels. 

    Our bodies get the glucose that it turns into glycogen from carbohydrates. First, our bodies metabolize or break down carbohydrates into glucose through a process known as gluconeogenesis. Once that’s complete, our bodies take that glucose and start making glycogen, which it then stores in our muscles.  

    So, loading up on the following carbohydrate-rich foods is critical if you want to make sure your body is producing and storing optimal levels of glycogen:

  • Fruit – Enjoying fruit is one of the healthiest ways you can improve your carbohydrate intake. Mangos, apples, and bananas are especially high in carbohydrates and many other nutrients. Dates, raisins, and goji berries are excellent dried options.
  • Dairy – Remember all those dairy products we mentioned earlier when we were talking about protein? Many of those same foods are also rich in carbohydrates, like milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, and cream cheese.
  • Starchy vegetables – A meal plan that includes appropriate serving sizes of starchy vegetables, like sweet potatoes, corn, and beets, will also ensure better glycogen levels. 
  • Grains and rice – Whole grain cereals and oatmeal, as well as quinoa and brown rice, are excellent ways of getting those carbs you so desperately need when you leave the gym.
  • Whole wheat bread and whole wheat crackers can also give your body a healthy carbohydrate boost. 

    Bounce Back from Your Workout Faster with Cymbiotika 

    When it comes to rebuilding your body’s nutrient reserves after a workout, getting the proper amount of water, protein, and carbohydrates isn’t always easy. This can be especially true for those of us with dietary lifestyles that don’t include meat, dairy, and other animal by-products.

    Fortunately, your dietary choices don’t have to hold you back at the gym. Consider adding a vanilla plant protein powder to your post-recovery drink to restore energy.

    At Cymbiotika, we know that getting the right amount of nutrients is important to you, and we know that our modern diets don’t always make room for what’s most essential. Our mission is to fill that gap.
    By combining innovative science with traditional Eastern medicine, we’re crafting the best supplements on earth from high-quality, plant-based ingredients. Another great supplement to boost brain power and improve memory is magnesium L-threonate, which can help support your overall wellness goals. 

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    Sources: 

    1. Wellness Daily. 7 Essential Nutrients Your Body Needs. https://www.wellnessdaily.com.au/health/7-essential-nutrients-your-body-needs
    2. Medical News Today. What Percentage of the Human Body is Water? https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/what-percentage-of-the-human-body-is-water 
    3. Roswell Park. Electrolytes—What Are They? What Happens if You Don’t Have Enough? https://www.roswellpark.org/cancertalk/201808/electrolytes-what-are-they-what-happens-if-you-dont-have-enough 
    4. Orthopedic and Sports Medicine Institute. Eating for Post-Workout Recovery. https://www.osmifw.com/eating-for-post-workout-recovery/ 
    5. National Library of Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine Position Stand. Exercise and Fluid Replacement. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9303999/ 
    6. Healthline. The 10 Best Muscle Recovery Foods and Drinks. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-muscle-recovery-foods#3.-Fatty-fish 
    7. Healthline. The 9 Healthiest Beans and Legumes You Can Eat. ​​https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/healthiest-beans-legumes#TOC_TITLE_HDR_6 
    8. Muscle Sound. What Is Glycogen? https://www.musclesound.com/2016/05/23/what-is-glycogen/ 
    9. Harvard School of Public Health. Protein. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/ 
    Reviewed by: Dr. Pejman Taghavi Medical Director, Hollywood Healthcare Clinical Instructor, Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center

    Dr. Pejman Taghavi is a specialist in the field of Diagnostic and Interventional Abdominal and Musculoskeletal Radiology. As medical director of Hollywood Healthcare and faculty at UCLA Medical Center, Dr. Taghavi offers extensive expertise in the field of radiology, with publications in the Society of Skeletal Radiology and Chicago Radiological Society, among others. Dr. Taghavi is passionate about the healing of muscles and joints without relying on oral pain medications. Dr. Taghavi has experience in working with high-level athletes from the LA Lakers, LA Dodgers, and UCLA Bruins.


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