Eat a balanced diet containing foods such as tart cherry juice, fatty salmon, watermelon, and whey protein for optimal muscle soreness recovery following exercise. Massage, foam rolling, and sufficient rest can also be beneficial.
If you regularly engage in strenuous physical activities such as long-distance cycling or trail running, you probably experience occasional muscle discomfort caused by exercise.
Muscle soreness is not only unpleasant, but it can also hinder your exercise and daily activities.
Numerous recovery strategies can help reduce muscle soreness, reduce exercise-induced muscle injury, and accelerate muscle recovery.
This article discusses the top 10 nutrients and beverages for muscle recovery.
1. Tart cherry juice
Drinking acidic cherry juice may be beneficial for both trained athletes and gym newbies. Studies indicate that tart cherry juice and tart cherry juice extract may enhance muscle recovery and reduce delayed-onset muscle fatigue (DOMS).
DOMS is a form of muscle injury caused by unaccustomed or strenuous exercise. It causes symptoms such as excruciating movement restriction, swelling, and stiffness.
Exercise increases oxidative stress, cellular injury, and inflammation in addition to delayed onset muscle soreness. Fortunately, foods and beverages rich in antioxidants may mitigate these adverse effects and facilitate recovery.
An abundance of anthocyanins is present in sour cherry juice. As a result of their potent anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, they may reduce exercise-induced soreness and muscle injury (EIMD).
A review of 25 studies, 15 of which focused on tart cherry juice, published in 2021 found that consuming tart cherry juice accelerated muscle recovery, decreased DOMS, and decreased inflammatory markers after exercise.
Numerous studies have found that consuming tart cherry juice or tart cherry supplements or extracts enhances muscle recovery and reduces DOMS.
Note, however, that tart cherry juice is likely to be most effective when supplemented several days prior to exercise and for several days afterward, for a total of 8–10 days.
2. Watermelon and watermelon juice
Watermelon is delicious, hydrating, and nutritionally dense. In addition, consuming watermelon or watermelon juice after exercise may be beneficial for muscle recovery.
Watermelon contains an abundance of the amino acid L-citrulline. In addition to being a protein-building component, this amino acid may have antioxidant effects and increase nitric oxide production (NO). NO increases muscle blood flow and improves cellular vitality.
This may explain why some studies indicate that watermelon juice may reduce post-exercise muscle soreness and injury.
A modest 2013 study involving 7 athletes found that consuming 16.9 ounces (500 mL) of natural watermelon juice or watermelon juice enriched with L-citrulline reduced muscle soreness 24 hours after exercise more than a placebo.
However, because the majority of available studies on the effect of watermelon juice on EIMD and DOMS used enriched watermelon juice, it is questionable whether natural watermelon juice would be equally effective.
Carbohydrates, amino acids, and antioxidants are essential nutrients found in cantaloupe that enhance exercise performance and recovery. Consequently, regardless of its possible benefits for muscle soreness, it remains a healthy option for exercise enthusiasts.
3. Fatty fish
Fatty fish such as sardines, salmon, and trout are excellent sources of the nutrients required for muscle recovery by the body.
Fish is primarily a highly bioavailable source of protein, a macronutrient that promotes muscle repair — the process of muscle cell regeneration following exercise-induced injury.
According to some experts, consuming approximately 1.1 ounces (30 grams) of protein after exercise facilitates optimal muscle recovery. 1 ounce (29 grams) of protein is contained in 4 ounces (113 grams) of cooked salmon.
Additionally, fatty fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which may reduce DOMS, combat inflammation, and promote muscle growth.
For optimum muscle recovery, experts recommend consuming 0.06–0.11 ounces (1.8–3 grams) of omega-3 fatty acids after exercise. This can be readily accomplished by eating fatty fish like salmon or taking an omega-3 supplement after exercising.
4. Beet juice
Beets are abundant in dietary nitrates and betalain compounds.
Dietary nitrates may facilitate the delivery of oxygen to your muscles and enhance the performance of mitochondria — the organelles or cellular components that generate the energy that powers your cells. In the meantime, betalains have the potential to reduce inflammation and oxidative injury.
A 2016 study involving 30 physically active men found that consuming beetroot juice immediately, 24 hours after, and 48 hours after strenuous exercise reduced muscle soreness and accelerated muscle recovery more than a placebo.
In addition, a 2021 study involving 13 soccer players found that consuming beetroot juice 3–7 days prior to exercise, on the day of exercise, and 3 days after exercise reduced DOMS. Additionally, it improved exercise efficacy during recovery.
5. Whey protein shakes
Some research indicates that whey protein may promote muscle recovery in both athletes and non-athletes after exercise.
In a 5-day study, 92 obese men were given whey protein in three daily doses of 0.4 mg per pound (0.9 grams per kilogram) prior to physical fitness assessments. Compared to the control, whey protein significantly decreased markers of muscle damage but did not ameliorate DOMS.
Additionally, whey protein may enhance muscle function following resistance training.
However, not all studies concur. In some studies, whey protein did not improve muscle recovery following exercise.
As a result, additional research is required to ascertain whether supplementation with whey protein after exercise could aid in muscle recovery. Even so, protein powders can help you meet your daily protein requirements and maximize muscle growth, so they may be worthwhile.
Eggs are a nutrient-dense food that athletes favor due to their high bioavailable protein content. Consuming them after exercise promotes muscle recovery.
Although many individuals choose to consume only egg whites, research indicates that whole eggs may be a superior choice after exercise.
In a 2017 study involving 10 men, participants promptly consumed either whole eggs or egg whites following resistance training. Despite the fact that all meals contained the same quantity of protein, the whole-egg meals promoted increased muscle growth.
Researchers theorize that this may be due to the nutrient-rich yolk’s vitamins, minerals, and fatty acids, such as vitamin A, selenium, zinc, and palmitate, which may enhance the rate of muscle protein synthesis.
Milk’s high protein content provides your body with the nutrients required for muscle repair. Therefore, it may reduce EIMD.
Milk and dairy products contain carbohydrates, too. Consuming carbohydrates and protein together promotes muscle growth and replenishes glycogen stores, the stored form of glucose or sugar. Additionally, milk contains sodium, which is essential for rehydration.
Several studies have demonstrated that cow’s milk significantly improves exercise performance and muscle recovery.
According to a 2019 review of 12 studies, chocolate milk may enhance exercise efficacy and post-exercise recovery. However, the researchers acknowledged that a dearth of high-quality evidence necessitates further investigation.
8. Starchy vegetables
When you engage in vigorous exercise, your muscle glycogen stores are depleted. Glycogen is the stored form of glucose.
It is essential for optimal athletic performance that your muscles contain sufficient glycogen, so it is necessary to replenish these stores after workouts. This is particularly true for athletes engaging in strenuous exercise.
Consuming foods high in carbohydrates promotes muscle glycogen replenishment. Post-workout, starchy vegetables such as sweet potato, butternut squash, and potatoes are a healthful source of carbohydrates.
Combining carbohydrate vegetables with a protein source such as eggs or chicken is a delicious and efficient way to replenish glycogen stores and provide the protein required for muscle repair.
Consuming coffee before or after exercise may help reduce DOMS.
This is because the caffeine in coffee blocks adenosine receptors. Adenosine is a chemical secreted following an injury. It activates the body’s pain receptors.
A 2013 study involving nine men who consumed modest amounts of caffeine on a regular basis revealed that consuming caffeine one hour prior to an intense upper-body workout significantly reduced muscle soreness on days 2 and 3 after exercise, compared to placebo.
In addition, a 2019 study discovered that caffeine consumption 24 and 48 hours after intense exercise enhanced muscle power recovery and decreased DOMS in both men and women compared to a placebo.
Interestingly, males experienced greater DOMS reductions following caffeine consumption than women.
The efficacious dose of caffeine for reducing DOMS is approximately 2.3–2.7 mg per pound (5–6 mg per kg). A cup of 8-ounce (237 mL) coffee contains approximately 95 mg of caffeine. This is equivalent to approximately 345 mg of caffeine for a 68-kilogram (150-pound) individual.
Nonetheless, other studies have produced contradictory results, demonstrating that caffeine does not reduce DOMS. Therefore, additional investigation is required.
10. Pomegranate juice
Polyphenols, which are plant compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, are abundant in pomegranate juice. Therefore, consuming pomegranate juice may promote muscle recovery.
In a small study conducted in 2017, nine elite weightlifters consumed pomegranate juice or a placebo three times per day for three days before Olympic Weightlifting training sessions. They consumed an additional 16.9 ounces (500 mL) of juice or a placebo one hour before workouts.
Compared to the placebo, pomegranate juice decreased the release of malondialdehyde (MDA), a marker of oxidative stress, and increased antioxidant defenses. This suggests that the beverage may promote muscle recovery.
Other studies have demonstrated that pomegranate juice and pomegranate supplements may decrease DOMS, decrease inflammatory markers, and speed up muscle recovery.
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