How to Recover Faster & Build More Muscle

You know the feeling when you’ve had a tough workout? Your body hurts in new and different ways, and you’re probably going to be sore tomorrow?

Now have you had that experience, and forgotten to prioritize your nutrition after? You might have noticed that it took you a few days to feel back to normal. 

When we exercise, we put our body under stress – our central nervous system, cardiovascular system, muscles, etc all work hard under the pressure and this leads to some (natural) damage. Our physiological systems change and adapt to the stress, and some of these changes lead to adaptation to exercise training over time. 

The good news is that we can get a leg up on that adaptation with the RIGHT nutrition. By taking in proper nutrition, we can help our body to continue recover from the stress we put it under, so that over time we will reap the results of our training (aka recovery faster and build more muscle!).

After a tough workout, aim to get some fuel within 2-3 hours. We want to include a 2:1 ratio of grams of carbohydrate to protein to help replenish our glycogen stores and kick-start muscle protein synthesis in this meal. If you trained fasted (aka first thing in the AM), or had a meal over 3-4 hours before starting your workout, you want to get in this post-workout fuel sooner, say within the hour. 

For more in depth tips on post-workout nutrition, see my previous blog post on the topic. 

So, why should you care about recovery nutrition? If we don’t give our body what it needs, over-time we might not be able to keep up with the intensity of our training, and this can lead to slowed progress, and even a higher risk of injury, weakened immune system and hormonal imbalances if we continue to push harder without proper nutrition. 

Now that you’ve got the basics down, let’s talk about some foods with certain nutrient profiles that can help reduce post-exercise soreness and give your muscles a fighting chance at your next workout. 

​Dark Leafy Greens
Kale, swiss chard, beet greens, spinach…. You’ve heard these veggies are good for you but do you know why? Dark, leafy greens are dense in antioxidants like vitamin C and carotenoids such as beta carotene which help to reduce free radical damage in the body and prevent cell damage. Dark greens are also a fantastic source of both Vitamin K and calcium; two key nutrients that work together to help to support healthy bones. Throw some greens into your next stir fry, or add a handful of spinach or kale to your smoothies. 

Beets are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that helps to regulate muscle function and regulate fluid balance in the body. By including plant-based foods like beets around our workouts, we can help naturally replenish the minerals and electrolytes used during heavy workouts.

Beets are also a rich-source of nitrates, a naturally occurring compound found in some foods. Once ingested, our body converts it into nitric oxide (NO) which helps our blood vessels to relax and widen. Wider blood vessels increase the delivery of nutrients and oxygen to working muscles during aerobic exercise, which can mean, enhanced performance & improved cardiovascular health.

Turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory and a spice that has been used in Asian cuisines for centuries. The active component in turmeric is known as curcumin, a compound with anti-oxidant properties. Turmeric is consumed in its whole form, such as the dried spice or raw root, or found as a Curcumin supplement, where the active component is more concentrated. For certain conditions and more significant recovery needs, turmeric supplements may be beneficial, but for every-day use, the whole form can still offer benefit.

To give your meals a boost, try adding a few tsp of the dried spice or fresh root to your sauteed vegetables, smoothies, porridges and oatmeal. 

Bananas are a rich source of both carbohydrates and potassium, two nutrients we want to prioritize in post-workout fuel. Bananas offer carbohydrates in the form of both sugar and starch, which when consumed after a workout, help to replenish our bodies stored form of energy, known as glycogen, which becomes depleted after extended exercise. By consuming carbohydrates within 2-3 hours of a tough workout, we can help our muscles bounce back faster after a tough workout. Potassium in bananas helps to restore this important electrolyte that is lost through sweat during activity. 

For a quick post-workout snack, pair a banana with a lean protein like Greek yogurt or soy milk. 

Lean Proteins
Protein plays many roles in the body; it helps to build & maintain tissues, support metabolic functions, maintain fluid balance. Hormones, neurotransmitters, and enzymes are all examples of proteins in the body. When we exercise, we break down and cause stress to our muscle cells. While this damage is actually a good thing, as our body repairs it and becomes stronger, we want to make sure that we are taking in enough protein to support this process. Not getting enough protein to support our current activity levels, means protein might be spared from basic metabolic activities such as producing hormones, making immune system cells and more. Make sure to always include protein in your post-workout meals, and at-least one protein rich food every time you eat. 

Best sources: chicken, turkey, eggs, salmon, trout, tuna, eggs, beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu, tempeh, protein powder 

Berries are a rich source of antioxidants known as polyphenols. These polyphenols, such as resveratrol and anthocyanins, are known to have potent effects on reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. A way to score foods based on their antioxidant content is known as the ORAC scale (which stands Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity). Berries that top this list include (in descending order based on ORAC score): aronia berries, blueberries, blackberries, black currants, strawberries and raspberries. This means berries can help our muscles combat some of the natural inflammation that comes with exercise.

Next time you’re prepping a post workout smoothie, don’t forget to throw some berries in!

Fish & Seaweed (Omega-3 Fats)
Omega-3 fats play a role in regulating inflammation in the body. The omega-3 fat ALA is considered essential in our diet – meaning we must consume it from food as the body cannot produce its own. The body then converts this ALA into EPA and DHA, which play a role in mediating inflammation and cell structure. However, the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is very low, so to actually raise our levels of EPA and DHA we need to obtain it from directly our diet or supplements.  It is found in fatty fish, krill oil and cod-liver oil in high concentrations. These fish obtain the EPA/ DHA by consuming the microalgae that produce it, as they cannot on their own. So for those who are vegan, algae-based supplements and seaweed products like chlorella are key sources of these essential fats. 

By improving our intake of omega-3, and limiting our intake of fat sources of omega-6 (found in vegetable oils, processed foods and conventional meats), we can help to create a less inflammatory state in the body. For athletes, this can mean enhanced protection and recovery from exercise, strong immune function and improved recovery. 

Aim for 2-3 servings of fatty fish per week, and for increased joint and muscle recovery, consider a supplement made from fish or algae. 

Hope you enjoyed todays post!

Written by: Leigh Merotto, Registered Dietitian


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