There’s nothing better than the way you feel after a killer workout. A little bit of sweat and a whole lot of endorphins later, and you’re ready to take on the world! But there’s one little thing that can ruin that post-exercise high: muscle soreness.
Although fatigue can be a sign of progress, that doesn’t mean it’s not pesky. The good news is there are some things you can do to lessen the blow, from taking the time to warm up before you work out to the way you eat. Yes, that’s right: The way you fuel before, during and after your workout can have a direct impact on recovery.
“There are a lot of variables that can and should be considered after an intense workout,” says Maya Feller, RD, CDN, based in New York City. “Ask yourself: How often and how long are the intense sessions? Are you training for an event? Many of the everyday athletes I work with benefit from having a balanced snack that delivers protein pared with carbohydrate and fat within one hour of working out.”
Others, however, may be looking for something more substantial — like a whole meal. Working with a nutritionist or registered dietitian on your goals can help you determine how much food you could need after your typical fitness sessions.
Make those “ugh, I can’t move” complaints a thing of the past by stocking your fridge with these essential eats:
Oatmeal is a great post-sweat option for loads of reasons, including that it’s easy to make and it’s filling. It can also be your secret to a longer life. Eating 33 grams of whole grains daily — equivalent to a bowl of oatmeal — could cut your risk of premature death by 9% compared to those who barely ate whole grains at all, according research from Harvard University.
Tart cherries are a good source of phenolic compounds known to be antioxidant-rich and have anti-inflammatory capabilities which have been linked to a protective post-workout effect, says Feller. “According to research, cherry juice — specifically made with tart cherries — may intervene and augment the secondary response that produces muscle soreness.”
Looking for a high-octane fuel for your body? Look no further than sweet potatoes. They contain excellent levels of vitamin B, which helps release energy from food, as well as vitamin A, potassium, vitamin C and 4 grams of fiber. Pair one with cottage cheese (toting 25 grams of protein in 1 cup), and you’re good to go.
Spinach, as well as arugula and other green leafy and cruciferous vegetables, is jam-packed with nutrients including vitamins B, C and A which help stave off inflammation. It also packs 5 grams of protein per cup. Easily slip a handful or two into your post-workout protein smoothie without altering the taste.
We’ve heard it before: Grilled salmon is one of those great food options if you’re trying to stay on track with your nutrition. But it’s more than just good for you: The omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon — as well as other fish including mackerel and sardines — can translate into lower levels of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS), according to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University research.
Especially on a warm day, there’s almost nothing better than biting into a slice of juicy watermelon. High in water content, the fruit boosts important amino acids that can certainly help sore muscles. Giving athletes watermelon juice — which contains the amino acid l-citrulline — after a workout helps reduce recovery heart rate and muscle soreness after 24 hours, according to one study.