Whether your goals are improving your physique and strength or improving your performance as an athlete, you work hard and dedicate a lot of time and effort to your training. But a lot of the progress you make happens outside of the gym. It starts with your nutrition and recovery.
Ignoring your dietary needs for muscle recovery can inhibit both your progress and your performance. Here’s why your body needs good nutrition to recover from exercise, plus some of the best foods to incorporate into your meal plan to help the process.
What happens to your body during exercise?
There are two different things going on in your body when you’re training hard; physical and neurological stress. Both sides of the coin should be addressed to fully address your muscle soreness and optimize your recovery.
On the physical side, your muscles are working hard and undergoing a lot of physical stress. This can lead to microscopic damage to the muscle fibers, which can become sore and inflamed as they heal and repair. Heavy exercise can also cause you to sweat, losing water and electrolytes that need to be replenished. If you’re really pushing yourself hard, you’re likely also tapping into your glycogen stores in your muscles, which is the form of carbohydrates that your body stores to be used for energy.
But perhaps even more interesting are the neurological factors that play a role in delayed onset muscle soreness. Researchers are now finding that delayed onset muscle soreness is also caused by hyperactivity of motor neurons, the specialized brain cells that drive muscle movement.
As you’re exercising, these motor neurons can send signals at a continuous and accelerated rate into your fatigued muscles. This is the reason that so many athletes like endurance runners experience leg cramps: the excessive motor neuron activity drives uncontrollable muscle contractions in the fatigued muscle. But even if the excessive signaling doesn’t reach the threshold to drive muscle cramping, it can still manifest in the days following your workout in delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS for short).
So in order to foster an environment that’s ideal for your muscle recovery and to minimize muscle soreness afterward, you’ll need to take a look at the bigger picture and address both relevant issues. Luckily, you can do both by optimizing your diet!
How to approach muscle recovery and soreness with your diet
Because your body comes under so much stress and damage when you’re working out and training hard, following a nutrient-rich diet is essential for optimizing your muscle recovery and minimizing the effects of DOMS. Muscle recovery dietary basics include eating enough:
This helps to replenish the energy stores in your muscles that may have become depleted during your heavy workout. If you don’t refuel your tank properly, it could lead to fatigue and limit your performance the next time you work out.
This helps to repair the damaged muscle fibers that happened during your workout and drive protein synthesis. This is also critical for allowing your muscles to grow bigger and stronger.
You should also be eating nutrient-rich foods that can help combat inflammation. This is your body’s immune response to the microtrauma that happens to your muscle fibers during exercise, but it can lead to swelling and soreness in the following days. Nutrients that you can eat to ease inflammation include:
Omega-3 fatty acids
This is a kind of healthy fat that is known to have anti-inflammatory properties.
These can reduce damaging oxidative stress from exercise.
In addition to these healthy nutrition essentials to help your body recover from all that physical stress and damage, you can also take a proactive approach to minimize the neurological drivers of muscle soreness before they even begin. Researchers have found that one way to minimize the uncontrolled and accelerated firing of motor neurons into fatigued muscles is to activate transient receptor potential (TRP) ions, which are found in your mouth, stomach, and esophagus.
When these receptors are activated, they can send a calming signal down your spine, which in turn inhibits the excessive motor neuron activity that can contribute to DOMS down the line.
Chemicals found in certain spicy foods like mustard and hot peppers have been found to activate the TRP channels and inhibit the motor neuron activity, but this effect tends to be a temporary solution.
Instead, add HOTSHOT For Muscle Soreness to your pre- and post-workout recovery strategy! This supplement is the only sports shot that was specifically designed to target those TRP channels and address the neurological drivers behind muscle soreness, which can help speed up your recovery process in the long run.
Post-workout foods to help muscle recovery and soreness
Whole grain toast & nut butter
This winning combination contains complex carbohydrates, plant-based protein, and healthy fats to make a healthy and well-rounded muscle recovery snack. Using whole-grain toast rather than white bread ensures you’re getting all of the fiber, vitamins, and minerals that are lacking in more refined varieties. Nut butters like almond and peanut butter are also a good source of protein and unsaturated fat.
Cold-water, oily fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna are packed with immunity-boosting omega-3 fatty acids, which can help minimize the inflammatory response as your body tries to repair those damaged muscle fibers. Pair with a complex carbohydrate like wild rice and roasted veggies to round out your meal.
Sweet potato & ground turkey
Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates to refuel your glycogen stores. They’re also rich in Vitamin A, an essential nutrient with antioxidant properties. Add in some lean ground turkey for a ton of complete protein without a ton of extra fat or calories.
Tart cherry juice
If you want to add more inflammation-fighting antioxidant foods to your diet, drinking healthy fruit juices are a tasty and convenient way to do so. Tart cherry juice is packed with polyphenols, which are healthy plant-based compounds with a variety of health benefits. Several studies have even found that regular tart cherry juice consumption can aid your recovery by minimizing oxidative damage, translating to less pain and loss of strength! Other antioxidant-rich juices like watermelon juice and cranberry juice are also thought to have similar effects on the body.
If you’re an athlete, you might already be familiar with dairy protein sources. Dairy has both whey and casein protein, and both are often used to make protein supplements with the goal of aiding muscle recovery.
Cottage cheese has both whey and casein, making it an excellent whole-food alternative to protein powder. Pair with your favorite fruits for healthy carbs and plant-based antioxidants.
Muscle soreness is a result of both physical and neurological reactions from your body after a heavy workout. Help your body recover from the physical stress of training by eating a well-rounded diet with ample amounts of protein, complex carbohydrates, and anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, and fish. Then, use HOTSHOT for Muscle Soreness pre-workout to complement your muscle recovery routine. It’s the only sports shot designed to address the neurological factors that lead to delayed onset muscle soreness.
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