Gone are the days when strength training went hand-in-hand with the image of bulky bodybuilders. These days, the benefits of strength training and the incredible results that can come with it are widely touted, made even more popular thanks to lift-happy celebrities like Khloe Kardashian, Emma Stone, and Brie Larson.
Resistance training keeps bones healthy and strong, helps prevent heart disease and type-2 diabetes, boosts fat loss by kickstarting your metabolism, and even lowers inflammation. People who take the time to focus on their physical health have long reported better mental health, peaceful sleep, and lower stress.
But no matter what type of workout you choose—whether it’s strength training, cardio, or even yoga—it’s important to help those working muscles recover. During and after each sweaty session, your muscles become “micro-damaged” through your efforts. These tiny tears prompt new muscle and tissue growth, which is what gives your body definition and tone.
What’s just as important as a killer workout is what you feed your body afterwards. This can help repair your muscles and refill your energy stores. Round out your routine with these eight nutritious (and delicious) foods that give recovering muscles all the power they need to bounce back stronger than before.
This thick, creamy yogurt is a terrific source of protein and calcium, but it’s also high in casein—a slow-digesting protein that provides the body with amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein. For that reason, casein has been shown to boost muscle and help with recovery, making Greek yogurt a great choice for breakfast or a post-workout snack. To keep it healthy, stick to fruit-free plain versions that aren’t laden with sugar or corn syrup, and check the label to ensure there’s at least 10 grams of protein per serving. Even better, pair it with protein powder in a smoothie for an extra post-workout protein boost.
These tiny seeds pack a mean punch in the nutrition department. They’re full of zinc, which helps build and repair muscle tissue, but they’re also a great source of protein—one ounce contains up to eight grams of it. Furthermore, pumpkin seeds contain alpha-linolenic acid, which is a plant form of omega-3 fatty acids that fights inflammation in the body and prompts faster muscle recovery. Throw a tablespoon into your next salad for a little crunch.
Not only is this tropical fruit a tasty treat or smoothie addition, but it’s packed full of bromelain—an enzyme that helps you to digest protein and reduces overall inflammation. Studies have shown that this combo makes pineapple a good food bet when it comes to muscle recovery and fatigue, so be sure to chop some up and add it to your next power bowl, or pair it with a simple protein like a chicken breast for a quick snack.
There are many reasons to whip up some of these orange spuds following a gruelling workout, as they’re high in iron, fibre, beta carotene, and vitamin C. Furthermore, as a healthy carb they help bolster your muscles’ glycogen levels, which tend to deplete following a sweat session.
Not only is olive oil a healthy source of monounsaturated fat, but it’s full of anti-oxidants like oleacein and anti-inflammatory compounds like oleocanthal that help tired muscles to rebound and recover even faster. Drizzle some cold-pressed, extra virgin olive oil on a salad, or gently heat it up to add flavour to your next stir-fry.
Vitamin C is an essential tool in helping tired bodies repair muscle tissue, especially when taken before an actual workout. It can also help replenish collagen, which has been shown to play an important role in muscle recovery. Reach for some strawberries the next time you need some pre-workout fuel—they aren’t just a great source of vitamin C, but they’re also full of flavonoids, anthocyanins, and antioxidants that help with a quicker recovery.
Some studies have shown that when it comes to recovering from resistance training, dietary proteins from animal sources may help to increase muscle protein synthesis post-workout. While lean beef is always a popular choice, eggs are a less expensive form of protein that offer plenty of cooking options. And for anyone who wishes to avoid animal sources of protein, a plant-based protein powder offers the perfect post-workout alternative.
Salmon is high in protein, inflammation-fighting omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamins B6, D, and B12. It also helps to regulate your insulin while preventing vascular disease. It’s no wonder so many personal trainers include it on their grocery lists. Canned or smoked salmon is an easy protein source following a workout, but fillets are also delicious when baked, grilled, or barbecued.
At the end of the day, a healthy and well-balanced diet, combining healthy meals with smart supplementation and power-packed snacks, is the perfect complement to any exercise program, but it’s also important to consider timing. Research has shown that eating a mix of healthy carbs (fruit or sweet potatoes) and lean protein (Greek yogurt, eggs, or salmon), immediately following an intense workout helps to minimize inflammation and decrease recovery time, which will in turn keep you motivated to stick to your exercise program in the long run.