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Best Foods for Workout Recovery

10 Best Muscle Recovery Foods

Reading Time: 5 minutes 30 seconds


DATE: 2024-02-29

A tough workout can leave you feeling sore, drained, and satisfyingly accomplished. But the work isn’t done. You need to recover to get results, and this includes eating the right foods. Prioritize protein and complex carbs of any kind, but rely on these foods that most effectively aid muscle repair and target post-workout soreness. 

The Importance of Recovery After a Strength Workout

The body is always striving to achieve a state of balance called homeostasis. When you stress the body with exercise, it needs time afterward to rebalance and get back to homeostasis. This is the recovery period. 

Stressing the body with exercise and without adequate recovery has consequences: overtraining and fatigue, decreased performance, aches and pains, reduced immune function, and more frequent illness, and injuries. 

Love teaching your clients about the benefits of recovery? Become a Certified Exercise Recovery Specialist with ISSA!

What Happens to Muscles During a Workout

Exercise stresses the body, including muscles. A good workout, especially one that specifically targets strength training, creates microscopic tears in muscle tissue. This can cause pain later, known as delayed onset muscle soreness, but it’s also beneficial and is the starting point to building stronger muscles. 

How Muscles Repair and Recover Post-Workout

For those microtears in muscle tissue to lead to bigger, stronger, muscles, the tissue needs recovery time. The tears trigger the body’s repair response. It diverts nutrients to the damaged muscle tissue to make repairs that lead to larger muscle fibers. Over time, this creates both stronger and larger muscles. 

The Best Muscle Recovery Foods to Eat Post-Workout

Proper recovery takes time and rest, but nutrition is also essential. Eating the right foods throughout the day, regardless of workout, will boost your recovery and help you build muscle. Targeting specific foods soon after a workout provides a kickstart to the process and makes a big difference in recovery. 

1. Eggs 

Protein is the building block of muscles, so it should be your priority after a strength workout. One egg has 7 grams of easily digestible protein. Eggs are also rich in vitamins, minerals, and choline, a nutrient that is important for muscle function. For a bonus, choose eggs fortified with omega-3 fatty acids. A hard-boiled egg transports easily, so you can eat it on the go if time is an issue. 

2. Salmon

Fish is not as convenient or portable as hard-boiled eggs, but if you can eat some salmon after a workout, you’ll see benefits in recovery. Salmon is an excellent source of lean protein. It is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Research indicates that this healthy fat’s ability to reduce inflammation can support effective muscle recovery. (1)

3. Cottage Cheese

Another rich source of protein, you can choose low-fat cottage cheese if you are watching your calories or fat intake. One cup of low-fat cottage cheese provides up to 25 grams of protein for less than 200 calories. 

Cottage cheese is higher in leucine than many other protein sources. (2) Leucine is an amino acid that has been associated with improved muscle recovery. While evidence is mixed, some studies do show that leucine supplementation can slow muscle damage and boost recovery. (3)

4. Sweet Potatoes

Don’t forget to eat carbohydrates after a tough strength workout. While protein actively contributes to muscle repair after exercise, carbs are necessary for replenishing the store of glycogen in muscles. Carbs are the primary fuel source for your muscles during a workout, which depletes them. Your body needs the energy from glycogen stores to function but also to repair and build new muscle tissue. 

Sweet potatoes are an excellent source of carbs post-workout. They contain complex carbohydrates as well as vitamins and minerals. Some of these are important for maintaining healthy muscle tissue, including vitamin C, potassium, and copper. 

5. Bananas

Another good source of carbs and other muscle-supportive nutrients is the banana. This is a favorite among athletes of all kinds, both for its carbs and nutrients and its convenience. A banana is easy to transport and eat right after a gym workout if you can’t go home right away. 

Bananas are rich in potassium, a mineral that is essential for muscle contraction. Potassium helps stave off muscle cramps and weakness and support recovery after a workout. It’s also an essential electrolyte that you lose through sweat during intense exercise. 

6. Spinach

If you’re making a post-workout smoothie, throw some spinach in there. You won’t really taste it, but it will deliver some important benefits. Spinach is packed with antioxidants, which are important for reducing inflammation after exercising. 

It’s also a natural source of nitrates. According to a study from Sweden, nitrates support the production of two key proteins necessary for building muscle. Popeye was right about this one, so add spinach to your post-workout routine. 

7. Berries

Add some berries to your smoothie too, or eat them with cottage cheese for a complete recovery snack. Blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are rich in antioxidants as well as many vitamins and minerals. The antioxidants promote recovery and may reduce soreness after a tough workout. Blueberries have some of the highest levels of antioxidants, while both blueberries and raspberries have compounds called sirtuin, which may also aid recovery. 

8. Turmeric

When it comes to anti-inflammatory effects, it’s hard to beat this versatile spice. It won’t build up your muscles or replenish glycogen stores, but turmeric in your after workout snack could prevent or relieve delayed onset muscle soreness. 

Turmeric is a spice made from a root and is commonly found in Indian foods. It contains a compound called curcumin that, in studies, has been found to decrease soreness and damage, at least in recreational athletes. (4) Add turmeric to a smoothie, oatmeal, or a cup of tea, or use a supplement. 

9. Chocolate Milk

Chocolate milk covers a lot of bases for muscle recovery, including hydration, which you can’t overlook. No part of your body can function properly when dehydrated. Exercise results in fluid and electrolyte loss, so rehydrating is essential for recovery. 

Of course, you can drink water or sports drinks, but chocolate milk hydrates while replenishing carbs and providing protein. Also, it’s delicious. 

10. Protein Shake

A protein shake is a great option for post-workout recovery for several reasons. They are convenient, easy, and fast. If you’re in a hurry and don’t have time to prepare other foods, a shake is a valid alternative. 

Shakes are also versatile and easy to adapt to any specialized diet. If you are vegetarian or vegan, gluten-free, or dairy-free, there is a protein powder for you. With a shake, you can also add supplements or nutrient-dense foods, like spinach and berries. And, of course, a shake is also hydrating.

Do you need supplements to support muscle recovery and growth? Learn more about it here

When to Eat Muscle Recovery Foods

You should be adequately fueled for a workout, which means eating a couple of hours in advance. For recovery, aim to eat a good mix of protein and carbs within 30 minutes of a workout. If you are doing strength training, go heavy on proteins. If it’s an endurance workout, get plenty of carbs. 

Don’t forget to eat well on rest days too. Here’s a guide for nutrition between workouts that will support muscle growth. 

Recovery is as much a part of fitness as your workout. Don’t neglect this vital time when your body repairs itself. Give your body the advantage by fueling it appropriately. 

Advance Your Nutrition Knowledge with ISSA

Nutrition is just as important to client goals as workouts. ISSA’s Nutritionist Certification is the perfect way to expand your education and your personal training career. As an ISSA nutritionist, you’ll learn all about food and food habits—so you can make the smart recommendations your clients need to crush their goals and live their dreams.


  1. Kyriakidou, Y., Wood, C., Ferrier, C., Dolci, A., & Elliott, B. (2021). The effect of Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation on exercise-induced muscle damage. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 18(1), 9. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-020-00405-1

  2. FoodData Central. (n.d.). https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/173417/nutrients

  3. Matsui, Y., Takayanagi, S., Ohira, T., Watanabe, M., Murano, H., Furuhata, Y., & Miyakawa, S. (2019). Effect of a leucine-enriched essential amino acids mixture on muscle recovery. Journal of Physical Therapy Science, 31(1), 95–101. https://doi.org/10.1589/jpts.31.95

  4. Clayton, D. J., Burbeary, R., Hennis, P. J., James, R. M., Saward, C., Colledge, A., Scott, R., Gilpin, S., McMahon, R., & Varley, I. (2023). Turmeric supplementation improves markers of recovery in elite male footballers: a pilot study. Frontiers in Nutrition, 10, 1175622. https://doi.org/10.3389/fnut.2023.1175622

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