Hi, long time no talk! Today I’m talking about some of the best recovery foods for runners.
I like to talk about recovery for runners because it’s an important topic. We often put so much focus on the training and actual race/run that we are likely to forget about the recovery process and what’s necessary.
While my post about a marathon recovery plan did touch slightly on nutrition, I wanted to go more into depth specifically about food for muscle recovery soreness and different post workout recovery supplements that I get questions about.
First, let’s talk a little about what happens in the body during exercise and recovery. This is in response to a reader question.
Yes, exercise does lead to some short term inflammation in the body. It’s called exercise-induced inflammation.
Acute, or short term inflammation, is how the body normally responds to exercise.
However, this can lead to chronic inflammation if a person doesn’t eat enough, doesn’t recover properly and/or is overtraining, or has other serious medical conditions.
We can measure inflammation in the body through different biomarkers of inflammation, muscle damage and oxidative stress.
In trained individuals, inflammation is usually generalized to the muscles and tissues worked (ie – biceps in bicep work and legs/hamstrings/quads in running).
In short, exercise can decrease inflammation to an extent, but it also causes inflammation, which generally helps the body adapt to future training sessions (2).
Well, short term, or acute inflammation, usually goes away within a few hours or days, while chronic sticks around for much longer.
Because it sticks around in the body, it is more likely to cause fatigue and soreness to muscles and cells.
Chronic inflammation can also affect training progression, by limiting muscle growth and increasing muscle loss. This is because the body is unable to recover properly.
Therefore, controlling chronic inflammation may enhance recovery and reduce muscle soreness.
Although the inflammatory response is necessary for muscle repair, it also has deleterious effects on exercise performance because of the increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS).
That’s why we’re going to talk about some of the best foods for muscle recovery that also aid in reducing ROS and inflammation.
While there isn’t one best post workout recovery supplement, I’m going to outline some of the best foods for muscle recovery, including:
The best antioxidant foods will be those high in Vitamins A, C and E.
These include foods like:
My italian sweet potato pizza crust is a great antioxidant rich option and can be topped with additional leafy greens, tomatoes, peppers, or whatever you’d like.
It is preferred to get antioxidants through foods rather than excess antioxidant supplementation.
Antioxidant supplements are usually in much higher amounts than we need, and they can actually impair training adaptations and disrupt balance by overriding and shutting off our own antioxidant systems.
Additionally, research shows that the health benefits of the phytochemicals and nutrients within antioxidants were observed predominantly when being consumed within their natural foods, like in fruits, vegetables and grains (3).
You guys have heard me talk about tart cherry juice before so this is nothing new!
Tart cherry juice is high in antioxidants, specifically, anthocyanins.
A study published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance found that tart cherry juice can accelerate recovery after intermittent exercise (4).
As I’ve discussed previously, the anthocyanins in tart cherries have also been shown to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, thereby reducing muscle damage and helping with pain relief.
The health benefits of tart cherry juice extend to beyond just reducing inflammation and muscle damage. Tart cherry juice and sleep has also been highly researched, due to its endogenous melatonin content.
A double-blind, placebo-controlled study found that among those who supplemented with tart cherry juice before bed experienced higher melatonin contents, increased time in bed, increased total sleep time and increased sleep efficiency, compared to those who took a placebo (5).
The tart cherry juice concentrate dosage was
For some tart cherry juice recipes, try:
While we do make Vitamin D in our bodies, sunscreen, skin color, location and latitude can impact how much Vitamin D we absorb from the sun and can actually make.
Vitamin D is important for athletes because it plays a role in optimal bone health and bone mineral density, and can reduce the risk for stress fractures, total body inflammation and impaired muscle functioning (6).
Actually a hormone, Vitamin D is also a modulator for thousands of genes involved in cellular growth, immune function and protein synthesis.
A greek yogurt smoothie is a great way to get Vitamin D from your diet after a workout, along with calcium, protein, antioxidants and more.
These 30+ happy healthy smoothies will help elevate your post workout smoothie.
Many athletes are deficient in Vitamin D, due to low sun exposure during the peak hours of 10am and 2pm.
Think about it, most runners are running early in the morning (before the sun rises or before it’s potent enough). Plus, athletes who compete indoors or wear lots of equipment while outdoors aren’t getting optimal absorption, either.
Foods high in Vitamin D include:
Recent findings recommend that vitamin D status is regularly checked among athletes to reach the recommended serum 25(OH)D concentrations of ≥32 ng/mL and preferably ≥40 ng/mL.
Some research even points to optimal performance with levels higher than 50 ng/mL (Source).
According to the Collegiate and Professional Sports Dietetics Association, typical needs range from 2000-5000 IU of Vitamin D per day, though individual needs depend on a person’s diet and outdoor activity.
Needs likely aren’t that high for the average person who exercises.
It’s best to have your levels tested and work individually with a dietitian or doctor to see how/if you need to optimize your levels.
While the old adage of eating only protein to support body building is out the window, it is important to eat protein at regular intervals throughout the day.
Adequate protein helps support immune cell synthesis and helps reduce the exercise-induced muscle damage that happens as muscles are broken down after exercise sessions.
Eating enough protein helps ensure they can be rebuilt properly.
It’s recommended to consume 20-30 grams of high quality protein after exercise.
In general, balanced meals should provide 20-30 grams of protein, and I advise to include protein in snacks, too.
That way, you’re getting protein in consistently throughout the day.
Some of my favorite ways include:
If you’re just looking for an easy post workout recovery drink recipe, combine 1 cup of your choice of milk with frozen fruit, a banana, 1/2 cup greek yogurt and cinnamon.
PUFAs can decrease the production of inflammatory eicosanoids, cytokines, and reactive oxygen species.
They also offer immunomodulatory effects and can attenuate inflammatory diseases.
Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids include:
1-3 grams a day is recommended, in a ratio of EPA to DHA of 2 to 1 (Source).
Nitrates convert to nitric oxide (NO) in the body, which can be beneficial for several reasons.
Nitric oxide is known for increasing blood flow through the body, which can help reduce inflammation and enhance recovery.
NO can also modulate the release of various inflammatory mediators from a wide range of cells participating in inflammatory responses (e.g., leukocytes, macrophages, mast cells, endothelial cells, and platelets).
It can also help the activity of numerous enzymes, all of which can have an impact on inflammatory responses (7).
High nitrate foods include:
So yes, turmeric for runners can be very helpful but not necessarily warranted through a supplement. These are easy additions to your diet by adding them to meals.
Do you experience more muscle soreness after certain exercises?