The 14 Best Post Workout Foods for Muscle Recovery

When you’re an athlete, you plan your workouts carefully to achieve your goals. You work out at the right times of days and do the right activities to build the power and strength you need. But do you put as much thought into your post workout meals and snacks?

You probably know that the foods you eat before a workout are important. But did you know that the foods you eat after a workout are just as vital? There are certain foods and snacks that are muscle recovery foods. If you want to optimise your exercise routine, then you need to know about the best post workout foods.

Why are Muscle Recovery Foods Important?

muscle recovery

When you do a high intensity workout, your body needs lots of different nutrients to heal and to rebuild muscle. That’s where food comes in. By eating the right foods after a workout, you can give your body what it needs and decrease your recovery time.

Here are just a few of the most essential nutrients for these tasks:


During workouts, proteins in your muscles are broken down and damaged. This is an essential part of the process, as it gives your body the chance to build new, stronger muscle fibres.

However, your body needs lots of protein to be able to perform these tasks. Eating protein will also help to decrease the breakdown of muscle protein, which will lessen feelings of soreness the next day. This will markedly decrease your recovery time.

Studies have shown that you can maximise your body’s recovery abilities by eating around 20-40 grams of protein after a workout. The exact amount will obviously depend on your size, gender, and other factors.

These muscle recovery superfoods are especially important if you’re vegetarian. It can be more difficult to eat enough protein when you’re vegetarian, so make sure that you’re aware of the best vegetarian food for muscle recovery and include it in your diet.


When you work out, your muscles burn large amounts of glycogen. This is a stored form of the carbohydrate known as glycose that gives quick energy to your muscles. This isn’t a bad thing; in fact, the glycogen burn is essential for giving you energy. But when your workout is over, your body will need to replenish its glycogen stores.


Omega-3 fatty acids are anti-inflammatory, that means that they help to control and reduce inflammation. This is important when you do a hard workout, as the strain and the muscle tearing will cause inflammation and soreness. Omega-23 are even more important when you’re injured or strain your muscles as this causes even more inflammation.


Zinc helps to speed up healing, which is why zinc deficiencies will slow your healing after a workout. However, try to avoid supplements and get your zinc from food. It’s very easy to consume too much zinc with supplements, which can lead to additional health problems.


Calcium helps to keep your bones and muscles strong, which has obvious benefits for your workout recovery. However, it also helps with muscle contraction and with nerve messaging, so it’s absolutely essential for overall performance.

Calcium is also one of the most common deficiencies in the world at the moment, particularly among women. Around 73% of women and 51% of men don’t get enough calcium through their diet. This will have very bad effects on your strength during workouts and on your recovery.

Also, to boost your calcium absorption, you should make sure that you’re getting enough Vitamin D. You can do this by going out in the sun for short periods in the morning or late afternoon.

Vitamin C

Some of the best foods that help recover sore muscles are those that contain vitamin C. Vitamin C is an anti-inflammatory food that will decrease and prevent inflammation. This means that it will decrease soreness and improve your range of motion after a hard workout.

Vitamin C also produces collagen, which is essential for the maintenance of bones, tendons, and muscles.


When you work out, you sweat and lose electrolytes. That’s why it’s so essential that you hydrate after a high-intensity workout. However, when you sweat you lose more than water. You also lose electrolytes.

Electrolytes are substances in your body that help conduct nerve impulses and make your muscles contract. They also perform lots of other essential functions, and when they’re unbalanced you will experience a range of symptoms and problems.

Some of the most important electrolytes for post workout recovery are:

  • Magnesium
  • Calcium
  • Potassium
  • Sodium
  • Bicarbonate
  • Chloride
  • Phosphate

The Best Foods for Muscle Recovery

Now that you know what nutrients you need to eat, here are the best muscle recovery foods that contain them:

1. Nuts and Seeds

nuts and seeds after exercise recovery

Nuts and seeds are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids and protein, making them the ideal fast snack after a workout. Just about every type of edible nut and seed is good for you, but there are obviously some that are better than others.

If you have a choice, try snacking on:

  • Walnuts
  • Hazelnuts
  • Almonds
  • Pecans
  • Chia seeds
  • Flaxseeds

2. Spinach

There’s a reason why Popeye the Sailor Man ate this food. Spinach contains around 5 grams of protein per cup as well as anti-inflammatory vitamins like C, A, and B. That’s why you should make yourself a post-workout shake and add some spinach for muscle recovery.

3. Cottage Cheese

Cottage cheese contains 28 grams of protein in every cup. It actually contains two types of protein, whey and casein protein, both of which will help with muscle recovery. This makes it the ideal past-workout snack.

4. Citrus Fruits

kiwi fruit sport recovery

Citrus fruits contain lots of Vitamin C, which reduces inflammation helps to maintain the health and integrity of your bones and soft tissues. Some of the best citrus fruits to eat after your workout are:

  • Kiwi
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapefruit
  • Oranges

5. Fish

Fish is one of the best muscle recovery foods. It contains high levels of Omega-3s, good for inflammation, as well as protein. Try fatty fish like sardines, salmon, or tuna for the best effects.

6. Eggs

eggs and protein for recovery

Eggs are a post workout superfood. They contain lots of protein, which will help with muscle repair and recovery.

7. Bananas

Bananas have long been known as a superfood when it comes to muscle recovery. They contain carbohydrates, which will help replenish glycogen levels, and potassium. Potassium is an electrolyte that you lose when you sweat and it’s essential for heart health.

8. Sweet Potatoes

These sweet treats contain carbohydrates to help replenish glycogen as well as potassium and Vitamin C for better health. Pair them with a healthy protein source for the ultimate healthy, post-workout meal.

9. Watermelon

When you work out, if you’re doing it right, you sweat, which is why you need to rehydrate later on. Watermelon is 92% water, so it’s great for hydration. It also contains Vitamin C to help with inflammation as well as other essential vitamins and minerals.

10. Whole Grains

Whole grains contain carbohydrates for energy, fibre for a healthy gut and weight loss, and other essential nutrients. This makes them both nutritious and filling. The best whole grains to eat for muscle recovery are:

  • Oats
  • Quinoa
  • Brown rice

11. Red Meat

red meat recovery

Red meats contain lots of protein that will help with muscle recovery. Just make sure that you choose lean, organic cuts where possible and don’t overeat. You only need a very small portion of red meat a couple of times a week to get the benefits.

12. Yoghurt

Yoghurt, particularly Greek yoghurt is one of the best muscle recovery foods because it contains protein and calcium. It’s also really easy to grab and go when you’re on the run, and will stop you from grabbing less healthy choices.

13. Oils

It’s a myth that you should cut down on oils for health and weight loss. In fact, it all depends on the type of oils that you eat. Oils contain healthy, monosaturated fats that are essential for your body and muscle recovery as well as other nutrients. Here are some of the best oils for recovery:

  • Olive oil, which contains omega-3s
  • Mustard oil
  • Fish oil
  • Coconut oil
  • Flaxseed oil

14. Turmeric

This isn’t exactly a food, but it’s still a great choice after a workout. Turmeric is a yellow spice that has amazingly powerful anti-inflammatory properties. You can add it to smoothie bowels, soups, or curries, and it makes food taste great too.

When to Eat After a Workout

Once you’ve decided which muscle recovery foods to eat, you need to choose when to eat them.

Immediately after a workout, your body goes into overdrive to repair the damaged muscles and replenish glycogen levels. This is why you need to eat as soon as possible after exercising, to ensure that the nutrients are there when your body needs them.

There’s a fair bit of variability in the amount of time you have to optimise your recovery by eating the right foods. However, generally it’s usually best to eat with 45 minutes of your workout. If you can’t manage that timing, you should still eat, as there is evidence that this post-exercise window may last for several hours in some people.

The Takeaway

Maintaining and improving your health when you’re an athlete isn’t always easy. You need to balance the demands of your workouts with the condition of your body.

Getting the balance wrong can mean days, weeks, or even months of recovery from injuries. It can also mean slow recovery from workouts, impairing your everyday life and subsequent workouts.

By eating more muscle recovery foods, you can give your body what it needs to function at its best. And this will help you do your best when it matters the most.


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Author: Michael Lyons

With Three Decades of tech and Meditech experience, 10,000 hours of endurance sports coaching and competing at the NZ national team level, Michael’s passion is biohacking recovery and wellness for athletes, for those with short term and long term medical conditions and healthy aging. Michael consults and partners with leading medical practitioners to provide therapy solutions for short and long term illnesses, including diabetes, DVT, Lymphedema, pre and postnatal, post-surgery, autism (ASD), PTSD, and sleep apnoea.

Michael also consults and partners with High-performance sports organisations, Three Olympic Gold medallists, two current world champions, the Rugby World cup, NZ Rugby, the Singapore Olympic team, the NZ Olympic team, Clubs and coaches.  He also teaches the recovery modules for the fitness industries personal training courses.

Author: Michael Lyons