Here’s Exactly What Foods You Should Be Eating for Muscle Recovery

Here’s Exactly What Foods You Should Be Eating for Muscle Recovery

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So you’ve just gotten home from the gym after a solid workout and you’re poking around your fridge and pantry for something to satisfy your post-sweat cravings. But before you grab the first thing that looks good, you may want to consider choosing an ideal food for muscle recovery.

Meet the Experts: Valerie Agyeman, R.D., registered dietitian and spokesperson for Benefiber; Melissa Prest, D.C.N., R.D.N., national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board; Jim White R.D.N., ACSM EX-P, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios.

When we exercise, our bodies need fuel. That fuel comes from glycogen, a stored form of glucose in our muscles, says Melissa Prest, D.C.N., R.D.N., national media spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and member of the Prevention Medical Review Board. “Within an hour post-workout, we want to replenish our fuel reserves and support muscle recovery by eating a snack, not a large meal, that includes carbohydrates and protein.”

So, we tapped our sports nutrition experts to give us the lowdown on what foods are ideal for muscle recovery and which snacks to avoid post-workout.

Best foods for muscle recovery


Chicken breast is high in protein and ideal for muscle repair, says Jim White R.D.N., ACSM EX-P, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios. Lean protein sources like chicken, fish, tofu, and beans contain essential amino acids necessary for muscle repair and growth, adds Valerie Agyeman, R.D., registered dietitian and spokesperson for Benefiber.

Whole grains

Including complex carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads, in your diet can provide your body with essential vitamins and minerals like B vitamins, iron, zinc, magnesium, and copper, says White. “These nutrients can aid in muscle recovery and also serve as a source of fuel for your next workout.”

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a complex carbohydrate that can replenish glycogen stores, providing energy for workouts and aiding in muscle recovery, says Agyeman. Sweet potatoes also contain copper, which can help maintain healthy muscle tissue and replenish energy levels, and vitamin C, which helps to prevent the breakdown of muscle tissue.


Quinoa, similar to sweet potatoes and whole grains, is another complex carbohydrate that can replenish glycogen stores, providing energy for workouts and aiding in muscle recovery, says Agyeman. And for those who are following a vegan or vegetarian diet and looking to increase their protein post-workout, this tiny but mighty grain is a great source of plant protein.


Salmon is another excellent protein source that’s also packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which can help reduce inflammation, says White. Studies have shown that omega-3s can play a big role in reducing muscle soreness from exercise.

Chocolate Milk

Milk offers both high-quality protein and carbohydrates which help support muscle protein synthesis and replenish glycogen stores, says White. “Chocolate milk specifically offers the 3:1 carb to protein ratio that benefits recovery after tough workouts. Milk is also nutrient-dense, providing 13 essential nutrients in just one 8-ounce serving that can help our body function at its best,” he adds.

Cottage cheese

There’s a reason this cheese is trending on social media. Just ½ cup of cottage cheese packs 12 grams of protein, including leucine—a branched-chain amino acid that’s important for repairing muscle, says White. “Cottage cheese also contains casein, a slow-release protein that can fuel muscle protein synthesis. Because it’s slowly absorbed, research suggests that consuming casein before bed can support overnight muscle recovery and future performance.” For a recovery treat, whip cottage cheese with dark cocoa powder and top with berries for the added benefit of antioxidants, White suggests.


Eggs are high-quality protein that’s easily digestible and also contains choline, an essential nutrient for brain and muscle function, says White. Some eggs are also fortified with omega-3s—which can be helpful for inflammation.


Bananas are rich in carbohydrates and potassium, two essential nutrients for muscle recovery. Bonus: This fruit is very portable, which means you can pack one in your gym bag so it’s ready to eat after your sweat-sesh.


Spinach, as well as other cruciferous vegetables, are rich in anti-inflammatory nutrients, such as calcium, potassium, magnesium, iron, and zinc. Spinach also contains protein and antioxidant compounds known as flavonoids.


Whether you prefer blueberries or raspberries, all berries are rich in antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation and promote overall recovery, says Agyeman. And while blueberries contain one of the highest amounts of antioxidants among all fruits, both blueberries and raspberries are excellent sources of carbohydrates and sirtuins. Sirtuins are a type of protein involved in the regulation of cell death and longevity, metabolism, and inflammation—and therefore play a big role in muscle recovery.

Foods to avoid after working out

After a workout, it’s essential to choose your foods and drinks carefully to ensure your body recovers properly. According to our nutrition experts, here are some foods you should avoid post-workout:

  • Alcohol should be avoided at all costs because it has a dehydrating effect on the body and hinders protein synthesis, leading to slower muscle recovery, per White.

  • Salty foods can impede the recovery process and cause swelling, making it challenging to get back to your workout routine, says White.

  • Sugary foods, if consumed after a workout, can cause energy crashes due to a sudden spike in blood sugar levels, says White.

  • Ultra-processed foods should also be avoided after workouts, as they contain additives that can cause inflammation in the body, which slows down muscle recovery, says White.

  • Spicy foods may be hard for some people to digest after a hard workout, notes Prest.

  • Veggies alone don’t contain enough of the macronutrients, such as carbohydrates and protein, helpful for recovery.

While nutrition is certainly important for muscle recovery, White clarifies that eating something is always better than eating nothing, especially after a tough workout. “Appetite, time constraints and personal preferences can vary, so identifying foods and drinks that are well-tolerated, convenient and offer carbs and protein can go a long way,” he notes.

Other tips for muscle recovery

Outside of fueling your body with food, there are many other things you can do to aid in your post-workout revival. Here are some expert tips on what you should include in your muscle recovery routine:

  • Stretching can aid in loosening up muscle to reduce pain, improve circulation, eliminate lactic acid, and help in relaxing, says White. Stretching is better post-workout once your muscles are warmed up, notes Prest.

  • Drinking water after a workout helps to support your muscles as they recover, says Prest. “Plain water is preferred over a sports drink unless you engage in moderate to high-intensity exercise,” she advises.

  • Getting enough sleep supports muscle recovery through muscle repair, growth, and getting important nutrients to your muscles all while you sleep, says Prest. It is recommended to aim for 7-9 hours of sleep each night to allow your body to fully recover, so you can perform at your best, advises White.

  • Leg air compression devices can help improve blood circulation, leading to faster muscle recovery, says White.

  • Active recovery can help your body recover faster after a difficult workout by improving circulation, reducing soreness, improving mobility, and reducing stiffness, says White. “Examples are swimming, walking, jogging, yoga, and foam rolling.”

  • Massage can help by improving blood flow, loosening muscles, improving range of motion, improving sleep, and decreasing inflammation, says White.

  • Ice bath is often used to reduce muscle pain, soreness, and swelling, says White. “Ice baths are known to help flush out lactic acid to aid in reducing soreness after workouts,” he explains.

The bottom line

Carbohydrates fuel our muscles and protein is needed for growth and repair, says Prest. “Pairing the two together 30-60 minutes after a workout, along with hydration and adequate sleep, will help support muscle recovery,” she advises.

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