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5 Foods to Eat When You Have Sore Muscles

January 25, 2021
Photo Credit: Nadine Greef

I think we can all agree that moving your body in some way, shape, or form is a good idea. This was true in the Before Times. It is certainly true now. But what happens when your HIIT workout makes you so sore you can’t walk the next day. The “no pain, no gain” philosophy may sound bad ass in theory, but in real life, having sore muscles all the time can be a major downer.

But there’s good news: Eating strategically can help reduce muscle soreness. Certain foods can help relieve aches and pains, while others (namely sugar, alcohol, and processed foods) can increase inflammation and prolong muscle tension. Here’s what to eat when you have sore muscles.

1. Cottage Cheese

Dr. Caroline Cederquist, founder of bistroMD, recommends eating cottage cheese or Greek yogurt post-workout, or when your muscles are tending up. That’s because both are good sources of protein: One cup of cottage cheese offers 14 grams of protein, while Greek yogurt provides 11 grams per serving. And protein is essential for muscle recovery.

“The general population needs an average of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (g/kg),” Dr. Cederquist says. As the workout intensity and duration increases, so will protein needs.

In addition to cottage cheese and Greek yogurt, Dr. Cederquist recommends shelled edamame, chickpeas, or nut butter.

2. Eggs

Kacie Vavrek, registered dietitian at OSU Wexner Medical Center, says eggs are a great post-workout food. Not only are they a good source of protein, but they also contain taurine. Research suggests that this amino acid may help speed recovery, especially when it comes to higher-intensity training.

Taurine is also found in certain meats and fish, and is sometimes added to energy drinks.

3. Cherries

Cherries are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, which can alleviate muscle tension and cramping, says sports nutritionist Heather Caplan. Basically, they act like NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen and aspirin) to decrease soreness and improve recovery post-workout.

The downside is you’ll need to eat quite a lot to get the benefits. Research shows that consumption of 50 to 60 cherries (or around 12 oz. of cherry juice) consumed twice per day for 5 to 7 days prior to exercise or an athletic event reduces pain associated with muscle soreness.

4. Coffee

Go ahead, grab that coffee or tea after your sweat session. Research indicates that caffeine intake after exercising can help improve muscle repair and fight muscle soreness, says Vavrek. But, she warns against overdoing it. To reap the benefits, use your weight and body size to determine a good amount. For instance, a 135-lb. woman would find relief by consuming around 350mg, or about 2.5 to 3 cups of coffee.

And, feel free to add some milk to that coffee. It’s packed with vitamin D, calcium, and potassium to build bone mineral density and speed recovery, says registered dietician Elizabeth Ann Shaw.

5. Bananas

Speaking of potassium, you may be able to avoid the soreness altogether by eating a banana before working out, says registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo. “Rather than easing muscle soreness, bananas prevent muscle cramps during a workout,” she says. “Most Americans don’t get the recommended 3,500mg of potassium per day, so it’s essential to include potassium rich foods like bananas in the diet,” she adds.

Other great sources of potassium include coconut water, sweet potatoes, white beans, winter squash, chicken, and pistachios.

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