As athletes, or really anyone who exercises, well knows, to build muscle you have to break down what you already have. And that can hurt—especially since some studies have suggested stretching does nothing to prevent soreness in the week following a hard workout.
But there is something that can: food. We talked with local health fitness specialist and dietitian Rebecca Scritchfield about the best foods (and drinks) to fight next-day aches.
Why: Your body needs to replace the sugars it loses while working out, especially if you train every day. “It’s all about timing,” says Scritchfield. “After a workout, your muscles are going to soak up all that sugar like sponge.” Then there’s the bonus of the drink’s protein, which muscles need to rebuild.
Also try: chocolate soymilk fortified with extra vitamins and minerals to simulate cow’s milk
MONTMORENCY TART CHERRIES
Why: The antioxidants responsible for these cherries’ famous deep red color have also been shown to reduce muscle inflammation and speed up recovery. “These cherries have more antioxidants than any other food,” says Scritchfield.
Why: It’s all about essential fatty acids, such as omega-3s. Studies have shown that omega-3s can lessen inflammation caused by exercise. Because chia seeds don’t need to be ground before use like flax, another great source of the fatty acid, you can throw them straight into smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt before your workout to “prefuel your recovery,” says Scritchfield.
Also try: salmon, tuna, and walnuts
Why: This South American superfood is packed with protein to help rebuild muscle. But unlike most grains, quinoa is a “complete protein” like whey, meaning it has the amino acids your body needs. In fact, its nutritional value has been compared to dried whole milk.
Why: Research has shown that octacosanol, a chemical that can be found in oats, may improve how your body uses oxygen. “Oxygen is important to preventing post-workout soreness because it helps rid the body of lactic acid buildup,” says Scritchfield.
Why: Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, and a single red pepper actually has more of it than an orange. “It’s a double whammy. Not only are antioxidants anti-inflammatory, but they also boost your immunity,” says Scritchfield.
Also try: pineapples and oranges
Photographs courtesy of Flickr users Muffet, little blue hen, amandabhslater, William Ismael, emmadiscovery, and net_efekt.