6 Foods to Optimize Recovery Time and Enhance the Benefits of Exercise

May 18, 2020

The key to improving athletic ability, whether it be performance, endurance, skill, strength, or stamina, comes down to the frequency and quality of training; however, to optimize training one must optimize recovery.

“Optimizing recovery from exercise is considered the holy grail of exercise science,” writes Dr. Greger in How Not to Die. Rest, sleep, proper nutrition, and hydration are vital components of the recovery process. Foods tends to be the most variable for people.

Optimize recovery by incorporating these 6 foods into your daily routine.

1. Blueberries

Blueberries have been shown to reduce exercise-induced inflammation in athletes. Blueberries, and berries in general, are some of the richest sources of antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Thankfully, due to our food supply chain, blueberries are available year-round. If in season locally, then purchase them fresh, but there is nothing wrong with frozen berries. Often these will be at a better price point and since produce is frozen soon after harvest, there isn’t a loss of nutrients that occurs if the item were to sit on the shelf for too long. Berries can be added to oatmeal, homemade pancakes, smoothies, or consumed alone.

2. Cherries

Cherries have been shown to reduce inflammation, which results in a faster recovery time and reduced muscle soreness, particularly in long-distance and marathon runners. Cherries can also be found year-round in the frozen section of the grocery store. Cherries can be blended directly from the freezer to make a cold sorbet-like treat. Add a spoonful of cocoa powder for a cherry chocolate flavor. Cherries can also be used as you would consume berries.

3. Ground Flaxseed

Ground flaxseed is one of the most abundant sources of omega-3 fats that are essential to health. Omega-3s play a role in suppressing inflammation, which post exercise can reduce muscle soreness and expedite the recovery process. Flaxseed also provides plant protein and beneficial fiber. The protein assists in muscle repair and the fiber promotes a healthy gut microbiome. Flaxseed can be incorporated into oatmeal or smoothies; it can be sprinkled on toast and salads; added to baking items such as pancakes, waffles, muffins, and quick breads.

4. Molasses

Molasses provides a rich source of iron in addition to various minerals. Iron can be a nutrient of concern for an athlete due to either inadequate intake nutritionally or from strenuous exercise and loss caused by foot strike, particularly during running. Other plant sources include spinach and pumpkin seeds. Add molasses to oatmeal as a sweetener of choice. Just 1 Tb of dark molasses can provide 20% of an individual’s iron needs for the day.

5. Purple Sweet Potatoes

Purple sweet potatoes provide a rich source of antioxidants that have been shown to show up in the bloodstream within an hour after eating this colorful, starchy root vegetable. Consistent consumption of just one per day has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation in test subjects. Daily intake may not be necessary if we are including other purple produce, but including these regularly can certainly be favorable. Post exercise, purple sweet potatoes are a way to also replenish glycogen stores. Boiling has been shown to best preserve nutrients, but really any method that will get you to eat them is fine. Be sure to eat the skin where many of the nutrients are concentrated.

6. Oats

Oats are probably one of the most versatile, inexpensive, and nutritious grains on the market. Oats provide a balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fiber. Oats take on the flavor of what is added to the dish and can be made into a flour to make quick breads, muffins, and pancakes or cooked into a savory or sweet bowl of oatmeal.

About the Author

Lauren has been a registered dietitian for 6 years and helps others develop practical and enjoyable lifelong nutrition habits to improve health, well-being, energy levels, confidence, and digestion. She focuses largely on a whole food, plant-based nutrition approach to health.


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