Whether you're a seasoned marathoner or new to the game, experiencing muscle soreness in the days or hours after a long training run is likely a familiar feeling. You might think soreness is just a part of the training game—and that's true to a certain extent. While stretching, self-massage and easing up on the pace for recovery runs are important parts of training properly and preventing injury, what you eat throughout your training cycle is important too. You can only help maximize your training (and ultimately, your race performance) by properly refueling to help your muscles recover faster for your next hard workout, rather than continuing to pound the pavement through potential discomfort.
"Research has shown that it's best to eat within 30 minutes following exercise in order to refuel and build muscle," Kerry Clifford, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in Chicago, says. "In general, a good post-workout snack includes a quality protein, a quality carbohydrate and does not have much fiber or much fat."
Read on for 13 foods known to help beat post-run soreness and inflammation.
Sweet potatoes are a great source of complex carbohydrates that help to replace glycogen, or stored energy, that is lost during exercise. They are also high in vitamin C to boost immunity and potassium to help balance and replenish electrolytes, all of which make them a win for avid runners.
Banana With Nut Butter
Bananas are another food known to be a rich source of potassium, which is key in maintaining good electrolyte levels and fighting mid- or post-workout cramping. Nut butters such peanut, almond or sunflower seed butter, meanwhile, pack in carbohydrates, protein and healthy monounsaturated fat.
Turmeric and Ginger
"Turmeric is a well-known anti-inflammatory and can help improve recovery after physical activity and reduce pain associated with muscle soreness," Sam Presicci, MCN, RD, LD, lead registered dietitian at Snap Kitchen in Dallas, says.
Similarly, ginger has been found to reduce muscle pain after exercise because it contains chemical compounds that help inhibit pain and inflammation in the body, Ysabel Montemayor, lead RD at Fresh n' Lean in Irvine, California, says.
Combine the two, either in fresh or powdered form, to make an anti-inflammatory tea with cinnamon and honey to counteract the herbs' spiciness.
Bison With Spaghetti Squash
Try this combination for a healthier take on traditional spaghetti and meat sauce.
"Bison and spaghetti squash is a great way to get in some carbohydrates and quality protein," Clifford says. "Bison not only has high quality protein but also is packed with iron and vitamin B12, which is important for athletes to maintain energy levels."
Meanwhile, spaghetti squash is packed with vitamin C, fiber and potassium, making it a healthier alternative to refined white pasta.
Antioxidant-Rich Fruits and Vegetables
"Foods high in antioxidants (such as blueberries, oranges, bell peppers, tomatoes and strawberries) can help combat soreness and inflammation after a run or other workout," Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian in Charlotte, North Carolina, says. "Getting sufficient levels of vitamins C and E (both antioxidants) may enhance athletic performance by neutralizing free radicals, which are natural substances in our bodies that can cause inflammation."
Beet, Pomegranate and Tart Cherry Juice
Beets, pomegranates and tart cherries are fruits and vegetables that have a reputation as "superfoods." While they can be challenging to snack on in raw form, they are fortunately just as beneficial in juice form.
"Recent research has shown that beet, tart cherry and pomegranate juices may all to some extent help with increasing blood flow during and after exercise and reducing muscle soreness," Schlichter says.
If you've ever participated in a big-city marathon or half marathon, there's a good chance you've been handed a bottle of chocolate milk upon crossing the finish and collecting your medal. Turns out, there's a reason for that beyond the fact that it's a delicious and well-earned sweet treat.
"We commonly associate the benefits of protein post-exercise and forget about the important role that carbohydrates play," Rachel Fine, R.D., a registered dietitian and owner of To The Pointe Nutrition, a sports nutrition counseling firm in New York City, says. "Chocolate milk is specifically ideal for post-exercise because of its specific ratio of carbohydrates-to-protein content."
Any combination of protein with a simple carbohydrate is going to optimize post-exercise refueling, Fine says. When paired with protein, carbohydrates promote the release of insulin, which further promotes increased uptake of both carbs and protein. The carbohydrates will help with post-exercise glycogen repletion while the protein helps with post-exercise muscle repair and muscle building.
EggsNot that you needed one, but here's an excuse to head straight to brunch after a long-distance run or race.
"Reaching for foods that are high in protein during or after an intense workout can help reduce muscle soreness," Megan Casper, MS, RDN, a registered dietitian and owner of Nourished Bite Nutrition based in New York City, says. "Eggs are a great protein source, plus they are rich in the essential amino acid leucine, which can aid in muscle recovery."
Much like chocolate milk, Greek yogurt contains high amounts of both carbs and protein, which are important for recovery and replenishment after exercise. Opt for plain yogurt and add some berries and honey to sweeten it up rather than choosing a flavored version, which can pack in a ton of added sugar.
Coconut WaterAs you may already know from past experience, sweating during exercise can cause dehydration, which can lead to muscle cramps. Sure, there's nothing wrong with reaching for a sports drink after a sweating it out in a long run, but if you want a more natural option without all the added sugar, coconut water is a great option to replace electrolytes and carbohydrates and is high in potassium to stave off cramps and dehydration.
If you're in search of a quality protein source for a meal to follow an evening workout, salmon is a great option, as it's also packed with anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids.
Similar to salmon, flaxseed is also high in omega-3 fatty acids. Grind some up and mix into a smoothie, yogurt or in even in pancake batter to reap their benefits.
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