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8 Best Foods and Drinks for Sore Muscles
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8 Best Foods and Drinks for Sore Muscles

Food and Drinks that Help Reduce Muscle Soreness

By Byron Fergerson, M.D., Chief Science Advisor

After a strenuous workout, the body requires proper nutrition and time to recover. Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) that occurs 12-24 hours after a workout is an occasional symptom of high-intensity exercise and can affect any athlete from beginner to elite. In this article we’ll explore different foods and beverages that can play a role in maximizing recovery and minimizing muscle soreness with an emphasis on the needs of endurance athletes.


To help reduce muscle soreness after strenuous exercise, consuming food and drinks that can rapidly replenish energy, hydration, and protein after exercise can help maximize recovery and minimize delayed onset muscle soreness. Maintaining or supplementing your regular diet with antioxidant rich food and drinks can also help maximize resilience when training hard, promoting faster recovery and reduced muscle soreness.


What Causes Muscle Soreness?

When we experience muscle soreness and fatigue after a strenuous workout we’re feeling the symptoms of excess inflammation.

Exercise stresses muscles in several ways that cause very minor injury or microtrauma to muscle. This microtrauma in muscle leads to number of biological responses that contribute to inflammation (1), including:

  • lactic acid accumulation
  • tissue damage
  • oxidative damage
  • electrolyte and enzyme dysregulation 

The only remedy is to allow for full recovery which means throttling back training intensity, allowing adequate time for the body to heal itself, and proper nutrition to provide the body with the resources it needs. (Are you a Crossfit athlete who gets sore after high intensity circuit training? Read more about the importance of complete recovery)

8 Food & Drinks for Sore Muscles

Proper nutrition can help reduce excess inflammation and delayed onset muscle soreness. By replenishing essential nutrients depleted during strenuous exercise, we help restore muscle tissue to equilibrium more quickly. Refueling is important, but a diet that includes healthy foods with beneficial nutrients can actually improve resilience to strenuous exercise, by enhancing the metabolic machinery of muscle cells. That’s important because a metabolism functioning at its optimum capacity means we can tolerate greater stress during exercise without paying as great of an inflammation toll.  We become more resilient because our bodies experience a wider more forgiving threshold between beneficial and harmful inflammation.

That’s right - we said beneficial inflammation. A bit of inflammation is actually beneficial and necessary to improve endurance and strength and is where conditioning begins. Here’s why:

  • A mild inflammation response to the stress of exercise signals important healing processes.
  • The body rushes resources to the site of inflammation to repair and grow new, stronger muscle fibers. 
  • Repeating the process of exercise, microtrauma, inflammation and recovery, leads to gradual adaptations in muscle cells.
  • As our body repairs the damaged tissue, we grow more muscle fibers which increases strength.
  • Muscle cells also adapt to the stress and inflammation by increasing metabolic capacity, which means our muscle becomes more efficient.
  • With improved metabolism, muscles can tolerate slightly more exertion without paying an excessive inflammation toll.

When we over-exert, persistently overtrain, or shortchange recovery, we cross the threshold from beneficial inflammation to harmful excess inflammation. This can lead to an accumulation of inflammation that we experience as soreness and fatigue. Soreness is a sign that we’ve exceeded our body’s tolerance for stress given our current level of conditioning. This is called Functional Overreaching when it happens occasionally after a really tough workout, but it can become Overtraining Syndrome if we persistently over-exert without adequate recovery for weeks and months at a time. (For a deeper dive into the physiology of muscle soreness and recovery check out this article.)

Your body is only as tough as your cells. If they are working optimally, you can recover faster, experience less soreness, and improve performance. 

Let’s review what foods help with sore muscles.

Starchy Veggies

Intense exercise depletes muscles of their glycogen energy stores. Glycogen is the most rapidly accessible source of energy to power muscle and higher intensity exercise. Unfortunately, we can only store enough for about 1 hour of moderate to intense exercise without restoring our reserves by eating carbohydrates. Starchy Vegetables are one of the healthiest sources of complex carbohydrates that you can consume as part of a healthy whole-food diet.

There is evidence that our bodies can synthesize glycogen more rapidly up to 2 hours immediately following exercise (2). Studies in endurance athletes suggest you need 1.2 to 1.6 grams of carbs per kg of body mass per hour of exertion in this “glycogen window” to maximize glycogen replacement before your next workout (3). That’s between 100 and 150 grams of carbs per hour of exertion for a 180 pound athlete. 

You don’t have to pack every carbohydrate into that window to fully recover, especially if you’re not exercising again for another 24 hours or more. But taking advantage of that window to kick-start glycogen replacement may help alleviate some muscle soreness the next day, especially after a really hard session.

When you accompany carbs with a bit of protein after endurance training, the suggested carb quota decreases in order to achieve the same glycogen storage rate. So think about eating a 3:1 to 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein when recovering after endurance training to optimize glycogen resynthesis (4).

Recommendation: Sweet Potatoes

While any starchy whole foods like brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole grain pasta, peas, corn, and beans can offer a healthy source of complex carbohydrates, sweet potatoes stand atop our carbohydrate podium. That’s because they not only offer complex carbs, but also are a great source of muscle-friendly vitamins and minerals.

Sweet potatoes are abundant in beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A which supports the immune system and promotes tissue repair. They also contain a generous amount of potassium, a crucial electrolyte that regulates muscle contraction and hydration balance. And their high fiber content regulates the rate of digestion allowing for a steady release of energy and sustained recovery after intense exercise.

Protein-Rich Foods

Whole foods that provide a source of high-quality protein are excellent sources of amino acids to promote muscle recovery and reduce soreness. Meats and Dairy foods contain complete proteins, meaning that they furnish all nine essential amino acids crucial for muscle repair and growth. We cannot manufacture these molecular building blocks of muscle inside our bodies which means that adequate protein intake is essential to maximize muscle protein synthesis, and contribute to the recovery process after strenuous physical activity (5).

Recommendation: Grilled Chicken Breast

One of the important amino acids chicken contains is leucine which acts as a key signal to initiate the molecular processes necessary for muscle repair and growth (6).

Additionally, grilled chicken breast offers a spectrum of essential nutrients beyond protein, including vitamins and minerals. According to the USDA Food Data Central, chicken breast is a good source of vitamin B6, niacin, phosphorus, and selenium – all of which contribute to various aspects of muscle function and overall health (7). Vitamin B6, for instance, plays a role in amino acid metabolism, supporting the utilization of proteins for muscle repair (8). The combination of protein and these micronutrients in grilled chicken breast makes it a comprehensive choice for individuals seeking a well-rounded post-exercise meal to alleviate sore muscles and foster optimal recovery.

Recommendation: Greek Yogurt

This dairy product is renowned for high protein content and low fat. Similar to chicken, the dairy protein in Greek Yogurt offers a high quality source of all 9 essential amino acids that help repair and grow new muscle fibers.

Greek yogurt also offers advantageous probiotics. Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that contribute to gut health, and emerging research suggests a potential link between gut health and muscle recovery. A review published in the "Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition" discusses the impact of gut microbiota on exercise performance and recovery, indicating that a healthy gut may positively influence inflammatory responses and immune function (9).

Furthermore, Greek yogurt contains calcium, which is an electrolyte that plays a role in muscle function and contraction. According to the National Institutes of Health, calcium is crucial for muscle contraction, and maintaining adequate calcium intake may contribute to overall muscle health (10).

Drinks Specifically Designed for Muscle Recovery

The exercise recovery drink category is expected to grow to $18.61 billion by 2028. These drinks are generally intended to supplement a healthy diet by helping athletes bridge from the immediate post-workout glycogen window to a meal or snack with healthy whole-foods. High performance recovery drinks will bundle a number of benefits into a convenient drink mix:

  • Carbohydrate replacement - to restore glycogen energy supplies
  • Electrolyte replenishment - to help rebalance the body’s hydration
  • Protein fortification - to optimize glycogen synthesis and supply amino acids for muscle repair and growth
  • Supplemental nutrients - that may stimulate or accelerate the body’s adaptations to exercise and inflammation during recovery.

Recommendation: Freak Shake Endurance Fuel

Packed with a high serving of carbohydrates and electrolytes it includes high quality, rapidly available protein in an ideal proportion to accelerate recovery after endurance exercise.

Freak Shake Endurance Fuel distinguishes itself by adding a functional serving of plant-derived antioxidant Epicatechin, selected for its recovery and endurance-boosting benefits in muscle cells. It increases Nitric Oxide levels that promote increased blood flow, which speeds delivery of restorative resources and removal of cellular debris from inflamed muscles during recovery (11).  As a potent antioxidant, Epicatechin also has anti-inflammatory properties that help the body mitigate inflammatory free radicals which are a cellular byproduct of aerobic respiration during strenuous exercise. Furthermore, epicatechins enhance cellular mitochondrial function promoting muscle oxygen utilization, energy production, electrolyte storage, and protein synthesis. While plants like cacao, tea, dark berries and leafy greens contain this potent micronutrient, supplementation is necessary to get a functional dose of Epicatechin that can benefit endurance training immediately post-workout.

  • 33 g Carbohydrates

  • 12 g Protein (3:1 Ratio Carb-to-Protein)

  • >1000 mg Electrolytes
    (3x Mainstream Sports Drinks)

  • 100 mg functional serving of Epicatechin


Anti-Inflammatory Foods

While some inflammation is a healthy response to exercise, our ability to cope with excess inflammation may be improved with a diet that includes foods with anti-inflammatory properties. In order to minimize the symptoms of delayed onset muscle soreness after exercise, the idea of a balanced inflammatory response means that we have the ability to efficiently cope with inflammation in order to get the greatest beneficial adaptations in muscle after exercising. And when we occasionally over-exert, we are also able to mitigate excess inflammation (and muscle soreness) more quickly.

A high level of temporary inflammation or even chronic inflammation can compromise immune function, making the body more susceptible to infections, illnesses, and extending recovery time to the point where it can interfere with an athlete’s conditioning. Anti-inflammatory foods contribute to the overall balance of the immune response to exercise.

Recommendation: Salmon

Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which may support immune health. Research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids possess anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects, suggesting their potential in maintaining immune system integrity(12). Including salmon and other fatty fish (like sardines, tuna, and herring) not only help combat inflammation but also supports a robust immune response, which contributes to overall health and well-being as well as the mediating exercise induced inflammation in muscle. Salmon also provides high quality protein in every serving.

Recommendation: Turmeric Spice

What do Indian Curry and Dill pickles have in common? They’re seasoned with generous amounts of the spice Turmeric. This spice is common in Middle Eastern and Asian spice blends and can be added to almost any dish from veggies to meats as a seasoning.

Turmeric contains the active compound curcumin, which has been widely studied for its potent anti-inflammatory effects. A review published in the "Journal of Clinical Immunology" highlights the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of curcumin, suggesting its potential as a therapeutic agent in inflammatory conditions (13). Muscle soreness is an inflammatory condition, so try kicking your scrambled eggs up a notch with some Turmeric!

Recommendation: Apples

Quercetin is a natural plant-based micronutrient belonging to a group called “Flavonoids'' with powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Apples are an excellent source of quercetin in addition to being a convenient, tasty source of carbohydrates and other nutrients following a workout. Quercetin is concentrated in the peel of apples and contributes to the bitter taste of the apple skin. A study published in the "Journal of Nutrition" emphasizes the potential anti-inflammatory effects of quercetin found in apples and suggests that regular consumption may contribute to reducing inflammation-related health risks (14). Runners up in the quercetin-rich food category also includes red onions, and dark berries including blueberries, strawberries, and cranberries.

Hydrating Beverages

Hydration is another critical resource to allow muscles to return to equilibrium. When we sweat, we excrete electrolytes in addition to water that is critical to maintaining hydration balance in muscle cells. Dehydration can exacerbate muscle soreness and delay recovery. Restoring that balance quickly can help speed recovery processes in muscle, improve nutrient transport to muscle cells, and prevent cramping after workouts.

Drinking water is important but water alone doesn’t guarantee absorption by thirsty muscle cells during recovery from exercise. Carbs and electrolytes need to be replenished and available to help cells regulate fluid. Natural foods and beverages can also help us hydrate, while offering some bonus benefits when it comes to sore muscles.

Recommendation: Coconut Water

Coconut water is rich in electrolytes, particularly potassium, sodium, and magnesium, which each play roles in helping the body regulate fluid balance at the cellular level. Its electrolyte composition may aid in restoring and maintaining muscle function after exercise induced-dehydration, and at least one study has suggested it may be as effective as mainstream sports drinks in promoting hydration (15). Coconut water is also a source of natural sugars that offer an energy source during recovery. 

Coconut Water also possesses some potential muscle-soothing effects owing to the presence of several anti-inflammatory compounds that naturally occur (16). These include Cytokins that help modulate the body’s inflammatory response, Lauric acid, a medium-chain fatty acid with anti-inflammatory properties, and Polyphenols that exhibit antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. 

FAQ’s About Food & Drinks for Sore Muscles

What should I eat or drink for sore muscles?

The short answer is a well balanced diet that consists primarily of whole foods containing complex carbs, high quality protein, electrolytes, and anti-inflammatory micronutrients. Starchy vegetables, Chicken & Fish, Low Fat Dairy, Dark green veggies, and Dark Berries are loaded with the highest quality carbohydrates, the most complete protein, electrolytes and the vitamins and mineral micronutrients that support recovery and muscle repair.

High Performance sports drinks are convenient and effective supplemental recovery tools to help minimize soreness, especially when you require peak performance in the next 24 hours or less.

What foods reduce soreness and inflammation?

Foods that are abundant in the nutrients supporting muscle repair and antioxidants can be very helpful in minimizing soreness and mediating inflammation from strenuous exercise. Fatty fish like salmon not only provide high quality protein but are loaded with Omega-3 Fatty acids that have anti-inflammatory benefits. Turmeric Spice and Apples (Quercetin) are potent anti-inflammatories. And supplemental nutritional products that are fortified with antioxidants like Freak Shake Endurance Fuel can provide a very convenient solution to excess inflammation after really hard workouts.

How can I speed up Muscle Recovery?

Foods that contain micronutrients that promote blood flow may be effective ways to accelerate recovery by speeding delivery of resources to inflamed muscle tissue. Watermelon, Dark Chocolate made with natural cocoa, tea and supplements that include the plant-based antioxidant Epicatechin may each help dilate blood vessels and increase blood flow.


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