When it comes to eating for longevity, knowing what, when and how much to consume are key.
We all know that we should be eating more healthily. But did you know that changing the amount, type and timing of food is one of the most effective ways to improve health and longevity? . What we eat is also integral the muscle recovery process, and our food requirements change depending on the different types of exercise we do. So which foods are best for faster muscle recovery?
Foods for faster muscle recovery
Building and maintaining muscle is as much to do with diet as it is with exercise, so can the health benefits of a balanced diet extend to improving muscle recovery?
A major part of a muscle recovery diet should be protein. This is what our muscles are made from, so it makes sense that eating more protein before and after working out will grow and repair muscle tissue, as well as boost muscle recovery. A study found that eating 20-40 grams of protein boosts muscle protein synthesis post exercise . However, not all proteins are made equal and it is better to eat high-quality, preferably plant-based protein. Recent findings on the ‘longevity diet’ recommend eating fish, low white meat, and no red or processed meat. Ideally, this means skipping additive-laded protein powders for a serving of Greek yoghurt, lentils, grilled chicken, or a tin of tuna.
Equally, replenishing your depleted carbohydrate stores is essential after exercise, as this is stored in muscles as glycogen and used as fuel for movement. Carbs have finally shed their bad reputation from fad dieting days as people opt for more nutritious forms of carbohydrates, like wholegrains and vegetables. Accompanying a portion of protein with these after a workout can rebuild muscle tissue as well as restore glycogen levels ready for the next workout.
Drinks for muscle recovery
What we drink can also impact how fast our muscles recover after exercise. Firstly, it is important to rehydrate after exercise with water, which we lose through sweat and respiration – especially in a hot and sweaty gym. This is essential for making you, as well as your muscles, feel better after a workout, as dehydration can impair muscle recovery.
Once you’ve rehydrated with water, you can focus on drinks that actually aid muscle recovery. While the popularity of cow’s milk has declined with the rise of vegan alternatives, it remains a great post-workout drink. Drinking milk after exercise restores glycogen, triggers protein synthesis, and aids rehydration. It is also rich in nutrients like calcium that, as we remember from drinking glasses of milk during childhood, promotes bone health. It can also build muscle mass, great if you’re into weightlifting or calisthenics.
Tart cherry juice is a less conventional option that can reduce inflammation, muscle damage and muscle soreness after exercise . This is a healthier alternative to energy drinks laced with glucose, sweeteners and additives that exceed the needs of everyday gym-goers.
Muscle recovery supplements
Aside from food and drinks, another way of boosting muscle recovery is through supplements. An active ingredient that’s growing in popularity on the supplement scene is urolithin A. This powerful postbiotic is produced in the gut after eating specific foods, most famously pomegranate. Urolithin A can trigger mitophagy, the process by which old and dysfunctional mitochondria are cleared away from our cells. Mitochondria are highly concentrated in muscle cells and power our movements. Increasing mitophagy can make them function better.
However, not everyone possesses the right balance of microflora in their gut to make enough urolithin A. An easier option is taking supplements like Timeline, which contains 500 mg of Mitopure’s purified urolithin A. In human clinical trials, Mitopure was shown to improve muscle endurance and strength so could make a great tool for boosting muscle recovery.
What to eat after different types of exercise
The great thing about exercise is that there is almost an unlimited spectrum of sports, gym training and exercise classes to choose from. With different types of exercise, comes specifically tailored types of muscle recovery.
The main purpose of weight training is to build the strength and size of muscles. Therefore, eating protein is the priority. Focussing on lean meat, fish, dairy and legumes for protein can boost longevity as well as muscle recovery, as these food types also contain the fibre and nutrients needed to protect health:
- Eggs. Each egg you consume contains around 6 grams of protein, as well as the amino acid leucine, essential to building muscle.
- Chicken or turkey. Both are low fat sources of protein that can easily be adapted to numerous recipes.
- Salmon. Oily fish like salmon also contain omega-3 fatty acids, key to preventing muscle loss as we age, and improving muscle size and strength.
- Quinoa. An established super food, quinoa contains fibre, amino acids, antioxidants, as well as protein. It is a perfect plant-based source of protein that can be added to meals in place of rice or pasta.
One of the most intense tests of endurance, running a marathon requires a specific post-race plan to recover muscles fast. This is informed by the ‘four Rs’; refuel, rehydrate, repair, and rest. Crossing the finish line is a time for muscle recovery as well as celebration. Immediately eating carbs will restock muscle glycogen, while constant small sips of water will rehydrate muscles without making your feel too full. Endurance training requires replenishing your electrolytes – try electrolyte tablets instead of sugary sports drinks. Popping open a bottle of celebratory champagne is a finish-line tradition, and if you hydrate as well, one glass shouldn’t impair your recovery too much.
The post-race meal is most important for ‘repair’. It should consist of a high-quality protein like fish, lean meat, or legumes accompanies by vegetables and carbohydrates. This will replenish glycogen, trigger protein synthesis, and reduce inflammation, boosting your muscle recovery.
A form of resistance and endurance training, swimming is a total body workout that requires proper muscle recovery. It is best to refuel after a swim quickly, at most an hour later with a large meal that balances carbohydrates with protein for restoring glycogen and repairing muscle.
Many swimmers can feel hungrier compared with other exercises, which may be related to the cold pool water preventing a temperature rise and associated appetite suppression. Avoiding eating large meals 2-4 hours before swimming to allow for digestion can also add to hunger. Therefore, consider upping the portion size of your post-swim meal .