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Best Foods And Methods To Speed Up Recovery And Reduce Muscle Soreness

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 20 December 2017
Hits: 10948

We all know that exercise promotes adaptation, whether it is added muscle or improved fitness, we know that with enough training we improve. But it is not only the training that makes us improve and adapt. Good nutrition and adequate rest and recovery are equally as important, for without these two important ingredients there is no chance for the body to repair the damage created from training. This is a fundamental rule that is broken by the ignorant and enthusiastic person, or "gym junkie" as they are commonly known, who believes more training is all you need and fall into the trap of over-training. The fact you are reading this article already says you are more educated than most and recognize the value in finding ways to improve your recovery so you can get back to quality training as fast as possible. There is many things you can use to help you, and like training there is no "one size fits all" or a particular method that is best for everyone. There is only the best way for you. I find if you use multiple methods you give yourself a better chance of succeeding. So if one method is not right for you don't worry about it and move on to the next. Okay so let's get into it.

The 3 Key Factors Needed For Recovery

Let's say you have a well designed workout, you are doing the right type of stretching and mobility work, but you don't seem to be recovering quickly enough from training. In this case you have to look at the other factors important to training success, and it really boils down to 3 things.

  1. Sleep
  2. Stress
  3. Nutrition

More training will not produce great results if you do not have these 3 factors under control. The body WILL NOT be able to repair the damaged tissues fast enough if it is not given enough time or the right tools to do the job. If you are suffering from an injury this becomes even more important, for there is significant damage that must be attended to. Recovery and reducing inflammation you must value highly if you want to get on top of your pain quickly.

We have all experienced that feeling a day or two after a tough workout where our muscles ache all over and it is hard to lift your arms over your head and even harder to sit down on a chair. This is known as DOMS, or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness, and is a sign of a tough workout and where the body has suffered mechanical damage at a very small scale. In simple language it has had muscle fibers damaged and now is in the process of putting them back together, but this time with reinforcements to make the muscle fibers stronger and able to cope with the demands of that same workout. This is why when you do that same workout 2-3 days later it does not leave you as sore as the first time. Your body has already adapted!


If you go back to training too soon, or you do not repair the damage tissue correctly, you will not have adapted to the training at all and now be in the process of accumulating more damage! The concept of training and recovery is known as "progressive overload" and I encourage you to watch the video below that gives you a good explanation of how this works.

You also can read more about the science of that in this article below How Many Times Should You Exercise Per Week For Best Results

Always remember this simple equation:

Damage + more damage = injury or illness.

Instead of

Damage + recovery = adaptation to exercise with strength, fitness gains.

It is not more training that you need, it is better recovery methods. So how do you do this? Well let's take a quick look at some things you can try.

Sleep & Getting To Bed On Time

I am always baffled when someone tells me they are not getting good results with their training, that they need a harder program or a better plan, yet they go to bed each night at midnight!

We need our sleep to perform all the necessary building and repairing of damaged tissues, organs, muscles, digestion and thousands of other tasks that are ONLY DONE AT NIGHT! Trying to catch up in the afternoon does not work either, for we are meant to sleep at night not during the day. This is why night shift workers are often sick and are would not make elite athletes!

Our bodies are designed to follow the movement of the sun, moon and the earth. This is called circadian rhythm. Take a look at the picture below as this explains exactly what happens when you do not get to bed on time.

When light stimulates our skin or eyes our hormonal system thinks it is daylight and releases a stress hormone called cortisol which is activated to prepare our body for movement, work and whatever we need to do in daily life. Basically cortisol is needed to wake you up, and is meant to decrease as the sun goes down so your body can prepare for activation of the growth hormones called melatonin to be released to allow the body to repair. The cycle for physical repair is between 10pm and 2am and psychological repair between 2am and 6am. We cannot change this. If you neglect or sacrifice our sleep you will never reach your potential with any training method as your body does not have enough energy or reserve to do it effectively.

The better the quality of your sleep the better the quality of your training.

Click Here to read our full article on sleep where we give you tips on improving your sleep and exactly what happens at night.

Reducing Stress

This is a massive topic, and one that is not easily explained or overcome. But make no mistake, stress can derail any health and fitness plan very quickly. Recognizing when you have too much stress and adjusting your training accordingly is very important. Many of the professional soccer teams see how important this is for their players to remain on the field and have lengthy careers. AC Milan had an extremely effective program in 2002 based exactly on this concept that helped them reduce the amount of non-traumatic sports injuries with their players by a whopping 92%!

Stress sucks every bit of energy you will need to make positive lifestyle changes, whether that is to your nutrition, getting up early to go for a 5km run or hitting the gym after a tough day at work. Think of your energy like a swimming pool and everything you do drains water from the pool. That means every action you take during the day will draw from this resource, some more than others depending how stressful they are.

Think of the different things you deal with every day:

  • Work Decisions
  • Family commitments
  • Paying bills
  • Relationship problems
  • Exercise
  • Healthy eating

Every one of these actions can be a drain on your energy. You might exhaust all of your energy with your family and dealing with work issues so when you go to hit the gym at 730pm you are really running on fumes. It does not matter what type of workout you do now for your body is in need of repair. This does not mean stop exercising as that is also stressful, it just means you need to be aware of when the body is drained and adjust your workout accordingly. This also means you need to take a look at your current weekly schedule to determine where is the best time to fit in quality workouts. If you ignore the warning signals of stress and keep trying to drain more out of you and think "no pain, no gain" or you draw on it too much you you will reach a breaking point. This is where injury, disease or illness creeps in and becomes a bigger problem, creating guess what - more stress! The solution is to find ways to build reserves or fill your pool up with more water or energy as opposed to always draining the pool. The more stressed you rate yourself the more important this becomes.

Below are 2 great videos we filmed a few years ago about this complex subject that will give you some great insights to stress and also strategies you could use to reduce it.

Click Here to read our full article on this very important subject - Best Tips & Strategies For Reducing Stress To Improve Your Health

Other things you can use to assist you with reducing stress and sleeping better are adopting better training methods before and after exercise. Here is some of the best strategies to use to assist your recovery.

Stretching, Warm Up & Cool Down

So simple it hurts, yet it is amazing how many people skip the warm up in their training. The warm up is important to promote stronger blood flow which allows for the muscles, tendons, and ligaments to become more flexible as they warm up, providing you with extra mobility in movements you need to use in your upcoming workout. Another purpose of this initial warm-up is to prepare the mind for the workout ahead. It is a time to focus and concentrate, leaving all outside distractions and stress from your life out the door.

Make sure you read our article "How To Create A Specific Warm Up For Your Body" as we provide several warm up routines for various injuries or needs.

The cool down can also have a dramatic affect on how quickly you recover from hard training. This is where you use a series of low intensity drills or exercises at the end of your session to provide a period of adjustment between exercise and rest. Its purpose is to improve muscular relaxation, remove waste products, reduce muscular soreness and bring the cardiovascular system back to rest. This is the best time to stretch too for this is when the body is still warm allowing for greater range of range of movement with muscles and joints so you can improve your flexibility and reduce your risk of injuries with future training.

Make sure you read our article "When Is The Best Time To Stretch" for more detail on this.


The use of massage does not necessarily get rid of muscle soreness, as much as a therapist will tell you that, it does not. It does assist the healing process however by helping to increase blood flow, enhance oxygen and nutrient delivery to fatigued muscles, and remove lactic acid. It is the most useful in helping to get rid of trigger points that often develop in the shoulders, and facial tightness in areas like the ITB and the calf muscles.

Possibly one of the hidden benefits is the improvement to the mental state as it deeply relaxes the mind and body allowing for the body to enhance the healing process.

This is highly recommended in the recovery stage to give your body every chance to bounce back to full strength quickly and why so many professional sporting athletes have their own massage therapist travel with them. A combination of massage and stretching helps to release stiffness of muscles and maintain their elasticity for further training.

Ice Baths & Cold Water Immersion

This is slightly controversial as there is two arguments regarding this. This is common with AFL football players who are seen on Sunday mornings standing in freezing cold water at the beach.

The argument for using this is  that when you plunge your body into a bath full of icy cold water, the blood vessels constrict and the blood will be drained away from the muscles that have been working (removing lactic acid). Once you get out of the bath the capillaries dilate and ‘new’ blood flows back to the muscles, bringing with it oxygen that will help the functioning of the cells.

The argument against it states that applying ice prevents the body from administering the inflammation process. You are basically preventing the body from healing itself, which is obviously not a good thing. There is a great study you can read with great deal of information on this by clicking here. In the book "Ready To Run" by Kelly Starrett there is an interesting take on this.

"When ice is applied to a body part for a prolonged period, nearby lymphatic vessels begin to dramatically increase their permeability (lymphatic vessels are dead end tubes which ordinarily help carry excess tissue fluids back to the cardiovascular system). As lymphatic permeability is enhanced, large amounts of fluid begin to pour from the lymphatics in the wrong direction (into the injured area), increasing the local swelling and pressure and potentially contributing to greater pain."

I myself have never found this did anything for me, and preferred to use some light cycling on an indoor trainer or going for a walk followed by some stretching and mobility work. Standing in cold water just made me more stiff and hampered my recovery. Plus I did not enjoy it at all.

Nutrition The Building Blocks Of Health & Strength

If sleep and reducing stress is all about providing the time to do the repair work, then nutrition is all about providing the body with the "tools to do the job". If you provide the body with the right nutrients, minerals, amino acids at the right time, and get enough rest to allow the body to do it's thing you speed up your recovery time significantly. If you eat take away and junk food, or if you are on a calorie restriction diet you are not going to provide your body with the right tools to to repair damage from your training. It is not just the quality of the foods either, the timing of when you eat them is pivotal in speeding up the recovery process.

Nutrition is a huge topic on its own and this article could be another 20,000 words if we were to include all the variables. I suggest to get a copy of our Nutrition report that covers everything from choosing the right foods for you, to timing and frequency of eating before and after training and also over 50 recipe ideas. Click here to get your copy.

You Must Eat Protein 30 Minutes After A Workout

When it comes to nutrition and recovery timing is everything!

Within 30 minutes of a workout you MUST consume some high quality protein. During exercise, especially resistance, or strength training, you cause muscle micro-trauma. Usually it’s a good thing because this micro-trauma actually stimulates muscle development, but this muscle micro-trauma impairs glucose utilization in your muscle for about 30 minutes up to an hour, and sometimes more.

The body is in a frenzy for the first 30 minutes after a workout searching for amino acids which contains the building blocks and tools to rebuild the damaged muscle tissue. Amino acids are found in high quality proteins like eggs, whey protein.

It appears as though the amino acids found in high quality whey protein activate certain cellular mechanisms (including mTORC-1), which in turn promote muscle protein synthesis, boost thyroid, and also protect against declining testosterone levels after exercise. This is where you are providing the body with the right tools at the right time to begin the process of rebuilding. If you miss this opportunity the body will search within in itself for the amino acids, and where do you think you store that? That's right within your own muscle tissue. This is like taking 2 steps forward and then taking 2 steps back!

Is whey protein the best choice?

Well not necessarily. I prefer eggs myself but it is a personal choice. The main reason Whey Protein is the chosen type is that being a liquid you can drink it gets to the muscles faster than eating food which needs to be broken up, digested and then distributed to the muscles. A good quality protein powder like what we have for sale in the studio is a great choice, but many of the products available on the market are loaded with all types of junk and processed rubbish that is not good for you at all. So if you are going to have whey protein make sure you it is organic from grass fed cows and devoid of other processed ingredients. Or just eat some real food instead like eggs, chicken, red meat, nuts or fish.

You can read more about the value of protein in this article Everything you need to know about protein for good health

What Are The Best Foods For Recovery?

As I said earlier there is no one size fits all that is best for everyone, there is so many available options you just need to find what works for you and mix it up a bit too. Don't always eat exactly the same post workout meals as you may be missing out on important nutrients and vitamins found in other foods. But to give you a guide here is some of my favorite foods to reduce DOMS.

1: Water

Pretty simple, but very effective. Water is crucial for body temperature regulation and for heart and muscle function. The ITB muscles in the leg which are known to get extremely tight and cause knee or hip pain are made almost entirely of water. If you become dehydrated this muscle will become short and tight exhibiting signs of being inflexible when in fact you just need to drink more water. A small decrease in hydration as little as 2% can reduce strength and performance because it leads to a drop in blood plasma volume so energy does not reach the muscle cells. So make sure you regularly drink throughout the day to give your body every chance to recover.

2: Cinnamon Turmeric & Ginger

You might be thinking cinnamon is a strange choice. But cinnamon is a very unique food in that it helps improve blood sugar tolerance and insulin sensitivity. This food is known to have effects on the body's ability to direct carbs to the right place and be able store carbs as muscle glycogen for energy. This means it can have a greater effect on tissue repair and allow better protein absorption which as already discussed is so important for growth and repair. Turmeric and ginger have very powerful anti-inflammatory properties that will boost your ability to recover from workouts and reduce DOMS soreness. Turmeric contains the anti-inflammatory compound called curcumin which has been used for everything from wound healing to cancer treatment. Ginger is a powerful anti fungal food. which similar to cinnamon allows better absorption of minerals and vitamins from other foods.

3: Salmon

Salmon is what we would refer to as the protein powerhouses because not only does it have a high protein and purine content it also contain all 20 amino acids that our body requires and is a powerful Omega 3 source that fights inflammation. Without doubt my number one food to eat. Another great thing with Salmon is the versatility. It is great for breakfast as it is for a snack, lunch or dinner. Some foods are hard to stomach in the morning, but some smoked salmon with eggs for breakfast would be one of my favorite meals.

4: Green Vegetables

Green vegetables are a major source of iron and calcium for any diet. Green leafy vegetables are rich in beta-carotene, which can also be converted into vitamin A, and also improve immune function. This food is absolutely loaded with antioxidants, anti-inflammatory nutrients, and anti-cancer nutrients. When we fail to take in enough antioxidants our body undergoes a greater degree of damaging oxidative stress. When we live in a constant state of oxidative stress it can lead to chronic inflammation and eventually disease. Green leafy vegetables (like kale) are the best source for alkalizing minerals: calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, sodium, and potassium. These alkalizing minerals neutralize the acid foods we eat.

Read more about green vegetables in this article: Are You Eating Enough Green Vegetables?

5: Blueberries

Having a healthy functioning liver is critical for good health. The liver is you main filtration system. It detoxifies every single toxic poison and food ingredient that comes into your body. Some of these you put into your body willingly such as alcohol, supplements, medications, food chemicals (like those found in non-organic and processed foods) and some are found in the environment like exhaust, smoke, hazardous chemicals and heavy metals. Blueberries are loaded with important antioxidants that assist the liver in detoxification. This is important because antioxidants reduce oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is associated with damage to many systems in the body which leads to inflammation. When your body becomes inflamed it becomes acidic and therefore toxic which causes your liver to work over time to restore your body’s pH level.

6: Fermented Foods

This is a real hot topic in recent times with a lot of people placing a big importance on "gut health". If you have a problem with digestion you WILL NOT recover well at all. A functioning gut allows the body to do many things that are crucial for a healthy body such as absorb nutrients needed for tissue repair, metabolize waste by-products created from training and eliminate oxidative stress and inflammation. A healthy gut allows for faster recovery and ultimately a healthy body. One of my favorite forms of fermented foods is bone broth. But there is many other forms such as Greek yoghurt, pickled veggies and sauerkraut.

Below is a video we filmed with a chef a few years ago showing you some great ways to make some of these amazing foods.


I hope you have found some good ideas about how to reduce soreness and speed up recovery. Great results always come from quality training, not more training. And quality training can only be completed on well rested body. I hope this article gives you some ideas about how you can do this and reach your full potential with whatever your goal may be. Always remember REST IS TRAINING!

There is some great FREE reports below you can download instantly with stacks of great training ideas and methods to help you get the most out of your training.

And if you live in Melbourne and would like to know more about our Personal Training or rehabilitation programs fill in the consultation form below and I will be in touch within 24 hours to schedule a time.