If you want to maximize the hard work you're putting in at the gym, or if you're doing a Fit With Iulia Summer Challenge, then your food game has to be strong. We're not just talking about being in a calorie deficit for weight loss or just eating enough protein to gain serious muscle... These two things are important, but so is eating the right foods that help you recover.
Having good post-workout nutrition will make all the difference in your recovery! Feeding your body with the nutrients it needs to enhance recovery is the key to better muscle growth and even weight loss. To help make sure your workouts aren't being wasted, we've put together a list of 8 foods you should add to your grocery list that will help enhance your recovery game and promote better muscle growth. But before we dive into our list of foods to add to your grocery list, let's look into why post-recovery nutrition is important in the first place...
Why post-workout recovery is important
Recovery is an integral part of fitness, it's when almost all of the muscle-building happens! So, you want to make sure you're taking all the necessary steps that will help your muscles recover, repair, and rebuild. Post-workout recovery helps your body repair the muscle tissue tears that were caused by high-intensity training, increases muscle protein synthesis to prevent the breakdown of muscle, replenishes glycogen stores, and even helps reduce your risk of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).
Think of recovery as the building blocks that prepare you for your future workouts. If you neglect proper post-workout nutrition after intense weightlifting or cardio session then it will increase your risk of sore muscles, which can affect your next workout, and reduce your body's ability to repair muscle which will give you minimal results – and you deserve the maximum!
8 foods to help with muscle recovery
To enhance your recovery you need to hydrate, get better deep sleep, and eat the right post-workout foods to help ensure your muscles are getting the nutrients they need to recover, repair, and rebuild!
So, what foods should you include in your next grocery list?
Most lifters and gym-goers reach for their handy whey protein powder or protein-rich foods. There's nothing wrong with that, but your body needs other nutrients that are essential for recovery, like carbohydrates and healthy fats. Protein is the source for your muscles, and carbs and fats are needed to finish the work.
With that being said, we have 8 of the best recovery foods and how to incorporate them into your post-workout meals or snacks. That way you're getting everything you need to help get the most out of your sweaty workout sessions!
Bananas are at the top of the list for good reason. They have a high potassium content and are a good source of magnesium, these macrominerals are known for helping with muscle contractions and muscle relaxation which in turn helps alleviate muscle cramps and soreness. It's also a great source of carbs, vitamin B6, vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber.
It's also a quick source of energy which is a popular pre-workout snack. So, should you eat it pre or post-workout? Either! They're a great option for any time of day, but if you want to use it to maximize your training consider adding it to your post-workout protein shake, and don't forget to add a small serving of healthy fats like two tablespoons of chia seeds or a tablespoon of peanut butter with no added sugar!
Want to boost your protein intake and enhance muscle recovery? Eat eggs! They are a great protein source because it contains a good amount of leucine which is the amino acid linked to muscle recovery.  Not only that, but the yolk contains healthy fats, vitamins, and minerals (specifically iron and phosphorus), which help your muscles use the high-quality protein from the egg whites more efficiently.
After your early morning workout session, have eggs (with the yolk) and add in your favorite veggies like spinach, mushrooms, tomatoes, to incorporate carbs into the mix. You can also add hard-boiled eggs to a healthy salad if your workouts are later in the day!
Greek yogurt with berries
Greek yogurt is packed with nutrients that nourish your muscles! It's an excellent source of protein, calcium, vitamin D, and probiotics. But stick to plain yogurt, the flavored ones have a lot of added sugar that your body doesn't need. Instead, add in fresh or frozen berries! Berries are also an excellent recovery food because they contain antioxidant compounds anthocyanins and ellagic acid which help fight inflammation and joint pain.
Oh and don't forget to add some healthy fats! You can add chia seeds, flaxseeds, coconut shavings, nuts, or nut butter!
Getting enough macronutrients is essential, but so is getting enough micronutrients, specifically one's rich in phytochemicals. Research shows that phytochemicals help reduce post-exercise-related onset muscle soreness.  Although whole foods are ideal, the amounts needed to reap the post-workout benefits are quite high, so the best source is an extract or concentrated form.
Pomegranate is an excellent phytochemical that contains ellagitannins, which have been shown to reduce soreness and improve muscle strength recovery after a difficult workout.  After training, consider having pomegranate concentrate (mixed with water), along with your nutritious meal or snack – specifically one that has protein, carbs, and fats to ensure you're hitting all your macro and micronutrients.
Salmon is a heart-healthy food that is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and protein – making it a close to perfect post-workout food! Omega-3 is known for reducing inflammation, among other health benefits, which can help support your muscle recovery. Salmon also happens to contain potassium which helps reduce your risk of muscle cramping and soreness!
Since you've knocked two macronutrients in one food source, all you need to do to maximize your post-workout salmon meal is to add some carbs! You can have salmon by itself with a side of veggies, use it as a protein source for your salads, or if you train in the morning, have smoked salmon with a whole grain bagel or toast!
Sweet potatoes are delicious and very nutritious! It's a complex carb that is high in fiber to help keep you full longer, has a low-glycemic index making it a good source of sustainable energy, and helps recover your stores of muscle glycogen after training. Plus, it has four times the Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) of vitamin A which is known to help your body synthesize protein!
You can incorporate sweet potatoes several ways! If you train in the morning, pair it with another recovery food like eggs! Get creative and make a hash skillet using sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes, eggs, and add in your favorite nutritious veggies. For those who train in the afternoon or evening, bake it and have it as your side with baked salmon (another excellent recovery food), or any other protein of your choice.
Tart cherry juice
Just like pomegranates, cherries contain anthocyanins, a phytochemical known to reduce the effects of DOMS and loss of muscle strength.  In fact, there was research conducted on professional athletes that showed tart cherry juice helped improve recovery time, decrease muscle pain, and reduced muscle damage. 
To help reap the benefits of it, get a tart cherry juice concentrate and have a small glass pre or post-workout with a snack (specifically one with adequate amounts of protein, carbs, and fats). You can also mix it in your post-workout protein shake!
Who knew a juicy piece of watermelon can help maximize your results?! Watermelon contains L-citrulline, an amino acid known to soothe sore muscles. One particular study gave athletes watermelon juice which is what contains the highest source of L-citrulline due to the rind, and found that it helped reduce muscle soreness and recovery heart rate after 24 hours.  Another great benefit of watermelon, aside from being tasty, is that the natural sugars replenish low glycogen stores while helping drive protein into your muscles more efficiently. And the high water content will help with dehydration!
Incorporating this delicious food is easy! To get the most out of it, make homemade watermelon juice (making sure to add the rind) and add it into your smoothies or drink a glass of it after your workout with your snack or meal.
When should you eat recovery foods?
You've probably heard of the anabolic window, but if you haven't, it's essentially a period of time after your training sessions when your body is in an anabolic state and the most prepared to accept food to shuttle towards lean muscle mass. The trick is that the anabolic response is limited to only 30 minutes. This is why you may see people immediately grab their protein bar or shake after training.
But is this window of opportunity fact or fiction?
It's not that clear-cut. Experts suggest the sweet spot being between 20 minutes up to an hour, but it can even extend further to up to two hours. If you had a nutritious meal 2-3 hours before training, the benefits from that meal still apply even after you train. For example, sweet potatoes make for an excellent pre-workout food because they are high in fiber and digest slowly, so you'll still be reaping the benefits of it after your workout. Now, if you're training in a fasted state then your post-workout meal timing is much more important and should be eaten within 30 minutes to an hour to reduce the risk of muscle damage. So, it all depends! We suggest focusing more on incorporating these foods throughout your day, more than just trying to fit them in a 30-minute window after your training.
In summary, if you want to make sure your intense training sessions are getting you the results you deserve then pay attention to what you're feeding your body. Adding foods that are known to help with muscle recovery will help maximize your efforts and set you up for success for your following workouts!
And don't forget to track your macros! If you need a space to track your macros, look no further than the Fit With Iulia app. Aside from providing you with goal-focused workouts, the Fit With Iulia app will calculate your target macros based on your goals and direct you to your Kitchen, where you can easily document everything you eat based on your target macros. Fitness is a long, never-ending journey, and Fit With Iulia is designed to make working out and eating healthy easier and sustainable. So, we'll help you accomplish your fitness goals and help you maintain what you've gained.
Give Fit With Iulia a try for free! Simply download the app, and subscribe to activate your 7-day free trial. You'll get free gym and home workouts for a week, plus access to all of the amazing features including getting your macros calculated for you and Kitchen!