Best Recovery Foods for Runners

Perhaps, the most pressing question on most runners minds is what are the best recovery foods that are sufficiently effective at stopping an injury from developing in the first place?

Bottom line, you want to aim for foods, drinks or supplements that put a choke-hold on pain-triggering chronic inflammation AND that prevent bone thinning. That is why adopting a post-run diet, rich in protein, calcium and packs a lot of anti-inflammatory fire-power may add enormous value in recovery enrichment. 

True, when it comes to post-run muscle repair and strengthening, meat-based protein is certainly an ideal candidate, since it promotes sustainable muscle strength, however don’t forget that there are wide-ranging natural compounds in vegetables, fruits, beans and herbal teas that also have a strong role to play in effectively thwarting pain-triggering chronic inflammation, too!

Last, but not least, while some levels of inflammation in the body is part of a natural response to help heal the body, sometimes the inflammation can linger for too long, causing more harm than good as long-lasting or chronic inflammation may increase the risk of repeated damage to otherwise normal tissues. When inflammation becomes chronic, it can lay the groundwork for ongoing pain bothersomeness and may easily set the stage for an injury to develop!

Best Recovery Foods for Runners

To avoid performance setbacks due to constantly sore and stiff legs, it would be essential and incredibly wise for a runner to adopt a more anti inflammatory diet, full of natural anti inflammatory foods, and here they are:

Best Recovery Foods for Runners

Protein-Rich Foods

All along, most runners have been using protein-rich food, such as fish, poultry, red meat, soybeans or tofu, as their main dietary centerpiece for enhanced muscle recovery effectiveness. How does protein-rich foods put in motion quick muscle recovery? One way protein-rich foods provide muscle healing nourishment is that according to Purdue University research, protein-rich foods acts as a blood sugar stabilizer in a sustained way, providing up to 6 hours of adequate blood-sugar control which in turn, helps resolve muscle restlessness and helps you enter more deep restorative stages of sleep, thereby helping pull back emerging muscle and soft tissue injuries. This is how protein-rich food works to provide more broad-based recovery for muscle growth!

Whey Protein

It’s well-known that protein is an essential building block for reinforcing stronger muscles, but there’s also another role whey protein may play in repairing worn-down muscles. According to a growing body of research, whey compounds in whey protein may help accelerate muscle repair by widening and relaxing blood vessels, helping to keep the blood flowing, so that nutrient-rich and oxygenated blood can get more involved in repairing and renewing sore, over-worked muscles. This is how whey protein may be very post-run rewarding by rushing in the key nutrients that your muscles need to thrive. Note: the study-proven, beneficial dose of whey protein was found to be 1 teaspoon daily!

Vegan Protein Sources

My main protein source comes from meat, primarily turkey and beef, but it’s good to know that according to findings in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, peas, nuts, beans and soy are all good protein rich foods that provide the same muscle repairing, tissue strengthening benefits as meat! This discovery may help vegetarian and vegan runners avert muscle aches and pains and tissue injury!

Ginger

There are results from studies that strongly suggest that ginger can positively influence joint health and reduce pain-triggering chronic inflammation. For example, University of Georgia research showed that with increased ginger consumption, participants reported higher ratings of relief from exercise-related muscle pain (25% pain-relief improvement to be exact!) and improved symptoms of osteoarthritis. What is it about ginger that makes it so satisfying for pain relief? The researchers revealed that ginger contains lines of powerful antioxidants, such as beta-carotene, vitamin C and flavonoids, which are important in scaling back pain-triggering inflammation, helping you obtain striking results in recovery gains!

In addition, ginger may also have the capacity to reduce pain intensity. Research has found that ginger contains 2 anti-inflammatory agents that satisfactorily block pain signals. However, researchers also caution to avoid ginger supplements if you are taking blood thinners since ginger may further thin-out your blood!

Dark Chocolate

In keeping with foods that promote enhanced circulation of nutrient-dense and oxygen-rich blood which is necessary for enriched post-run recovery, you can rely on dark chocolate for doing just that! Previous research has shown that dark chocolate may have the nutritional capacity in helping you become more resistant to collagen-depletion as the potent flavonols in dark chocolate was found significantly increase blood flow to muscles and joints and also prompts and improves collagen production, thereby helping to potentially dismantle the beginnings of an injury while also helping to spearhead joint stiffness and muscle soreness.

Barely

Barely may play an important role in enriching post-run recovery by scaling back pain-triggering chronic inflammation. According to Australian researchers, consuming ½ cup of barley daily may effectively attack muscle-irritating, inflammatory toxins and waste products that can be harmful to muscle health. The researchers revealed that barley is lush in a trio of key minerals: magnesium, molybdenum and selenium, which collectively help switch on detoxification enzymes that aid in your livers capacity to work better to flush out inflammatory wastes and toxins, and from this, may help bring more post-run nutritional support.

Brussels Sprouts 

Because of their positive influence on hormonal balance sustainment, brussels sprouts are very involved in beating back pain-triggering chronic inflammation. According to researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, brussels sprouts contain sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol, which are natural compounds strongly implicated in potentially have a leveling effect on the overproduction of certain hormones. More specifically, the researchers discovered that brussels sprouts pumped the brakes on excessive estrogen in women — when in excess, too much estrogen may erode tissues, potentially causing tissue damage. All in all, the researchers found that both sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol effectively help break down the over-production of certain hormones before they can latch onto tissues and inflict harm. Other foods high in sulforaphane and indole-3-carbinol include broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, arugula, radishes, bok choy and collard greens, and these along with brussels sprouts may help bring your post-run recovery up to speed. 

Curcumin

Curcumin, the active ingredient in the spice turmeric, is well-known to hijack pain-triggering inflammation whereby study after study has pinpointed curcumin as a safe, natural effective anti-inflammatory agent that may serve a supporting role in post run recovery enrichment. According to data in the journal Pain Medicine, the researchers discovered curcumin contains a natural compound that reduces your body’s production of COX-2, an enzyme that triggers inflammation, swelling and pain. What we’ve learned so far is that curcumin may interfere with the over-production of COX-2, helping to fan the flame of pain triggering-inflammation.

Chickpeas, Beans, Red Skin Peanuts and Oats

Chickpeas, beans, red skin peanuts and oats provide a strong supply line of anti-inflammatory compounds whereby according to research from East Carolina University, eating 3 cups of chickpeas, beans, red skin peanuts and oats on weekly may dramatically reduce widespread bodily inflammation. Another tremendous health bonus of these foods is that they were found to reduce heart disease risk by 25%. How? Chickpeas, beans, red skin peanuts and oats are abundant in saponins which are plant compounds that are potent at minimizing pain-triggering inflammation by helping the liver effectively disarm health-harming inflammation and excrete it before the inflammation accumulates and damages the lining of the artery walls, organs and muscles!

Orange Vegetables: Carrots and Sweet Potatoes

Enjoying more carrots and sweet potatoes weekly are another deliciously optimal way to effectively help restrain chronic inflammation as sweet potatoes and carrots have the nutritional potency to help nourish the muscles, but also nourish the arteries, thereby improving the health and responsiveness of your arteries, playing to the advantage of enhanced circulation for running!

According to Harvard University researchers, chowing down on 3 cups of sweet potatoes, carrots or other orange vegetables weekly may reduce heart disease risk by 42%. How? The researchers noted that orange veggies are rich in carotenoids which are vital nutrients that strongly defend against heart-damaging inflammation underlying heart disease, and also prompts white blood cells to produce safe amounts of inflammation to help kill viruses and other germs, but not enough inflammation that damages the tissues.  What is more, the anti-inflammatory capacity of orange veggies is just as effective as Aspirin without the attachment of possible dangerous side effects!

More Good News On Carrots!

UCLA researchers found more enormous health benefits of carrots that extend way beyond nourishing the muscles. The researchers discovered that carrots are rich in beta-carotene, a nutrient responsible for carrot’s orange color, beta-carotene not only enriches recovery nutrition for running, they also strengthen your immune system. The researchers revealed that the beta-carotene in carrots may fortify and strengthen your immune system to react faster via increasing the production of inflammation-fighting white blood cells, making them act more aggressively to foreign invaders, warding off suspicious cells more effectively, thereby providing you with an added layer of immune defense during the cold and flu season!

Banana’s

Experts of have long pointed to bananas as being one of the best recovery foods for runners. This is because bananas are a massive storehouse of magnesium, the gateway mineral that helps relax tense, overworked muscles and disables overactive pain nerves, helping you potentially make considerable post run recovery progress! Moreover, bananas are rich in tryptophan, an amino acid that works in concert with magnesium to deepen muscle relaxation, even helping you sleep better, especially since tryptophan is converted to melatonin (sleepy hormone) in the brain. This is how the nutritional value of one banana helps your muscles reboot with greater resilience, helping promote successful recovery in the face of hard training. 

Garlic and Onions

Enjoy more garlic and onions may help move things forward with regards to more optimal running recovery by guarding against chronic inflammation. Credit goes to the long-lasting inflammation reducing capacity of garlic and onions and this was confirmed by Canadian researchers who found that eating a 1/4 cup of onions or 1 garlic clove daily may prevent pain-triggering inflammation levels from elevating. How? Garlic and onions are heavy in unique healthy compounds that bring global inflammatory relief, particularly dropping problematic inflammation in the digestive tract, which is going to in turn, help free-up more energy via improving gastrointestinal health.  On that note, it’s worth noting that according to European researchers, a daily dose of garlic or onions may reduce stomach and colon cancer risk by 44%!

There’s even stronger evidence that makes the case that onions can really help protect and nourish your muscles and encourage healing of damaged ones. According to British researchers, eating 1/3 cup of onions per day could reduce your risk of a future muscle injury by 33%! Furthermore, eating more onions may help you heal 25% faster if you are already sore and achy. The researchers revealed that onions are abundant in sulfur and quercetin which are cartilage-strengthening nutrients that also play a prominent role in helping reduce muscle tissue swelling and achy-inflammation and also accelerates the healing of strained, damaged muscles.

Shiitakes Mushrooms

Shiitakes mushrooms are incredibly nutrient-rich and are well-known chronic inflammation fighters. It’s been reported that enjoying 3 cups of shiitakes mushrooms weekly may provide significant joint pain and inflammation relief by 38%. How? Shiitakes mushrooms main anti-inflammatory ingredient is a somewhat rare molecule called, lentinan which is proven to provide restorative nourishment to joint tissues which is key to not only halting free radial damage that is at the root of chronic inflammation, but helps repair compromised joints, helping them regain strength.

Other reports have found that like shiitake mushrooms, cordyceps and reishi mushrooms may help safeguard your muscles by destroying malfunctioning cells responsible for pain-triggering chronic inflammation. For instance, research out of the journal, Innate Immunology, revealed these medicinal mushrooms contain a lengthy number of nutritive compounds that effectively kill suspicious, wary cells directly on contact! They also prompt your immune system to have a more accelerated response in attacking abnormal inflammatory cells, thus helping your body shift faster into repair mode!

Broccoli

Broccoli is another real driver that helps break down pain-triggering inflammation, helping you retain muscles that are more injury resistant. Emerging reports are finding direct evidence that eating more broccoli is a sustainable way to help protect your muscles and joints from stress. According to reports detailed in the journal Arthritis and Rheumatism, eating more broccoli on a regular, soothes and strengthens sore, stiff joints because broccoli is deeply rich in vitamin B1 and vitamin C which collectively are incredibly targeted in preventing pain-triggering inflammation symptoms from worsening.

Furthermore, broccoli contains an ocean of other nutrients that help scrubs the cartilage and bones free of damaging inflammation, potentially reducing the risk of osteoporosis! According to Washington University researchers, broccoli is abundant in a unique health compound called MNM (nicotinamide mononucleotide) whereby the researchers discovered that MNM actively forces aging cells to behave as if they were younger, thus helping to potentially stave off age-related degenerative ailments pertaining to the muscles, joints and bones.

Dried Plums

Speaking of foods that boost bone strength, consider snacking on dried plums because they may help a runner close off damaging pathways that may threaten your bones! How are dried plums helpful in keeping your bones strong for running? Research in the Journal of Medicinal Foods explained that sweet dried plums (also known as prunes) contain a rich blend of unique bone-nourishing nutrients that may provide greater assistance to osteoblasts (cells that contribute to bone formation) in ways that may help them act more effectivly at building stronger, more resilient, more shock-proof bones.  

Raisins and Dates

Other bone density builder foods for long distance runners include raisins and dates! According to Canadian researchers, enjoying a 1/3 cup of raisins and dates daily may help prevent bone thinning and fragility by 50%, making dates and raisins prime dietary target interventions for promoting better bone health for running. The researchers revealed that raisins and dates are an ample source of boron, which beams more strength into the bones by making it easier for calcium to lock on to bone tissue. This is how raisins and dates promote a powerful effect in improving bone thickness and density, making it possible to avoid bony-injuries during running.

Dandelion Root

Dandelion root can be consumed in tea formation (dandelion root tea) or as a supplement, and when it comes to chronic inflammation and never-ending muscle and joint pain, substantial pain relief gains can be made with dandelion root!

Preliminary research has indicated that dandelion root has a built-in “kill switch” that effectively seeks and destroys certain types of toxic cells whereby according to Canadian tests, the muscle-nurturing compounds in dandelion root dismantles very aggressive inflammatory processes AND forces abnormal cells to self destruct while leaving nearby healthy cells unharmed and uninterrupted in their normal cellular functioning. Health experts also reaffirm that dandelion tea has virtually no negative side effects, so you can safely enjoy 3 cups of it on a daily basis.

Green Tea

Another tea that is of strong interest for health experts is green tea. There is more hard-evidence showing that green tea really works as a pain reliever as well as an effective anti-inflammatory agent that fights pain-triggering inflammation. According to research in the journal Chinese Medicine, green tea effectively dampens pain by easing overactive painful nerves whereby the researchers found that sipping on 24 oz of green tea per day is enough to experience noticeable improvements in muscle pain and swelling. The researchers noted that the mechanism of action of how green tea works to effectively soothe muscle pain and even speed healing is that green tea is abundantly rich in catechins which are natural compounds responsible for helping quiet overactive pain nerves while also reducing inflammation AND encourages your immune system to help repair damaged tissues.

Lavender Tea

Another tea proven as a natural remedy to have a positive effect on pain relief is lavender tea. According to German researchers, lavender tea and pain relief may go hand-in-hand because the active ingredient, linalool, in lavender tea helps strike down archness by boosting the brain’s production of calming, pain-soothing alpha waves, making lavender tea another healthy route to take to help deter painful muscles and stiff joints.

Beet Juice

Beet juice is considered the mother’s milk for delivering high-quality energy for running long distances, but beet juice can also heal sore, overworked muscles as beets are overflowing with a rare natural antioxidant called betalines which gives beets their unique color. This valuable anti-inflammatory compound has a variety of functions that work to suppress free radical damage that causes inflammation. For one, betalines in beets have a detoxifying effect, trapping toxins in their tracks via binding to fats, chemicals and toxins, shuttling them out of the body before they can be absorbed and kick-start painful inflammatory processes. Secondly, betalines helps reduce inflammation by preventing the depletion of essential minerals, putting you on a better path to recovery. Note that to optimize the detoxifying, anti-inflammatory capacity of beets, you want to eat them raw!

Green Juice

Green Juice (made from leafy greens) also has potent detoxifying effects that may assist in enriching post run recovery! Findings from Oregon State University research found that green juice is lusciously-rich with the green pigment, chlorophyll, which may help stamp out pain-triggering chronic inflammation by latching onto inflammatory agents trapped in the body and whisking them away, thereby potentially creating faster, more efficient post race recovery outcomes!

Tart Cherry Juice

Another juice that may be a heavy weapon for post-run recovery enrichment is tart cherry juice. According to data in the Journal of Nutrition Health and Aging, 1 cup of tart cherry juice is enough to help your body and mind feel great in a matter of minutes. The researchers found that cherries are a plentiful source of tryptophan and melatonin which are natural compounds strongly implicated in elevating mood by triggering a greater release of serotonin (happy hormone) in the brain, reduces cortisol (stress hormone) outputs and helps your muscles relax. This is how tart cherry juice may help for not only mood enhancement, but for relaxing tense, overtaxed muscles, making it a very promising post marathon recovery drink.  

Coconut Oil

Consuming 1 tablespoon of extra virgin coconut oil daily may help make a difference in walling off chronic inflammation from festering into muscle pain and joint stiffness. According to French researchers, coconut oil’s potent anti-inflammatory capacity comes from its phenolic compounds which are known to destroy abnormal and insidious cellular growth, and by the same token, coconut oil’s phenolic compounds may spur on and encourage healthy tissue cellular growth, helping cells divide properly, thereby making coconut oil a powerful dietary player at potentially preventing unnecessary inflammatory events from gaining too much traction!

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

Another healthy oil to consider that helps drain away pain-triggering chronic inflammation is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO). According to Italian researchers, consuming 3 tablespoons of EVOO daily, in place of other fats, may cut your risk of aches and pains by 50% AND it may also help accelerate recovery time for if you’re currently sidelined with a muscle or soft tissue injury. The researchers revealed that the pain-improving capacity of EVOO lends credit to being rich in hydroxytyrosol which is a rare, yet powerfully potent anti-inflammatory compound known to help reining in chronic inflammatory troublemakers. 

Moreover, good post-run recovery progress also starts with nourishing and strengthening your bones! Other findings suggest EVOO can help create stronger bones by thickening them! New evidence out of the journal Clinical Nutrition discovered that EVOO may reduce your risk of bone brittleness and fracture by 51% because the antioxidants in EVOO are supportive in countering the breakdown of existing bone and has a big role to play in bolstering the growth of new bone cells. This is how EVOO may keep your bones healthy and strong, protecting them from wear, but may even deter the development osteoporosis!

Royal Jelly

Because it is an incredibly nutrient-rich substance, royal jelly is ultimately prevailed as a superfood that has been used in long-standing, for thousands of years, in traditional Chinese medicine. According to Robin Foroutan, an integrative dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, suggests that royal jelly may greatly aid in repairing and even reversing cellular damage AND may help safeguard your cells against further damage, thereby having a stopping effect on the flow of painful inflammation. You can get royal jelly in liquid form or supplement form.

Fruits & Veggies

Like it or not, eating more fruits and veggies can significantly help lift pain-triggering inflammation. According to Canadian researchers, fruits and vegetables may single-handily disrupt chronic inflammatory events by virtue of the fact that most fruits and vegetables contain high levels of polyphenols, which are natural tissue healing compounds which can be damaged by heat, so in this instance, it is important to eat your fruits and vegetables uncooked to maximize their anti-inflammatory capacity. The researchers also noted that to achieve quicker pain relief and reduce the risk of a muscle related injury by 33%, aim for eating 2 cups of uncooked carrots, celery, salad greens, apples or avocados on a daily basis!

Cooked Tomatoes

A runner can also do more to heal sore muscles quickly by enjoying 3 cups of cooked tomatoes weekly! Cooked tomatoes as opposed to raw, are good recovery food for runners because cooked tomatoes were found to contain a natural pain blocker and muscle relaxer. Research out of the University of Pennsylvania reveals that tomatoes are rich in the powerful antioxidant, lycopene, which helps deliver sore muscle pain relief and helps shutdown overactive pain nerves, helping accelerate muscle pain recovery time. By the way, the researchers underscored that cooked tomatoes manages to contribute more lycopene than raw tomatoes as the body appears to be 4 times more effective at absorbing lycopene from cooked tomatoes!

Wintergreen Essential Oil

For a topical approach, a little wintergreen essential oil can go a long way with providing effective pain-relief. According to British researchers, massaging diluted wintergreen essential oil on an achy muscle or a sore, stiff joint may counter pain and swelling by almost 30%. The researchers discovered that wintergreen essential oil is abundantly rich in methylsalicylate which stimulates blood flow to the affected, injured area, helping send deep currents of nutrient-rich and oxygenated blood flowing through your tender spots!

Final Thoughts

Because they are highly saturated with potent antioxidant and abundantly rich in key essential vitamins and minerals, the foods listed above makes it difficult for inflammation to fester into pain, stiffness and a potential injury. Incorporating these foods into your runner’s diet will be worthwhile as a smart means to enhance your running nutrition, especially if you have long struggled with muscle aches and pains, these healthy foods are a sure way to optimize muscle nourishment and can be a real game-changer at enhancing your post run nutrition efforts.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, you will LOVE my YouTube channel where I provide more in-depth, evidence-based nutritional tips for running and I also discuss the performance benefits of forefoot running and the health-harming implications of heel strike running.

IMPORTANT: Always check with your doctor before starting a new supplement!

Bretta Riches

Bretta Riches

"I believe the forefoot strike is the engine of endurance running..."

BSc Neurobiology; MSc Biomechanics candidate, ultra minimalist runner & founder of RunForefoot. I was a heel striker, always injured. I was inspired by the great Tirunesh Dibaba to try forefoot running. Now, I'm injury free. This is why I launched Run Forefoot, to advocate the health & performance benefits of forefoot running and to raise awareness on the dangers of heel striking, because the world needs to know.
Bretta Riches

P.S. Don't forget to check out the Run Forefoot Facebook Page, it's a terrific place to ask questions about forefoot running, barefoot running and injury. I'm always happy to help!