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How to Recover Quickly After Exercise

Updated: May 30, 2022

While exercise is great and helps to burn energy and build muscle, at times it can be painful. Exercise-induced inflammation is the body's natural response to an acute “injury” following moderate to intense physical activity. Inflammation is the body’s immune response to fight off the “injury.” This could be in the form of pain, redness and swelling.

If we stay in this state of inflammation for an extended period of time it can produce fatigue, muscle damage and soreness, which is why recovery after a workout is key! To maximize recovery, with less pain and soreness following a workout we want to reduce inflammation and muscle damage.

(Check out our previous blog to learn about 4 elite athletes who utilize plant-based eating following their workouts.)

We can reduce inflammation by eating a variety of plant-based foods. Plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts, provide phytochemicals and antioxidants, which can reduce inflammation and prevent chronic disease.

Plant-based foods high in phytochemicals and antioxidants include:

  • Dark leafy greens

  • Nuts/seeds

  • Avocado

  • Broccoli

  • Peppers

  • Berries

  • Tomatoes

  • Carrots

  • Sweet potatoes/squash

  • Plus many more (Fun fact: there are over 20,000 edible plants in the world!)

For additional muscle recovery, pair one of the plant-based foods above with a source of protein such as:

  • Soy milk

  • Beans

  • Nut butters

  • Edamame

  • Tofu

Try this Supercharged Antioxidant Smoothie for recovery.

Plant-based protein following an intense workout supports immune cell synthesis & reduces exercise-induced muscle damage.

Another tip that is useful for not just for recovery, but also for overall health, is to drink plenty of water. One of my favorite tips to help boost how much water you drink is by adding plant-based options such as cucumber, berries, or oranges to water for a sweet flavor and added nutrients. There is no one size fits all for how much water you should drink, a good suggestion is to keep a bottle of water with you and sip throughout the day. Water, with the additional of some fruits or vegetables contain electrolytes to prevent dehydration and maintain saliva, which contains anti-microbial properties.

A recent review of research studies have shown an improvement in both heart health and recovery time in those exercising on plant-based diets.

Harvard Health recently highlighted emerging research in the field of heart disease and plant-based eating. When intake of a plant-based diet was compared to the American Heart Association diet (low fat and includes lean meat), the results showed a 32 percent decrease in an inflammatory biomarker. More research is needed, but promising results show the effect of plant-based eating decreases the amounts of inflammation compared to other diets.

Harvard also published an article on tips for foods that fight inflammation. Tips from this article include consuming foods that are high in phytochemicals and antioxidants, but also working to avoid or limit these foods as much as possible:

  • Refined carbohydrates, such as white bread and pastries

  • French fries and other fried foods

  • Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages

  • Red meat (burgers, steaks) and processed meat (hot dogs, sausage)

  • Margarine, shortening, and lard

Heavily processed foods and meats increase inflammation along with raising our risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

If you have experienced intense pain or discomfort following workouts try making a switch to help recovery with plant-based foods!

Want to dive further into plant-based eating?

Visit all plant-based recipes here.

Visit the blog for more plant-based articles here.

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Hey everyone! My name is Alec Pienta and I am finishing the master's level Coordinated Program of Nutrition at Georgia State University, which will enable me to sit and (hopefully) pass the exam to become a Registered Dietitian. I was drawn to studying nutrition through sports and exercise in high school. Nutrition education is one of the aspects I am most passionate about. I enjoy being able to talk about nutrition guidelines, clear up misconceptions, and tell fun facts! I am open to where the world of nutrition leads me, but know that I will be happy being able to communicate nutrition information to anyone who will listen.


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