Muscle soreness is common after vigorous, prolonged or unaccustomed amounts of exercise. Exercise breaks down the fibers in muscle which then are repaired to become stronger during the recovery phase post-workout. Adequate rest and optimal nutrition are needed to ensure muscles have time to repair and prevent excessive soreness. Eating a healthy diet that contains protein-rich foods may assist in preventing sore and achy muscles or decreases in physical performance.
Protein is an essential nutrient needed in the body for the growth, maintenance and repair of muscle and body tissues. This nutrient assists in increasing muscle strength and hypertrophy from muscle-building exercise. Post-workout, protein is needed to help strengthen the muscle fibers that were broken down during exercise and prevent excessive muscle soreness and the risk of injury. The recommended daily allowance for protein is 0.8 g per kilogram of body weight. However, according to the journal "Nutrition and Metabolism," the upper acceptable range may be as high as 2.5 g per kilogram of body weight. Many athletes such as bodybuilders consume 1 to 1.2 g per kilogram of body weight.
When to Take It
It is important to have protein within the short period of time after your workout as well as hours later for optimal muscle recovery. General recommendations are to consume foods or liquids with protein within 15 to 60 minutes after your workout to decrease the onset of muscle soreness or delayed repair. Protein drinks are often preferred immediately following a workout as liquids are more quickly absorbed by the body versus food which must be broken down and digested. Consider drinking a protein shake made with 1 to 2 tbsp. of protein powder right after your workout followed by a protein-rich dinner containing chicken and vegetables one to three hours later.
Pairing protein with carbs is the ideal combination to decrease muscle soreness. Carbs are the primary source of fuel in the body. Without sufficient intake, the body will start using protein as an energy source which prevents it from performing its own functions in building and repairing muscles. A sufficient carbohydrate intake in the diet will spare protein for its own needs. After a workout, the body is also depleted of its glycogen stores needed for energy. Hence, adding carbs to your protein drink or meal will restore glycogen levels in preparation of your next workout. Consider making a protein shake by blending milk, a scoop of protein powder, a banana and berries for a healthy post-workout snack.
In addition to eating a protein-rich diet, it is essential to eat a well-rounded diet that consists of essential nutrients, vitamins and minerals. Antioxidants in particular may help decrease muscle soreness and damage by fighting off free radicals. Free radicals are released in the body during periods of intense exercise and may cause cellular damage with muscle breakdown. This damage may be prevented by eating antioxidant-rich foods that contain vitamin C found in berries and citrus fruits and vitamin E in whole-grains, dark leafy greens and nuts.