How to Speed Up Muscle Recovery with Sports Nutrition?


Sports Nutrition


Our muscles help us accomplish extraordinary feats – from hiking mountains to pumping weights and scoring game-winning goals. But muscles can suffer from wear and tear, leading to soreness and fatigue.

Luckily, modern science is full of hacks to help restore overworked muscles, allowing us to push ourselves further in our athletic endeavors and bounce back stronger than ever.

But first, let’s recap how muscles move (hint: they contract and relax) and what inputs they require.

How Do Muscles Work?

Skeletal muscles, which make up the vast majority of muscles used for exercise, are 40% of the human body by weight. In essence, skeletal muscles serve one key function: to convert chemical energy (food) into mechanical energy (movement).

In short, skeletal muscles take in glucose and oxygen from the bloodstream and use it to create a molecule called Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP).

ATP then allows the muscle fibers to contract. These microscopic contractions add up into large and rapid motions across macroscopic scales. However, this isn’t a perfect process.

When muscles convert glucose and oxygen to ATP, they also create byproducts. These byproducts, namely free radicals and reactive oxygen species (ROS), can cause muscle tissue damage over time, especially in the case of high-performance athletes who require huge amounts of mechanical energy to perform their activities. The more energy required, the more harmful byproducts are made in the process.

Byproducts like free radicals and ROS are damaging because they can react with nearly every compound in cells – from the cell membrane to the protein and DNA inside the cell. These reactions can cause systemic issues at the cellular level, from cell rupture to metabolism and replication abnormalities, to inflammation.

If the body is forced to create energy without ample oxygen, muscles will use another mechanism to produce ATP, this time creating a different harmful byproduct: lactic acid. Many athletes are familiar with lactic acid buildup as contributing to muscle fatigue.

For anyone training at a high level, it’s important to recognize that intense exercise can lead to these harmful byproducts and know that proper sports nutrition can help curb their potential damage.

How to Speed Up Muscle Recovery?

Here’s the good news: you can help your muscles recover from this process by eating the appropriate nutrients that help to rebuild and recover from activity.

For starters, protein, simple carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and plenty of water can all aid in muscle recovery.


Sufficient protein is critical, as muscle tissues undergo high protein turnover, in which damaged proteins are broken down into amino acids and ammonia and excreted by the kidneys. So, new sources of amino acids and protein from food are needed to restore protein content in the body.

One white paper suggests that athletes consume 2g of protein per kg of body weight per day. Your body also requires sources of energy-rich nutrients, like simple carbohydrates (think brown rice, oats, and white bread) to generate the energy needed to rebuild muscle tissue.

Other essential elements critical to muscle recovery include vitamins and minerals, which serve as co-factors in the synthesis of new muscle tissues.


Antioxidants are also critical for the repair and restoration of muscle tissue. Different antioxidants work in different ways to reduce the levels of harmful byproducts like ROS and free radicals, so it’s important to diversify your antioxidant intake.

For example, some antioxidants limit the production of these harmful products, while others break them down into neutralized forms.

Berries like cranberries, raspberries, blackberries, and strawberries contain a high amount of vitamin C, a powerful, water-soluble antioxidant.

Almonds, sunflower seeds, hazelnuts, and peanuts are a rich source of vitamin E, a fat-soluble antioxidant that helps protect lipid cell membranes from damage.

Beta-carotene, the strongly colored precursor to vitamin A, also serves as an antioxidant and is found in carrots, spinach, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and other strongly colored vegetables.

Further, antioxidants require specific vitamins, minerals, and amino acids as building blocks to function.

Micronutrients that support antioxidant enzymes include vitamin C, vitamin E, coenzyme Q10, iron, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium, cysteine, and methionine.

Drinking Water

And of course, remember to drink plenty of water! Water is important because all of these biochemical processes occur in water as a solvent.

Water allows these reactions to proceed smoothly without interference from other components in the tissues and increases performance when consumed during exercise.

Waste material produced from metabolism and muscle regrowth also requires water to flush out through the kidneys.

Best Muscle Recovery Supplements

Along with a well-balanced diet, some athletes may wish to add supplements to their daily regimen to further support muscles and improve athletic performance.

The following vitamins and minerals have demonstrated benefits in this regard.

Bulk Minerals

Bulk minerals that support muscle recovery and growth include potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus.

Potassium and sodium are important minerals used by neurons to transmit electrical signals. Their presence is essential for ensuring the nervous system can still communicate with muscles and induce contractions.

Calcium and magnesium are elements that are found in muscle tissues as well. Calcium controls muscle contractions and supports the healthy function of mitochondria. Magnesium is also important in the regulation of muscle contractions by maintaining ionic balance against calcium, as calcium overload could lead to paralysis and cell death.

Trace Minerals

Trace minerals necessary for muscle recovery include iron, selenium, manganese, zinc, and copper. Iron is an essential mineral for the construction of heme, a protein used by red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to muscle tissues. Without iron, the body cannot transport enough oxygen during and after exercise, leading to fatigue and weakness.

Selenium is critical because it serves as the core element inside antioxidant proteins and enzymes, and the biochemical machinery that recycles antioxidants. Selenium deficiencies can result in reduced levels of glutathione, one of the most important antioxidants in the body responsible for blocking most of the damaging effects of free radicals and ROS. Manganese, zinc, and copper are metals that are a part of very powerful antioxidant enzymes, known as dismutases, which destroy reactive oxygen species on contact, reducing inflammation and muscle damage.

Antioxidant Vitamins

Antioxidant vitamins such as vitamin C and vitamin E are important for protecting cell membranes and proteins against reactive oxygen species and free radicals. These vitamins both help to reduce fatigue and damage against muscle tissue. Vitamin D is another important vitamin for muscle recovery, as it helps to regulate the absorption of calcium, and also performs many functions to improve the immune system. Given that during muscle recovery, much of the energy and resources of the body are directed towards healing, it’s a good idea to boost immunity against potential foreign microorganisms that could impede healing.

Iron for Post-Workout Recovery

Iron deficiency is a common problem among athletes. Higher physical activity leads to more red blood cell and muscle tissue turnover, leading to increased demand for iron in the diet. One thing you might not have anticipated: low iron levels can actually lead to lactic acid buildup.

Without enough iron bound to heme in the bloodstream or in muscle tissues, the body cannot receive oxygen. As mentioned above, when the body is devoid of oxygen it turns to a secondary mechanism to convert glucose into energy which leads to lactic acid buildup. Early studies have shown that iron deficiency can lead to excess lactic acid buildup in muscle tissues.

But what supplements help reduce lactic acid? Along with keeping iron levels up, consider these supplements that support the reduction of lactic acid during intensive exercise: citrulline malatebranched amino acids, and sodium bicarbonate. These compounds convert lactic acid to a neutral byproduct while improving muscle recovery from fatigue after exercise.

What is Lactoferrin and How Does It Aid Muscle Recovery?

As we’ve already seen, iron is a critical part of our body’s regular functioning. However, too much iron all at once can wreak havoc in the body. Ferrous sulfate and other iron supplements release iron immediately into the body, which can cause damage from iron overload and oxidative stress. Excess iron can also interact with our fat cells to inhibit energy metabolism.

That’s where lactoferrin, our favorite bioactive protein, comes in. Currently, most of the world’s lactoferrin supply is dedicated to infant formulas, however there are plenty of reasons why lactoferrin would make for a great addition to adult nutrition.

Lactoferrin is known to help with iron balance. Iron absorption is tightly controlled by feedback loops that can sense the amount of available iron in the body. If the body becomes inflamed, these feedback loops can become dysregulated.

In particular, hepcidin, a key hormone for iron regulation, can mistakenly signal that there’s too much iron in the body, and cause a reduction in iron availability.

Studies suggest that lactoferrin can counteract this dysregulation to restore proper iron balance. Thus, lactoferrin can help to maintain appropriate iron levels even when the body experiences inflammation, allowing iron to do what it does best in muscle recovery.


In summary, our exploration has unraveled the intricate processes that allow our muscles to ski through snow, swim through water, and jump through the air. Crucially, the conversion of food into energy introduces potentially harmful byproducts, particularly in the case of high-performance training.

Athletes pushing their physical limits should be aware of these byproducts – free radicals, ROS, and lactic acid – which can pose risks to muscle tissue and performance if left unchecked. Fortunately, sports nutrition offers a strategic defense.

A well-balanced diet with vitamins, minerals, protein, simple carbohydrates, and antioxidants can help the body recover after intense physical activity.

The journey to optimal muscle recovery is not just about physical exertion; it’s a mindful embrace of nutrition’s role in maintaining the delicate balance between pushing boundaries and safeguarding the body’s resilience.