Popeye was right: Spinach will keep you strong. Swedish researchers have found that inorganic nitrate-abundant in spinach-results in muscles using less oxygen, which improves muscle performance.
Recipe to try: Citrus and Spinach Salad
Watermelon juice helps ease post-workout muscle pain. Research published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that L-citrulline (watermelon is rich in this amino acid) helps reduce recovery heart rate and muscle soreness.
Recipe to try: Watermelon and Feta Salad
Cherry juice can reduce exercise-induced muscle pain and damage, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Plus, a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that regularly drinking antioxidant-packed sour cherry juice significantly increases muscle recovery after intense exercise.
Recipe to try: Sour Cherry Smoothie
What makes kefir unique is the fermentation process, which makes it incredibly easy to digest. This lets the body focus on assimilating and absorbing nutrients and protein, necessary for muscle growth and regeneration. Tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in kefir, relaxes the nervous system, making the food ideal for late-night exercisers.
Recipe to try: Salmon with Spiced Citrus Kefir Sauce
Want a little push to get you through your next workout? Beets, which have lots of nitrate, can help to keep you moving. According to one study, nitrates improved oxygen use and helped study subjects exercise for up to 16 percent longer.
Recipe to try: Beet and Strawberry Smoothie
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene-a natural antioxidant that protects cardiovascular health and helps reduce exercise-induced muscle damage.
Recipe to try: Tomato-Garlic Soup
Research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that consuming this essential oil for 10 days had a positive effect on blood pressure, exercise performance and breathing ability during a workout. Put a drop in your water bottle before your workout.
The protein in eggs, which accounts for nearly 50 percent of an egg’s makeup, consists of all eight essential amino acids crucial in muscle and bone cell growth and regeneration. Eggs are also a source of calcium, iron, phosphorus, zinc and vitamins A, D, E and B.
Have eggs within 20 to 30 minutes of your workout. Hard-boiled eggs are also an ideal mid-workout snack for endurance athletes.
Recipe to try: Lightened Eggs Benedict
Get energized for a workout with this banana smoothie. According to research published in the online scientific journal PLoS One, consuming a banana during a workout is as beneficial as a sports drink. Plus, bananas provide antioxidants, potassium and other nutritional benefits.
Recipe to try: Banana-Walnut Smoothie
Athletes need to keep their bones strong and the calcium from chia seeds is especially easy for the body to absorb.
For a great post-workout snack, add a teaspoon of ground chia seeds to your smoothie. For optimal recovery, add ground chia seeds to a big salad two to four hours later.
Milk is just as hydrating as water-plus, it increases muscle protein synthesis after strength and endurance training, according to research published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.
Recipe to try: Oat Cocoa Smoothie
One cup of carrot provides nearly 600 percent of your daily recommended allowance of vitamin A, a powerful antioxidant. Carrots also contain vitamin C and hard-to-come-by selenium. Together, this combination helps combat free radicals created during exercise.
Recipe to try: Parsnip and Carrot Cupcakes