What nutrients strengthen muscle recovery?

Muscle recovery is the last phase of the sports effort but is no less essential. We explain why! 

What happens to the muscles during a muscular effort?

Structure of a muscle

Muscles are tissues that can contract, i.e., shorten and thus allow movement. They have a very hierarchical structure. In fact, muscles are made up of hundreds of thousands of bundles of muscle fibers. The latter is composed of myofibrils, themselves composed of filaments.

Consequences of physical effort on muscles

The effects of physical effort on the muscles vary according to the duration and intensity of the effort. During the physical effort, the muscles undergo microtrauma at the level of myofibrils. This phenomenon is completely normal and even participates in the reconstruction of the muscles.

During the physical effort, the muscles undergo three main types of damage. Firstly, energy reserves are depleted to enable the body to provide the necessary energy for the effort. In addition, any production of energy is accompanied by the production of waste products, also called toxins, which will have to be eliminated afterward. Finally, the myofibrils undergo micro-tears, manifested for example by cramps or aches.

What is muscle recovery?

Muscle recovery takes place as soon as the physical effort is over. Depending on the duration and intensity of the effort, it lasts between 48 and 72 hours. Muscle recovery has 3 major objectives: adaptation to the effort by rebuilding muscle fibers, elimination of toxins accumulated during the effort, and nutritional rebalancing with a return to energy reserves.

To achieve these objectives, recovery relies on three pillars: diet, hydration, and sleep. 

How does food contribute to and optimize muscle recovery?


To rebuild muscle fibers, proteins are essential elements. As seen previously, during sports efforts, the fibers undergo microtrauma. These micro-tears mark the starting point for the reconstruction of muscles by attracting the nutrients such as proteins necessary for their reconstruction. For muscles to grow, it is necessary to store muscle proteins: this phenomenon is called hypertrophy. 

This will allow the muscle fibers to become more resistant and voluminous. Thus, it is essential to consume foods rich in protein after the effort. This will increase the synthesis of amino acids that will be necessary for the repair of muscles.

It is advisable to favor proteins from animal sources that will be better assimilated by the body than those from plant sources. First, we must favor foods rich in essential amino acids such as cow’s milk. Then, foods such as cottage cheese, eggs, or meat will provide so-called “slow” proteins.


Another class of essential nutrients is carbohydrates. Physical effort depletes glycogen reserves, which are the fuel for muscle cells. In the 30 minutes following the end of the exercise, it is, therefore, advisable to eat foods containing carbohydrates with a high glycemic index such as fruit, cookies, dried fruit, etc. Then, you should eat low-glycemic index carbohydrates such as legumes like lentils and chickpeas. Whole meal pasta or basmati rice is also interesting. 

Foods that are sources of antioxidants

Physical effort consumes large quantities of oxygen. This increases oxidative stress which releases aggressive components for the cells. It is therefore essential to provide the body with foods rich in antioxidant nutrients. Indeed, these will neutralize the harmful effects of the components and facilitate muscle recovery. Vitamins C and E have very important antioxidant properties. Vitamin E is particularly present in sunflower seeds, almonds, and walnuts. Vitamin C is found in blackcurrants, red peppers, and kiwi fruit.

Hydration, an essential pillar of muscle recovery

Hydration is necessary for muscle recovery. First, breathing and sweating cause significant water losses that must be made up for. It is therefore important to drink enough mineral or tap water. Note that it is advisable to drink before feeling thirsty because when the sensation of thirst is present, water stress is already present. The second objective is to provide the minerals necessary for neuromuscular harmony. Indeed, certain minerals are essential such as magnesium, sodium, calcium, and potassium. Finally, hydration will also allow the elimination of toxins that have been accumulated during the effort.

Sleep, the last pillar of muscle recovery

After a sporting effort, it is also important to let the body rest. The muscles need rest. Therefore, it is necessary to have a minimum of 7 to 9 hours of sleep. A good night’s sleep will allow you to recover not only your muscles but also your nerves.


Muscle recovery is an integral part of physical effort. This stage allows the energy reserves to be replenished, toxins to be eliminated and micro-tears in the muscle fibers to be repaired. To help recovery, sleep, hydration and nutrition are essential. After exercise, meals should be rich in carbohydrates and protein, opting for bananas, rice, and ripe fruit, for example.


Key take-home messages

– Physical effort results in micro-tears in the muscles, the production of toxins, and the depletion of energy reserves

– Micro-tears initiate the reconstruction process by allowing muscle hypertrophy

– Muscle recovery makes the muscle fibers more resistant and voluminous, eliminates toxins, and restores nutrient reserves

– Recovery is based on three pillars: nutrition, hydration, and sleep


Auffret, Améliorer la récupération musculaire après l’effort, 2021
Farvacque, Comment optimiser la récupération après une séance de musculation, 2019
Gourmaud, A quoi les muscles servent-ils ?, 2018
Larousse, Structure d’un muscle strié
Le Meur, Comment et pourquoi optimiser sa récupération musculaire, 2021

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