Eating for Recovery

Did a little post for my CrossFit gym this past week. Thought I’d share it with the world. Or just the five people who read this.

So you say you’re competing in the CrossFit games, eh? It’s no wonder you’re completely juiced and can no longer see straight, let alone make it into the kitchen store to prepare some good quality food.

Well, you’re in luck. Chef Nikki is here to inspire a bit of recovery via THE PIE HOLE.

What is Recovery?

In order to know how to recover we first need to establish what recovery is and why it is essential in an athletic context.


n pl -eries

1. the act or process of recovering, esp from sickness, a shock, or a setback; recuperation
2. restoration to a former or better condition

3. the regaining of something lost

For the sake of this post, I’d like to focus on item number two. In recovery, we are seeking to restore our health either to where it was before, or even better than previously existed. For example, if after 150 wall balls, you could no longer sit down without the use of your arms to help ease the influence of gravity, then you (most likely) want to recover the ability you had before those wall balls – that is, the ability to sit without assistance. For those who participated in the snatch workout, hopefully through strength gains and a period of recovery, the next time you put your hands to the bar you will be able to snatch more weight than you did previously.

Athletic recovery usually falls on this spectrum of regaining strength, endurance, or flexibility while, oftentimes, improving in those areas as well.

Recovery through Real Food

Why real food? Cause let’s face it, the processed and marketed edibles of our time have not done much to encourage overall health. Let’s start with the basics. And by basics I mean the sustenance that existed on this Earth that allowed us to evolve into creatures who can write, read, speak, think, feel, drive, believe, and do a kipping pull-up.

Nutritional support is ESSENTIAL for recovery. Our bodies are designed to eat. Food is not only our fuel, but also an integral part of our healing. Are there ways to help recovery besides food? Yes. Lifestyle factors like sleep, stress, and sunlight will affect recovery. Additionally, supplementation can also be a great way to decrease inflammation and support physical restoration. However, today we are just talking about food.

The following will encourage the consumption of certain foods and spices that will aid you in your journey to recovery. These suggestions apply whether you are recovering overnight or over a period of weeks. Many of the foods suggested are anti-inflammatory foods, meaning they help decrease inflammation in the body.

First things first

You must remove pro-inflammatory foods from your diet. This list will get longer depending on who you are (age, genetic history, environment, gender) and your goals (fitness, health, or aesthetics…yes, there’s a difference between those 3 things). But here’s a quick list to stick to:

  • Grains (all grains including rice, quinoa, amaranth, corn, etc.)
  • Legumes (fancy word for beans, including peanuts and soy)
  • Seed oils (sunflower, safflower, canola, rapeseed, soybean oils are all from Hades, no joke)
  • Sugar ( Sodas, candy, high fructose corn syrup, sugar alcohols, even most sport drinks, bars, and powders)
  • Dairy (not necessary for some people, but I include it because I see more people become inflamed from dairy than those who don’t, so it’s worth eliminating)

Got it? Ok, good. On to the good stuff.


Eating after Activity

Some foods are better to eat immediately post-workout. After training, our body not only needs to replenish nutrients ASAP, it’s also at its most ideal condition for nutrient partitioning. This means that 30-40 mins after you do a difficult workout (aka CrossFit WOD) your body is more efficient at delivering nutrients to the places you need them most. This will jumpstart your recovery process and help decrease overall inflammation caused by the workout itself.

Most nutritionists who specialize in athletic recovery will recommend a post-workout meal containing carbohydrates and protein. For heavy powerlifters, the ideal ratio is 2:1 protein to carb, 1:1 for everyone else.

For Paleo folks this means a sweet potato or yam accompanied by a whack of meat. Pick your animal… could be fish, fowl, or a water buffalo. You choose.

Basically any fruit, squash, or starchy tuber will suffice for the carbohydrate. Here’s my own recipe for post-WOD success: Curried Turkey with Sweet Potato Mash

Eat me to help recover!

Anytime other than Post-Workout

Maintaing an anti-inflammatory diet day-to-day.

Phytochemicals; the colorful micronutrients present in fruits and vegetables. Among other benefits, phytochemicals fight free-radicals that damage cells and restore health and homeostasis in the body after periods of stress, trauma, toxicity, and malnutrition.

Carotenoids; a family of phytochemicals that function as anti-oxidants and anti-radicals as well as nourish mucous membranes, nerves, respiratory tissues and the liver. They also contain the chemical that gives fruits and vegetables their red, orange, and yellow colors. Sources include:

  • carrots
  • tomatoes
  • winter squash
  • peppers
  • paprika
  • tumeric
  • papaya
  • apricots
  • beets
  • greens like kale, chard, mustard, collard

Flavanoids; another family of phytochemicals. They protect against UV-B radiation, lower cholesterol, block oxidation and cell destruction, assist cell metabolism. Sources of flavanoids include:

  • berries
  • red wine (yay!)
  • chocolate (double yay!)*
  • tea
  • citrus
  • onions
  • apples
  • herbs such as rosemary, lavender, sage, cedar, thyme and tea tree.
  • broccoli (especially broccoli sprouts)
* The kind of chocolate I’m talking about is anything above 80% cacao and a 1 oz. serving.

Other nutrients that aid in athletic recovery include Vitamin D, Magnesium, and Potassium.

Vitamin D; supports muscle strength

  • egg yolks (pastured are best)
  • grass-fed butter
  • halibut
  • cod liver oil
  • salmon (wild-caught)
  • tuna (wild-caught)
  • sweet potatoes

Magnesium; eases muscle twitching and cramping

  • avocado
  • figs
  • green leafy vegetables
  • salmon
  • kelp
  • nuts
  • garlic
  • chocolate (oh, there I go again!)

Potassium; also good for muscle cramps as well as muscle soreness and damage

  • almonds
  • avocado
  • banana
  • dates
  • garlic
  • yams and sweet potatoes
  • winter squash

Fortunately, there is some overlap with these foods and their inherent healing abilities. Based on these lists I can give you a pretty good idea of what you should eat for good athletic recovery. Here’s Chef Nikki’s top 10 foods for recovery:

  1. Dark Leafy Greens
  2. Avocado
  3. Yams and Sweet Potatoes
  4. Wild Salmon
  5. Pastured Eggs
  6. Berries
  7. Garlic
  8. Herbs and spices like turmeric, thyme, rosemary, and cayenne.
  9. Beets
  10. and… CHOCOLATE!

A Final Note

Another important thing to remember about recovery is hydration. During intense exercise, we lose water and nutrients in our sweat. Do not neglect to hydrate by drinking enough water. If the workout was particularly intense or done in high temperatures, please consider a drink that also replenishes your electrolytes. Coconut water is great for this. If you don’t like the taste, you could always squeeze some lime or lemon into your water with a pinch of sea salt.

That’s it for this week. I hope you all are one step closer to being able to sit down with out assistance!

Chef Nikki


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