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Exercise Recovery: Best Food Options Post-Workout

What you choose as refueling post workout has the potential to enhance or inhibit your recovery process.  Make the right decisions and you minimize aches and pains (DOMS), enable protein synthesis and excel recovery.  Your choices can make or break your performance success. 
Read on to ensure you are making the best decisions possible and be the best you can be.

Learning Objectives:

  1. The catabolic effect of exercise and acidity
  2. Why alkalinity is so important
  3. The top 7 alkaline and acidic foods

The trend lately for today’s workout sees us pushing our bodies to greater and greater extremes.  With hard core boot camps continuing to thrive and fast, challenging, intense workouts such as HIIT popular in most clubs, we are going at exercise with a fury of passion.  Add to this the challenges – there are all kinds showing up almost daily in social media such as endurance push-ups, planks and pull-ups and there is a price to pay. While the ‘warrior’ mode to training rages on what we do to counter-balance this with our food choices can enable us to rage on as well.

Research has long proven fuel timing and the choices made have potent impact upon our workout recovery. Like all research there are numerous controversies on the preferred recommendations.  For the purpose of this article, the focus is on our body’s ability to access and assimilate the nutrients chosen most efficiently while maintaining homeostasis for optimal recovery.

Exercise Effects on the Body

Exercising simply put is a breaking down and rebuilding of our muscles and it can cause “micro-damage”. When muscles regularly suffer from microscopic tears, damage can build up over time causing those infamous post training symptoms most have dealt with. To effectively recover from this, our bodies require specific nutrients.  These include a full spectrum of quality amino acids (I.e.: BCAAs), quality carbs (glycogen) and essential fatty acids (omega 3’s) as building blocks in order to activate protein synthesis,(creates new muscle protein), replace lost glycogen stores and minimize muscles and joint inflammation. 

Exercise = Oxidative

Exercise is also very oxidative calling on the need for alkaline abundant nutrients that are anti-oxidant and phyto-nutrient rich to buffer this resulting catabolic state.  In addition, the stress exercise causes raises our cortisol levels causes hormonal imbalance.  The quicker we address these issues with the right repair nutrients, the more readily our body heals enabling us to return to our training regime.

With a strong focus on how to get sufficient protein, glycogen and electrolytes into our post workout meal, a factor often overlooked in our exuberance to refuel is the body’s digestive ability necessary to effectively break down, absorb and utilize these needed nutrients.  Standard fair is often the more concentrated foods such as animal proteins (which require longer digestion time) and over–refined or processed foods which are actually nutrient thieves as well as being acid ash causing, (acidic).

Your best choices come in the form of fresh, whole; plant based nutrient dense foods as these are much easier on our digestive system meaning less energy is spent on this process so the focus remains on tissue repair and regeneration.  This does not mean animal foods are out of the equation.  The general rule of thumb with most clinicians is a 70% alkaline-forming food to 30% acid-forming foods approach for maintaining health. It can vary 60% / 40% for some and 80% / 20% for those dealing with health challenges. According to Ruth Sackman of  some practitioners suggest of 10 foods eaten, 6 are vegetables, 2 fruits, 1 protein, 1 starch (root vegetable or quality organic whole grain) to ensure homeostasis.

Alkalinity over Acidity

The body functions best in a slightly alkaline range with a pH around 7.35 – 7.55 according to most research with a considered safe range between 6.0 and 7.5. Too high or low a reading indicates imbalance and compromised health.  An excess acid load impairs function and the efficiency of energy production in the cells including tissue repair, even with slightly acidic states. Vital minerals are leached from tissue including bones and muscle when acidic.  As mentioned above, exercise is oxidative, also robbing our body of vital minerals and vitamins. Your preferred food choices post work-out ideally would be more alkaline based.

What Are the Acid Ash and Alkaline Foods?

There are numerous resources available with Acid and Alkaline Charts to use as reference and while you will discover some contradictions they provide a great guideline. Do be mindful this isn’t a labeling of good and bad foods.  It’s simply a guide rating foods from most alkaline to most acid ash forming and contributing to alkaline or acid states in our body.

In general acid ash forming foods are mainly dairy, meat, most legumes, grains and nuts with some exceptions, all sugar and refined foods including soft drinks and even whole wheat bread, alcohol, vegetable oils, yeast products and some fruits.  

Alkaline forming foods are most vegetables and fruits, certain legumes, grains and seeds, fermented foods, some oils such as most seed oils and most herbs and spices.  These enzyme rich foods are easier to digest, be absorbed and assimilated, thereby effectively nourishing our cells more quickly than a heavy standard protein and starchy carbs meal which requires longer digestion time.

When dealing with chronic over-acidity our body suffers from oxygen depletion from the blood further impairing the recovery process.  This can also cause conditions such as lowered immunity, premature aging, kidney stone formation, muscle loss, back pain, bursitis, inflammation, gout and other joint diseases. An over acidic environment is typically chronically inflamed and has been linked to diseases such as arthritis, IBS, cancer, Chron’s, Colitis, and heart disease.

Measuring your pH levels regularly is a great idea, most particularly so if your diet consists of standard North American fare, (aka: high in animal protein, processed foods, stimulants and drugs). A really simple method for measuring pH in the urine is a self- administered test you can do at home. Most drug and health food stores carry nitrazine or litmus paper. Taking a half-inch strip of tape and dipping it a small amount of mid-stream urine collected in a container, (ideally from your first urination in the morning) is all you need to do. The tape changes color and is compared to a special chart in/on the package which corresponds to the acid/alkaline numbers. 

A pH of 7 is considered neutral; lower than 7 indicates acidity, above 7 alkalinity. This test is best done repeated in early morning then several times during the day for a period of days, to discern a pattern.  Ideally you are looking for a slightly alkaline pH reading of 7.365 - 7.45, or within the range of 6.0 - 7.5. If the numbers are consistently extreme either on the acid side (acidosis) or on the alkaline side (alkalosis) these extremes are indications you are not in the normal healthy range.

Consuming a mostly alkaline diet is easy to do once you familiarize yourself with the most acidic and most alkaline foods.  It’s safe to generalize and aim for mostly vegetables / plant based foods in their natural state with smaller amounts of quality animal proteins, ideally prepared with moderate heat.  Avoiding stimulants including caffeine and sugar, processed grain products, fast foods, fried foods, junk foods and alcohol also help in obtaining a less acidic pH.  Below are the top 7 alkaline and acid foods.

The top 7 Alkaline and top 7 Acidic foods, according to Ross Bridgeford –  

Top 7 Alkaline Foods

  1. Spinach
  2. Kale
  3. Broccoli
  4. Avocado
  5. Cucumber
  6. Celery
  7. Peppers

Additional Alkaline foods include: Lentils, wild rice, Amaranth, seeds, almonds, quail/duck eggs…

Top 7 Acidic Foods

  1. Cola
  2. Ice cream
  3. Sugar
  4. Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated fats / trans fats
  5. MSG
  6. Yeast
  7. Artificial Sweeteners

Additional Acidic Foods include: Fish, meat, dairy, kidney beans, corn, rye, table salt, yeast…

To truly maximize on your efforts exercising be as diligent with your fueling habits as you are with your training regime and notice how you feel and recover when consuming particular foods.  Each person needs to fine tune their dietary needs based upon their individual constitution, state of health and digestive ability.  Investing in your food choices is a fabulous front end investment can reap an astonishing ROI.


The chart used for reference in this article was prepared by Dr Russell Jaffe and published in The Joy of Food: The Alkaline Way by Health Studies Collegium. You can access it at

Various Alkaline Charts can be found at: