Lately I’ve been working on several 6c+/7a projects I’m dying to crush, which means I’ve been spending a lot more time at the climbing gym and pushing myself at strength-training classes. The routes require just that little bit of extra strength, and no matter how much my arms and core muscles hurt after hours of pull-ups and clumsy bouts on the TRX, I know the exhilaration of reaching the top will easily beat any momentary pain. Or at least that’s what I tell myself at the time. To be honest, I’d love it if I could completely boss it up the routes and then be like “Oh, this old route? Yeah it’s a nice little warm-up for my 8a.”
Combine this with my running race this month and weekend hikes, and as you can guess, my muscles are feeling the brunt of my lifestyle at the moment. Considering my past mistakes of pushing myself too hard (bouts of bed-ridden tonsillitis and exhaustion, anaemia, and preventable injuries aplenty) I’m keen to learn from them and not end up like that again. Which means I’ve been spending a predominantly large amount of my lunch breaks researching the best foods for muscle recovery to help me keep on top of things health-wise.
Now don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not one of those new-age hippies that argues for the magical healing properties of sea algae or whatever. Nor am I one of those fitness fanatics that takes every supplement under the sun. I just want to eat the best foods to help my body do its best. I suppose it’s like giving a journalist a quill and parchment when you could give them a laptop. Both help them do the same job, but one requires less time and fewer ink splotches.
The easiest to consume and probably the hardest to consume healthily, protein is essential to building muscle growth. Whilst white and red meat are the easiest sources to get protein from, depending on the cut and quality they can also contain a high percentage of fat. Protein shakes are also a popular option, but beware the ones with a myriad of sugars and supplements included unless you understand exactly what you are buying. In my experience, the best way is to source it from multiple foods, i.e. eggs, venison, fish and milk, to keep a balanced diet, with a simple whey protein shake thrown in on days where I have really pushed it. Many of my runner friends also recommend a glass of chocolate milk after running, although I’m a bit hesitant, mainly because of this track race that was held in my high school days where you drank a glass of milk every quarter of a mile you ran – the winner was the last runner to throw up. I’m sure it wouldn’t happen now, but my gag reflex isn’t willing to find out.
Something my anaemia-prone self constantly worries about, iron is important in the production of red blood cells and transferring oxygen to the muscle around the body. The main side-effect of low iron is a constant feeling of tiredness and fatigue, which is the last thing you need when training. Periods can also cause a decline in iron in women, so make sure you stock up when riding the crimson wave! Again red meat is a good source of iron, but that is a no-go for veggies and vegans. There are loads of non-animal food with good levels of iron however, such as beans, nuts, dark-green veggies and dried fruits, and the trick is to get creative in slipping them in your meals. For instance, try adding dried fruits and nuts to a salad with a wholegrain base, or spinach to a sweet, fruity breakfast smoothie.
This important nutrient works overtime for the body, by simultaneously boosting the immune system and reducing and relieving delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Obviously citrus fruits such as oranges and even pineapple are a good source of vitamin c, but it turns out that watercress contains 71% of a person’s daily vitamin c allowance in a 100g portion (who knew?!).
Often forgotten but seriously important, potassium is responsible for regulating fluids and minerals in and out of the body’s cells, transmitting nerve impulses and helping muscles contract. The next time you feel muscle cramps coming on, ask yourself when was the last time you ate foods rich in potassium. The nutrient is easily found in bananas, citrus fruits, nuts, leafy vegetables and avocados, so it is easy enough to get your daily allowance from a variety of sources.
This type of antioxidant is important for cell growth nutrition and boosting the immune system. Avocados are stocked full of them, as well as other brightly coloured red and yellow fruit. So yet another excuse to have a healthy dollop of guacamole on your next burrito (as if you needed an excuse).