15 Best Foods for Sore Muscles and Joints
Are you suffering from sore muscles and joints more frequently than ever before? We are talking more than just your typical tight hamstrings after an intense leg day…
There are a number of reasons a person may be experiencing sore muscles and joints, including acute injury, food sensitivities or intolerances, chronic physical exertion, chronic stress, nutrient deficiencies, autoimmune disease, infections, or underlying gut issues.
Thankfully we can move mountains when we eat the right foods for sore muscles and joints.
Why are my Muscles and Joints Sore and Achy?
One of the pinnacle signs of improper fueling is sore muscles and joints, especially joint pain after eating. This could be merely a result of inadequate macro and micronutrient intake or a reflection of your body dealing with low-grade chronic inflammation.
Unfortunately, no “perfect” food exists for quick-fixing your way to health. Furthermore, there is no crash diet to alleviate soreness and pain, and no simple supplement protocol to completely eradicate chronic inflammation. However, consuming foods known to help joint pain will downregulate the physiological responses causing achiness, pain, soreness, and actively support muscles and joints at the cellular level.
Foods that Cause Inflammation
Before we dive into the foods for sore muscles and joints, let’s cover a few reasons why you may be experiencing muscle and joint pain in the first place.
- Nutrient deficiencies
- High stress
- Chronic injury
- Food sensitivities and intolerances
There are a number of foods that may perpetuate muscle and joint discomfort including:
- Excessive sugar and refined carbohydrates: Everything our soul wants inside of it such as cookies, cereal, pastries, granola bars, “coffee” creamers/flavoring, etc. Even your favorite health foods like yogurt, salad dressing, and trail mix can be full of added sugars.
- Trans fats: Hydrogenated oils like shortening and margarine are found in processed and packaged foods. These fats are without a doubt detrimental to human health.
- Excessive omega 6s compared to omega 3’s: Safflower oil, sunflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil which are pumped into virtually every product you find in the aisles of the grocery store. While some level of omega 6s are necessary, we in the U.S tend to blow our omega 6 intake out of the water.
- Common allergens (for some individuals): For many individuals, in particular those with intestinal permeability, poor diet, long term medication use, or chronic infections/parasites, consuming certain foods may elicit an inflammatory response that is symptomized in ways other than your traditional anaphylactic reaction. Some common food triggers include gluten, dairy, peanuts, histamines, soy, corn, and legumes.
- Environmental toxins: Household cleaners, personal care products and many food sources such as pesticides, heavy metals, preservatives, food additives, and artificial sweeteners may eventually tax the body’s natural defense of detoxification, thus causing higher levels of inflammation. Again, this is often symptomized as sore muscles and joints.
Does Sugar Cause Inflammation?
Our modern-day food culture relies heavily on sugar-laden foods. In fact, the average American is consuming almost 150 pounds of sugar per year. Let’s actually think about that….crazy!
Processed sugars and refined carbohydrates have undeniably been linked to joint achiness and pain, therefore limiting their intake can be highly effective for improving joint pain.
What is the answer? Consuming a wide variety of anti-inflammatory foods! The consumption of a vast array of anti-inflammatory foods will address the root cause of the soreness because they will actively:
- Interfere with inflammatory pathways responsible for inducing joint pain
- Address underlying gut issues
- Repair damaged tissue caused by working out
- Support more efficient muscle gain
- Maximize recovery to support the high training volume and intensity demanded of your muscles and joints
(Usual disclaimer: FWDfuel Sports Nutrition is a participant in the Emerson Wellevate Associates program as well as the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.)
Our 5 Top Foods for Sore Muscles and Joints
1. Tart Cherries
There is a load of well-established research on the effects of tart cherry juice for speeding recovery in professional athletes. Tart cherries (Montmorency cherries) are one of the top foods for sore muscles and joints because the nutritional flavonoids and anthocyanins are much higher in this food. These antioxidants can actually mitigate soreness that occurs from exercise-induced tissue damage.
Tart cherries are also naturally high in potassium, serving as a lofty source of electrolytes for endurance-based athletes who are losing sweat during long training sessions. A study performed in runners actually reported significant reductions in soreness after running, thus demonstrating its hydrating, anti-inflammatory properties .
Experiencing the benefits of tart cherries can be made deliciously possible with these 3 simple suggestions!
Blend 1 cup of frozen tart cherries into your post-workout smoothie
Add dried tart cherries to your trail mix
2. Fatty Fish
Chicken and beef are the classic go-to protein sources for most. This can result in a big miss on high-quality fatty fish intake! While there are a variety of plant sources that include omega 3’s, two essential fatty acids, known as EPA and DHA are only available in marine sources unless supplemented otherwise.
Case in point, eating 2 servings of fatty fish per week or 500-1000 mg from one of our top nutritional supplements is a no brainer when it comes to knocking achiness and soreness at the cellular level.
Now, when it comes to fish, we are not talking about your Filet-O-Fish from the local drive-through or California Roll stuffed with fish from polluted waters. These larger fish such as yellowfin tuna, swordfish, and mackerel contain heavy metals, particularly mercury that heavily impacts liver detoxification, particularly those who are poor methylators. Think of this general rule of thumb- the bigger the fish, the higher the mercury content.
The result of elevated heavy metals? More achiness and soreness along with a host of other symptoms. This is where it’s important to check the sourcing of your fish to ensure it has been sustainably raised or wild-caught, tested for low mercury content, and thus not depleted of its omega 3 rich fatty acids.
Listed below are omega-3 fatty rich fish that are relatively low in mercury content (per 3 oz serving):[3,4]
3. Dark Greens
Not a bok choy person? Not to fret, because the sky’s the limit when it comes to dark greens. Broccoli, spinach, kale, Brussels sprouts, swiss chard, and collard greens are all packed with a plethora of anti-inflammatory nutrients including vitamin C, magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, folate, and carotenoids, which are some potent antioxidants that build strong tissue, but also combat the things that get in the way of fighting those free radicals.
Packed inside these greens include a star enzyme called myrosinase.
Myrosinase, highest in broccoli sprouts and mustard seeds, is an enzyme that increases the formation of sulforaphane, a component that supports methylation and detoxification of inflammatory components that perpetuate muscle soreness and joint pain.
Not up for piling your plate with bitter collard greens? Try baking up these simple salted kale chips!
Simply Salted Kale Chips
- Set oven to 375 degrees
- Remove thoroughly washed and dried kale leaves from thick stems
- Tear into small pieces
- Massage kale piece in olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and garlic
- Bake for 10-15 minutes
The impact dark leafy greens make for overall human health can not be undermined, but their role in blocking enzymes linked to joint destruction and inflammation makes them one of the best foods for sore muscles and joints.
4. High-Dose Turmeric
By no means can we supplement our way to good health, but if you were to place bets on anything out of a bottle, it should be on some high-quality turmeric. Especially if you’re looking for the most natural and well-supported approach to managing your joint and muscle pain.
This medicinal herb is one of the best anti-inflammatory supplements. It contains a biologically active compound called curcumin, which actively reduces inflammation in muscles and joints.
Curcumin has more recently been studied in the athletic population to investigate its use as a method to control joint pain, exercise-induced inflammation, muscle soreness, and perceived pain and has yielded promising results! A number of studies have reported significant changes in inflammatory markers and self-reported pain/soreness in athletes and nonathletes alike.[7,8,9]
Why Should you Love Turmeric So Much?
Not only is the research promising, but our personal experience and client testimonial results of using turmeric to attenuate sore muscles and joints are also consistently positive when using the best turmeric supplements.
FYI if you’re looking for the best place to buy supplements at a discount, we personally use and recommend Wellevate. They carry high-quality, professional-grade brands that are third-party tested for purity and all are available for a discounted price and free shipping with orders over $49 when you use this link to create your account.
Also – the gut takes a tough blow with consistent medication use. You may be supplementing with a synthetic medication to reduce inflammation, yet the caveat to frequent use is the gut impairments that may inherently drive your inflammation! Talk about the cat chasing its tail!
Turmeric as a replacement for traditional NSAIDS like Ibuprofen or Advil is something worth experimenting with since curcumin selectively targets inflammatory proteins like NF-KB without decreasing prostaglandin production that’s needed for endothelial lining support.
In other words, you’re benefiting from the anti-inflammatory properties of this medicinal herb without reaping the potential adverse gastrointestinal effects.
Collagen may be the missing hidden gem when it comes to getting control of your joint and muscle pain. We have discussed a number of possible foods for sore muscles and joints that work to directly reduce overall inflammation in the body, but where collagen works it’s magic is by supporting cartilage in these areas of the body.
What is collagen?
Collagen is a protein that provides structure to much of your body, including your bones, skin, tendons, and ligaments. Collagen is a phenomenal food for arthritis or sore muscles and joints by helping to maintain the tissue protecting these areas.
In a study with athletes who consumed 10 grams of collagen daily for 24 weeks, participants experienced a significant decrease in joint pain while walking and at rest, compared with a group that did not take it.
In another study where adults took 2 grams of collagen daily for 70 days, there was a significant reduction in joint pain in those taking the supplement, making them able to engage better in exercise compared to those who did not take the supplement.
While the research is still in its infancy, researchers are investigating the theory that collagen supplementation may actually stimulate tissue to make collagen, making it one of the very best foods for sore muscles and joints.
How Does Collagen Support Muscles and Joints?
Not only do we love collagen for supporting tissue production at the joints, but these proteins may also help to seal the gut lining by the help of the glycine and proline. These amino acids are abundant in collagen and are known for their cellular cytoprotective effects.
Glycine supports the natural production of glutathione, our body’s top antioxidant that is responsible for keeping gut integrity and cellular regeneration.
In the case of intestinal permeability, toxins or undigested small antigenic food particles seep into the bloodstream causing these foreign invaders to attack healthy tissue. These attacks can be made anywhere in the body and are symptoms of joint and muscle pain, fatigue, skin issues, and gut issues to name a few.
What is meant by this is that collagen may lower inflammation by preventing these food particles and toxins from seeping into the bloodstream in the first place!
Where can we get collagen?
Collagen is easy to find in supplemental form, which is going to provide the high dose required to experience beneficial results; however, a number of foods contain high levels of collagen. Consuming a variety of collagen-containing foods while also supplementing is a safe and potentially beneficial approach to easing sore muscles and joints.
- Bone broth. You can make life easy with Bare Bones Organic Grass-Fed Bone Broth (We personally buy both Bares Bones and Fire and Kettle from Thrive Market where you will find high-quality organic foods at a discount and have them delivered to your doorstep. Sign up for Thrive Market with this link for a free gift up to $25 in value) or learn how to make bone broth from scratch in the comfort of your own kitchen!
- Collagen supplements
- Animal protein: beef, chicken, eggs, etc.
- Organ meat
- Marine collagen from fish skin
What Herbs Are Good for Arthritis?
There are a number of herbs shown to have beneficial properties for arthritis and other autoimmune symptoms. While research supporting herbal use of treating these inflammatory conditions is in embryonic stages, studies demonstrate improvement with one or a combination of the following herbs.
- “4 g of ginger supplementation may be used to accelerate recovery of muscle strength following intense exercise.”
- Aloe Vera
- Similar to other herbs and spices with potent anti-inflammatory properties, when taken daily, research shows that aloe vera supplementation can alleviate osteoarthritis-related pain by fighting specific cells that cause inflammation. 
- Take a quick search and you will find an abundance of scholarly articles on turmeric (AKA the King of anti-inflammatory spices) and joint pain. Want to dive deeper? Check out our article on turmeric and inflammation.
- Willow Bark
- Salicin, the active ingredient in Willow Bark, reduces the production of pain-inducing chemicals in nerves. Limited evidence suggests that willow bark may have a profound effect on treating pain. 
- Devil’s Claw
- One of the most well-known studies regarding Devil’s Claw supplementation included 227 people with non-specific low back pain or osteoarthritis (OA) of the knee or hip. After eight weeks of taking 60 mg daily, between 50 and 70 percent of people reported improvement in pain, mobility and flexibility.
- Green Tea
- Green tea extract has been proven to reduce the markers of muscle damage after exercise.
- According to the Arthritis Foundation. “Cinnamon contains cinnamaldehyde and cinnamic acid, both of which have antioxidant properties that help inhibit cell damage caused by free radicals. The inhibition of cell damage can reduce arthritic pain for some.
- Black Pepper
- Black pepper has been touted for its anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant properties. Bonus: black pepper enhances the absorption of turmeric.
- Several studies have shown bromelain supplementation reduces both systemic inflammation and osteoarthritis-related pain. Furthermore, it has been shown to help maintain testosterone levels to appropriate levels during intense training.[22,23,24]
- The Eucalyptus plant leaves contain tannins, which may be helpful in reducing swelling and the pain arthritis causes. Some of our clients will use heating pads shortly after rubbing eucalyptus oil on their joints to enhance the effects.
Try out some of these foods and herbs alongside an overall anti-inflammatory diet and you’ll likely notice major improvements in relaxing muscles and easing joint pain. Many of these foods for sore muscles and joints will also help knock down overall low-grade inflammation in the body, thereby addressing other underlying health issues that you may be dealing with!
If you adopt an anti-inflammatory diet while incorporating daily intake of these listed foods yet you’re still experiencing sore muscles and joints, you may need to dive deeper into your health issues by implementing an elimination diet or working 1 on 1 with a functionally trained dietitian.