Almonds May Improve Workout Recovery — If You Eat 40-50 a Day

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Researchers say almonds have a number of health benefits, including post-workout recovery. Jeremy Pawlowski/Stocksy
  • In an industry-funded study, researchers say eating a couple of handfuls a day of almonds can help your body recover from exercise.
  • The researchers said study participants who ate almonds reported less muscle damage and fatigue after their workouts.
  • Experts agree that almonds have a number of health benefits, but they note that other nuts such as walnuts can also provide benefits.

Eating a couple of handfuls of almonds each day could help you recover after a workout as well as improve your general health.

That’s the conclusion of a new study from Appalachian State University in North Carolina — albeit one funded by the almond industry.

The research published in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition reports that men and women who consumed 57 grams of almonds daily for one month — that’s about 40 to 50 almonds per day — had higher levels of the beneficial fat 12,13-dihydroxy-9Z-octadecenoic acid (12,13-DiHOME) in their blood immediately after a session of intense exercise compared to control participants who did not eat almonds.

12,13-DiHOME is synthesized from linoleic acid and is reported to have a beneficial effect on metabolic health and energy regulation.

The almond-eaters in the study also reported feeling less fatigue and tension, better leg-back strength, and decreased muscle damage after exercise, according to researcher David C Nieman, DrPH, a professor and the director of the Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory .

Nieman told Healthline that while the study strongly suggests that eating almonds — already known as a nutritionally dense food — benefits exercise recovery, the same may also be true of other nuts such as walnuts.

“These findings tell athletes that a sports nutrition diet should not only be good for performance but also for long-term health,” said Nieman. “A lot of athletes have gotten into the Gatorade rut, or consuming sugar water for carbohydrates. We’ve already shown in other research that fruit can be substituted there and now with these findings that a sports nutrition diet should also include nuts like almonds.”

Researchers were not able to determine which nutrients in almonds provided exercise-related benefits. Nieman said that prime suspects included polyphenols—antioxidants found in the brown skins of almonds—and the high levels of vitamin E (also an antioxidant) found in the nuts.

The clinical trial involved 38 men and 26 women between the ages of 30 and 65. Researchers chose to focus on individuals who didn’t engage in regular exercise since that represents the majority of the population, Nieman said.

About half of the study group was put on a diet that included almonds while the other participants were instructed to eat a calorie-matched cereal bar each day.

Blood and urine samples were evaluated at the beginning and end of the study, as well as immediately after a 90-minute exercise regime performed each week. The exercise program included a 50-meter shuttle run, vertical jump, bench press, and leg-back strengthening exercises.

Researchers said study participants reported more muscle damage and soreness after the workouts, along with decreased vigor and increased fatigue, anxiety, and depression.

However, members of the almond group who had elevated levels of 12,13-DiHOME in their bloodstream reported fewer negative consequences after their workouts.

The study researchers found that the concentration of 12,13-DiHOME was 69% higher in the blood plasma of participants in the almond group than in participants in the control group.

Conversely, levels of the mildly toxic 9,10-Dihydroxy-12-octadecenoic acid (9,10-diHOME) — known to have a negative effect on overall health and exercise recovery — was 40% higher after exercise in the blood of the control group than in the almond group.

The amount of almonds consumed by the study group every day is equal to about two handfuls of the nuts, or two ounces of almonds.

Nieman said that the findings don’t amount to a recommendation that people consume that many almonds on a daily basis but rather provide a pathway for future research into the potential exercise-related benefits of eating nuts.

“Almonds are a nutrient-rich snack that can help athletes reach their peak performance, as they provide the body with protein, healthy fats, and key vitamins and minerals. They are high in vitamin E, which helps protect cells from oxidative damage caused by exercise,” Lalitha McSorley, a physical therapist at Brentwood Physiotherapy Calgary in Canada, told Healthline.

“Additionally, studies have found that almonds contain compounds that may help reduce inflammation caused by exercise and improve athlete recovery, as well as gut health,” she added. “As athletes strive to reach their peak performance, it’s important to ensure they are obtaining all the nutrients they need from their diet. Adding almonds to an athlete’s nutrition plan can provide essential vitamins and minerals that may help enhance physical performance and reduce muscle damage during recovery.”

Dave Candy, DPT, a specialist In orthopedic physical therapy and the owner of St. Louis-based More 4 Life, said the study showed that almonds were clearly more beneficial than consuming what he called “highly-processed, high-sugar” cereal bars .

“I think the conclusion can definitely be drawn that nutrition affects post-exercise inflammation,” he told Healthline. “However, to specifically say that you should supplement exercise with almonds versus peanuts, walnuts, cashews, or a protein shake would be overdrawing the findings of this study.”

The serving size of almonds in the study delivered more than 12 grams of protein but also more than 340 calories, 12 grams of carbs, and 28 grams of fat.

However, “Given that almonds are very satisfying and satiating you’re less likely to overeat later in the day,” Dana Ellis Hunnes, PhD, a senior dietitian and adjunct assistant professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health, told Healthline. “Moreover, as long as you’re maintaining your overall calorie intake, given the healthfulness of almonds, I wouldn’t be concerned. Those are high-quality calories, proteins, and fats.”

Nieman said that consuming almonds in other forms, such as drinking almond milk, might not deliver the same health benefits if the beverage is made from almonds with their polyphenol-bearing skin removed—as is likely the case.

The study was funded by the California Almond Board. The Appalachian State University Human Performance Laboratory has previously published studies showing that fruits such as bananas and blueberries also can be beneficial parts of an exercise performance diet.