Without the proper diet, your hard work in the gym can only take you so far. Whether you’re shedding and shredding or packing on muscle, achieving your goal has a lot to do with the quality, type, and quantity of macronutrients you consume. Keep reading to find out more about how to optimize your nutrition for your goals written by guest blogger, Chris Rocchio,
When trying to put on muscle, people tend to gravitate towards the usual’s like chicken, beef, brown rice, spinach, etc. because of their nutritional efficiency and their convenience. Since “no single food provides all of the nutrients that your body needs,” (31) you may want to change things up and add a little variety to your diet. That’s why I have compiled a list of foods that you may have overlooked while working to build muscle. With this article, we intend to help you expand your repertoire of muscle-building foods and deepen your understanding of their anabolic potential.
But first, there are some things you should know. It is important that you have an understanding of some of the most crucial vitamins and minerals contained in these foods that will help you pack on muscle. While protein might get all of the attention, optimal quantities of certain nutrients can really accelerate your gains. Let’s review the heavy hitters:
Magnesium alone is used in over 300 biochemical reactions in the body, including energy metabolism and protein synthesis (17), and a 2014 study in the International Journal of Endocrinology showed that it can have a positive influence on the levels of anabolic hormones, including testosterone, in men. (15) Magnesium is also important for a healthy cardiovascular system, metabolic rate, and bone health, all of which are critical functions for building muscle. (15)
“Zinc has been found to be critical for protein synthesis, the molecular mechanism that leads to muscle recovery and growth” (23), and it “plays a role in thousands of different enzymatic reactions in the body, including those involved in testosterone production.” (15) (23) So if you like optimal testosterone levels and you want to get big, a zinc/magnesium combo is the key.
Calcium isn’t just a requirement for a healthy skeletal system, according to Dr. Tina M. St. John. A biochemical process known as the calcium cycle is responsible for muscle contraction, and it is the quality of contractions that determines the efficiency of muscle development. (22)
Vitamin C, which is an antioxidant, is essential for muscle health because it repairs connective tissue. (24)
Vitamin H (biotin) is part of the B complex group of vitamins, all of which aid the body in converting carbs into glucose (energy). Biotin is needed to metabolize fats, carbs, and amino acids, the building blocks of protein. (12)
Omega-3 fatty acids are used for a number of functions in the body, but only recently has it been shown to aid in building muscle. Researchers at Washington University concluded that high levels of omega-3s enhanced growth mechanisms in muscle cells, but only in conjunction with high levels of insulin and amino acids. (21) According Dr. Rhonda Patrick, the ideal ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s is 1:1. (19)
Now that we’ve focused on some of the most important nutrients, here are the 10 new foods that you can add to your diet to optimize energy levels and speed muscle recovery.
(1) Hemp Seeds
Dr. Josh Axe, certified doctor of natural medicine and clinical nutritionist, reports that this superfood contains all 20 amino acids, making it the “perfect protein.” Rich in soluble and insoluble fiber, hemp seeds are easily digestible, and they also have a proper 3:1 ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. One type of omega-6 in hemp seeds is GLA, which has been proven to naturally balance hormones and smooth muscle contraction. They are high in phytonutrients like calcium and magnesium, and to top it all off, hemp seeds contain 10g of protein per ounce! Hemp protein powder is also an excellent alternative to dairy-based protein supplements. (4)
Quinoa is rich in minerals like calcium and magnesium, and it is known as a “complete protein,” meaning it provides the body with all essential amino acids. (16) One cup contains 8g of protein, and it is high in fiber, iron, zinc, and magnesium, the mineral of insulin sensitivity. Quinoa has a low Glycemic Index relative to other grains, and because it is gluten-free, it is much easier on the digestive tract than other grains. (8) One of the most interesting things about quinoa is its abundance in ecdysteroids, which are naturally-occurring anabolic agents that have been proven to increase muscle mass. (30) (18)
Lentils are the best-kept secret of the bodybuilding community and a perfect source of protein for those who avoid eating meat. They are low in sodium and fat, and being that they have 18g of protein, 15g of fiber, and 40g of slow-digesting carbs per cup, they are the true triple threat. Furthermore, lentils provide high quantities of essential minerals like iron, potassium, and magnesium. (5)
(4) Pea Protein
One common misconception about plant-based proteins is that they are inferior to those derived from dairy, but a “2015 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (10) proved pea protein increases muscle thickness just as potently as dairy-based proteins.” (6) Dr. Axe reports that this is due to its high protein count per serving (17-24g) and the high quantities of l-arginine, a conditional amino acid that aids muscle growth. (6) Pea protein also has all but 2 amino acids, which makes pea protein an ideal source of protein not only for vegetarians and vegans, but for omnivores as well. (6)
(5) Black Beans
“The protein and fat content in black beans makes the food a healthy alternative to other sources of protein such as high-fat meats,” says registered dietician Jill Corleone. They are also high in some of the most important minerals for energy and protein synthesis, such as magnesium and iron. (11) With 15g of protein and fiber per cup (boiled), a 1.2 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids, and high mineral content, black beans are perfect for post and pre-workout meals. The high fiber and protein content of this slow-digesting food will stimulate digestion and prevent your blood sugar from spiking while giving you the energy you need to reach your muscle building goals. (2)
Almonds are a great post or pre-workout snack for building muscle. They have a vaster array of nutrients, including magnesium and biotin, than any other nut, and just ¼ cup contains up to 6g of protein. And don’t be deterred by the high fat argument made against almonds because the fat content is primarily made of monounsaturated (healthy) fats, which are needed to absorb fat-soluble nutrients. (1)(29)
(7) Cottage cheese
Cottage Cheese is a great source of casein protein, which is slow digesting protein that repairs muscles and prevents them from being used as an energy source while you sleep. Casein protein also causes amino acid levels to rise and stay elevated for longer than other protein sources. (3) Just 1 cup of low fat Cottage cheese has 28g of protein, only 163 calories, and less than 2g of fat (26), which makes it a great late night snack while building muscle. Try to find the kind with probiotics since they will assist in breaking down and absorbing nutrients. (14)
(8) Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds just recently showed up on my radar, and I was surprised at how powerful they are. Not only are they packed with 12g of protein per cup, but pumpkin seeds are also high in fiber and loaded with important testosterone boosting minerals like magnesium and zinc. (7)
(9) Greek (Probiotic) Yogurt
The casein in Greek yogurt is a complete protein (contains all 9 essential amino acids), and it can have up to 20g of protein per cup, which is twice as much as regular yogurt. It is also a great source calcium, and the plain variety has a far fewer sugar content than regular yogurt. (25) Perhaps one of the best benefits of Greek yogurt is that it contains probiotics, which assist in digestion and protein synthesis. (20)
(10) Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are my favorite side dish for lunch and dinner, whether before or after a workout. This is one of the best options for complex and starchy carbs, which are crucial for building muscle and breaking through plateaus. They are rich in beta-carotene, biotin, fiber, vitamin C fatty acids, and potassium, which aids in muscle control, electrolyte balance, and nerve function. They also contain antioxidants, like vitamin E, and carotenoids, which assist in repairing damaged cells, something all active people need. (9)
These are many of my favorite foods for building lean muscle, and this is a decent starting point for adding variety to your diet while maximizing the health benefits of your meal regiment.
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