11 Foods for Muscle Health
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Everyone wants to be fit and eat right. Today, it’s all about strong bodies and healthy lifestyles. There are Instagram feeds dedicated to fitness selfies, blogs replete with clean-eating recipes, and websites brimming with workout plans. Not only are people more interested than ever in fitness and health, they are more aware of what they are putting in their bodies and what these things can do for them.
Click here for the 11 Foods for Muscle Health (Slideshow)
Good food is essential to fitness and training, and what you eat affects your muscles. Even though we don’t always think about our muscles, except when they ache after a max-out day or running a 5K, muscles are an integral part of our bodies; they're like the body’s engines, turning energy into motion. They enable us to perform our daily activities, like walking or talking, and for the gym rats among us, those endless curls and squats. Our more than 700 muscles made up of thousands of fibers give our bodies strength — and make up almost half of our body weight.
Certain foods help with muscle architecture, while others help to reduce muscle soreness. Eggs can be satisfying in ways that go beyond the flavor of an omelet, because as a complete protein, they can aid in muscle repair and development. Summer favorites as tart cherries are more than just delicious; they do the body good by helping to ease muscle inflammation.
Dr. Michael Hirt, founder of the nationally recognized Center for Integrative Medicine in California's San Fernando Valley, and Michelle Collier, founder of Pennsylvania-based Performance Fitness, offer explanations for how some foods and drinks help your muscle health.
During that long run or right after an intense workout, grabbing a cool sports drink can be refreshing, but also helpful to hardworking muscles. “A healthy, balanced sports drink helps keep the body in aerobic metabolism, burning sugar and fat, longer,” Dr. Hirt says, adding, “When you run out of sugar stores to burn for fuel during exercise, you enter anaerobic metabolism, which is associated with higher acid buildup, which can damage or irritate tissues, or create cramps.”
Is a tall glass of chocolate milk a good thing after a work out? Yes and no, according to Collier. “Chocolate milk is high in carbohydrates and has a decent amount of protein (eight grams), so that makes it a good recovery drink after endurance events (think long distance cycling) or high intensity exercise,” she says. But unfortunately this childhood favorite has some downfalls. She points out that chocolate milk is “high in sugar with 24 grams and calorically dense at 200 calories per eight-ounce serving,” so “chocolate milk may not be the best choice for a recovery drink for average Joes and Janes, especially those concerned with fat loss or weight maintenance.”
21 Healthy Dinner Recipes to Lose Weight and Gain Muscle Strength
Dietary habit is just one, albeit very important, pillar of losing weight and building muscle. Some may argue it&rsquos actually less important than consistent quality sleep as the actual building and repair of muscle is primarily done during the deep sleep (R.E.M) rapid eye movement state.
You may be hitting the gym hard, and eating a balanced diet, but considering the importance of a 7-8hour minimum sleep night will greatly improve your weight loss goals and ability to gain muscle strength.
In this article, we&rsquoll be simplifying the process of preparing a meal by examining &lsquomeal-prep&rsquo days in conjunction with the ability to throw something together on the fly..
Meaning, you&rsquore scrambling for something to make, and considering hitting one of those fast food chains.
Let&rsquos talk about avoiding that with preparation, and creativity!
Table of Contents
7 Best Foods to Help You Bulk Up
When you’re trying to bulk up, it’s important to get the proper nutrition that helps you build muscle and survive strenuous workouts. Here are seven foods that can help you with this:
1. Lean Meats
If you’re trying to build your muscles, it’s important to incorporate protein-rich foods in your diet. Your body needs grams of protein because it breaks it down into amino acids needed to build muscle mass.
It’s important to choose lean meats because you want protein without the extra calories and fat. Here are a few types of lean meat you can incorporate in your muscle-building diet plan:
Beef isn’t just a great source of protein, but it’s also rich in minerals and B vitamins. Pork usually has a bad rap when it comes to healthy eating, but lean pork can help build muscle mass as well as beef and poultry.
Apart from being a great source of protein, fish is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
Omega-3 fatty acids help stimulate muscle protein synthesis, so foods rich in it make a great addition to any healthy muscle-building diet. Here are a few types of fish rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids:
Another fish worth a try is tilapia. It doesn’t have as much omega 3-fatty acids, but it’s a great source of protein and vitamin B12.
Vitamin B12 helps keep nerves and blood cells healthy. When people have a vitamin B12 deficiency, it can make them feel weak and tired—symptoms you should avoid when you’re working out.
Poultry should be a staple in your muscle-building diet. It’s packed with protein and B vitamins.
Here are some types of poultry you can include in your diet:
Eggs are rich in leucine, an amino acid that plays an essential role in muscle gain. It regulates muscle protein synthesis and signals the need for more amino acids to increase muscle mass.
Skinless chicken and turkey breast offer high-quality protein, vitamin B6, and vitamin B3 (niacin). Vitamins B6 and B3 help transform food into energy—something you need a lot of as you pump iron.
You need to have some carb intake in your diet meal plan, even when you’re trying to gain lean muscle mass. Carbohydrates, like grains, give you the energy you need for extended workouts.
The key is choosing the right types of carbohydrates. Here are some healthy grains you can incorporate in your diet:
Oatmeal has a low glycemic index. It can provide you the energy you need without the risk of overeating.
Quinoa not only contains carbohydrates, but it also has protein, fiber, and magnesium. Magnesium regulates muscle and nerve function.
Each cup of brown rice gives you about 880 kcal of energy. If you find yourself tiring easily during a workout, you may want to eat some healthy carbohydrates a few hours before you hit the gym.
When you’re increasing muscle gains, you need to make sure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals. They help keep your bones healthy, convert food into energy, and enhance the immune system.
Vegetables are an invaluable source of various vitamins and minerals. They’re also a great source of antioxidants, which help prevent and repair cellular damage.
There are also certain fruits beneficial for active people or athletes because of their energy-boosting properties. Here are some fruits you may want to include in your diet:
Bananas are a great source of carbohydrates, vitamin B6, and potassium—all of which can help boost energy levels. Bananas are just as effective as commercial energy carbohydrate drinks.
Citrus fruits and strawberries are rich in antioxidants, which may help prevent fatigue and give you an energy boost.
The calcium you gain from dairy products plays an important role in maintaining bone health. Apart from this, dairy also provides other nutrients helpful in muscle-building.
For instance, both low-fat milk and Greek yogurt contain a combination of fast-digesting and slow-digesting proteins, which can help build muscle mass.
Low-fat cottage cheese is another dairy product you may want to add to your diet as it is great for muscle-building because it is rich in protein and leucine.
3 Worst Foods and Beverages to Stay Away From
Certain foods and drinks won’t help you build muscle mass. Here are three types of foods and beverages you should try to avoid:
1. Deep-Fried Foods
Deep-fried foods are usually high in fat, cholesterol, and salt. Diets high in unhealthy fats increase your risk of obesity, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease—all of which are detrimental to your muscle-building goals.
It’s best to avoid eating fast food products like French fries, fried fish, onion rings, and deep-fried chicken. Instead, try to have a healthy snack with you at all times to avoid temptation.
2. Sugar-Filled Foods and Beverages
Foods and drinks high in sugar are usually full of empty calories. This means you’re filling up with calories that don’t offer any nutrients.
Avoid snacking on candies, cookies, ice cream, soda, and even sports or energy drinks. Over time, these snacks and drinks may even promote unhealthy weight gain, which may make it more difficult to build muscle mass.
3. Alcoholic Beverages
Excessive and regular alcohol can keep you from bulking up. One study shows alcohol reduces the body’s ability to synthesize protein.
It impairs muscle recovery after a workout. In the long run, you won’t be able to do as much as it limits your muscle growth.
Muscle-Building Recipes to Try
Now that you have an idea which foods you should and shouldn’t include in your diet, it’s time you incorporate them into your daily recipes.
1. Pasta with Hearty Sauce
This recipe can give you ample carbs for energy before your workout or strength training and help replenish glycogen stores after the activity. It also gives you protein from the chicken breast.
- 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup marinara sauce
- 2 cups broccoli florets
- 1 cup sliced mushrooms
- 28 g whole-wheat penne pasta
- 85 g cubed chicken breast
Just follow the instructions on the label on how to cook the pasta and then cook the other ingredients in olive oil, except the sauce.
Combine the sauce with the pasta before serving. You can sprinkle some cilantro on top to spice up this dish.
2. Grilled Steak with Avocado-Tomato Salad
Pork or beef steak is rich in protein, and you can use this recipe either for lunch or dinner. What’s surprising is avocados contain healthy fats that increase growth hormone and testosterone production, which is essential for muscle-building.
What you need are top round steak (113 g), avocado (half), and a tomato. Cut both avocado and tomato into smaller slices and make them into a healthy salad.
3. Strawberry Cream Smoothie
You can also enjoy a muscle-building smoothie. Protein powder can supply your body with the added protein you can use for activities that need high energy like workouts.
Strawberry has polyphenols responsible for protecting cells from damage and for reducing muscle pain. What you need for this recipe are:
- 3/4 cup yogurt
- 5 strawberries
- 1 Tbsp flax seeds
- 1 scoop protein powder
Blend all the ingredients until smooth.
4. Chocolate Nut Shake
This protein shake recipe provides the right amount of the macronutrient protein you need in a day because of the all-natural peanut butter ingredient. Peanut butter can also give you the potassium that can aid in decreasing the risk of muscle cramps after a workout.
- 2-3 cubes of ice
- 1 Tbsp chia seeds
- 2 Tbsp peanut butter
- 2 cups chocolate milk
- 1 scoop chocolate protein powder
Melt the peanut butter first, so you achieve a good consistency when you mix it with the other ingredients. Then, combine all the ingredients together.
5. Spinach Omelet
Making an omelet requires eggs as the primary ingredient, which is a great source of high-quality protein, B vitamins, and healthy fats. Spinach has compounds that aid in muscle-building by speeding up the conversion of protein to muscle mass.
- 1 peach
- 3 eggs
- 1 cup baby spinach
- 1 slice cheese (cut into small pieces)
Combine eggs, spinach, cheese in a bowl and mix them well before cooking. Cut peach into small slices and insert them into the omelet’s fold.
6. Bibb Lettuce Burger
If you love burgers, you can include it in your muscle-building diet plan with this recipe. Lean beef is rich in creatine, various minerals, B vitamins, and high-quality protein that may help raise the amount of lean mass gained when paired with weight training.
Creatine Definition: A substance present in muscle cells that aids the muscles in creating energy when a high-intensity exercise or heavy lifting is performed
Lettuce is high in potassium and keeps you feel energized during exercise. The ingredients you need for this recipe are:
- 3 cups green beans
- 1 Tbsp mayonnaise
- 1 Tbsp ketchup
- 2 slices red onion
- 2 slices tomatoes
- 227 g ground beef (lean)
- 2 leaves lettuce
Create your own patty using ground beef, and don’t forget the burger buns. Use the patty as your base for your burger and then pile the remaining ingredients in your order of preference.
7. Berry Overnight Oats
What’s good about this recipe is you prep it overnight so you can easily grab it in the morning, especially when your time is limited. Oats are a great food option for a healthy muscle-building diet because they contain proteins and carbs for repairing and strengthening muscles.
What you need for this recipe are:
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 1/3 cup Greek yogurt
- 2/3 cup unsweetened milk of preference
- 1 strawberry
Mix all the ingredients well in a bowl and then place it in an airtight jar before storing it in the fridge overnight.
8. Brown Rice with Ground Beef
Aside from being one of the best protein sources, beef also possesses muscle-building nutrients like zinc and iron. Zinc contributes to the synthesis of muscle protein, an activity where protein becomes part of your muscles.
Iron ensures your muscles are functioning properly as it helps in creating new hormones, proteins, and cells and in workout recovery.
- 453 g lean ground beef
- 1/2 cup green peas
- 2 cups brown rice
- 1/2 cup green beans
- 1/2 cup corn
- 3 cloves garlic
Cook rice first. In a separate skillet, cook beef and garlic until meat is no longer pink.
Add the remaining ingredients, except rice, until well cooked. Place them on top of your rice and serve.
9. Salmon Fillet with Sweet Potato and Salad
You can also enjoy seafood recipes such as this when you try to gain muscles. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and B vitamins, which are all important for building muscles.
Your salad is a great source of nutrients for growing muscles like zinc, plant-based protein and carbs, and potassium. Make sure to load your salad with mostly leafy greens because they have the highest nutrient content.
- 1 serving pineapple
- 4 salmon fillets
- 1 baked regular-sized sweet potato
- 1 large salad (with veggies of your choice)
Make sure to season fillets with pepper and salt to taste before cooking them.
If you want to make your salmon fillet sauce more flavorful, add a little amount of lemon juice. You can also add some lemon wedges around the fillets.
Building muscle mass requires commitment inside and outside of the gym, which includes the best muscle-building diet plan. If you want to maximize your exercise and bodybuilding results, it’s important to be mindful of your diet.
Your diet can set you back, or it can help you reach your goals. If you’re at a loss about where to start, contact the LIV Health team today.
Our integrative health specialists can help you with your fitness goals. It isn’t always easy to make lifestyle changes, but a little help can go a long way.
What other foods or beverages do you incorporate into your muscle-building diet? Do you have tips to make your workout routine more effective in building muscles? What are they? Let us know in the comments section below!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on October 2, 2019, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.
How Much Protein and Carbohydrates Do You Need To Gain Muscle?
The optimal protein intake for gaining muscle appears to be between 1.6 and 2.2 g/kg, based on the most up-to-date scientific literature (2). The lower end of this range,
1.6 g/kg, appears to be the point of "saturation" for most of the population and should be considered the target number for most people for optimal protein intake for gaining muscle. This translates to around 0.7-0.8 g/lb of body weight per day.
Carbohydrates also appear to be critical for maximizing muscle growth. Lack of carbohydrates in the diet has been shown to impair muscle growth in some populations, and the current guidelines for optimizing muscle growth are 4-7 g/kg per day (3). This translates to 1.8-3.2 g/lb of body weight per day.
See also: Check out our Course on Portion Sizes . Browse for more online nutrition courses and earn some CEUs!
Step 1 Chop the vegetables. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and sauté the veg and spices for 2min.
Step 2 Cut the chicken into chunks, addto the pan and fry for 5min until browned and cooked through.
Step 3 Tip in the beans and passata (or chopped tomatoes). Simmer for 6-7min until the vegetables have softened, then lightly mash the beans with a potato masher.
Step 4 Warm the tortillas in the oven and fill with the bean and chicken mixture. Top with a little cheese. Fold over the ends and roll them up.
9. Lentils: 71.3 mg, 17% DV
Lentils are a low-fat, high-fiber, protein-rich legume that works well in a variety of dishes. Cooked lentils offer 17 percent of the DV for magnesium per cup.
The legume comes in different colors, with slightly different benefits. For example, black lentils are rich in the antioxidant anthocyanin, which is often found in purple and blue foods, according to an August 2017 study in Food and Nutrition Research. Try it in these protein-packed lentil recipes.
#5 Nuts & Seeds
Nuts and seeds are small but mighty, packing plenty of healthy proteins and nutrients in such tiny casings. Somehow, they manage to provide a whole handful of general health benefits. When consuming nuts or seeds, we always recommend buying them already sprouted or doing it yourself. The sprouting process increases the bioavailability and nutritional profiles of these foods, and also helps rid them of various toxic compounds they contain, which have been known to deplete minerals in the body (11).
When it comes to exercise-induced muscle damage and soreness, here’s what stands out about nuts and seeds: 8
- Omega-3 fatty acids – These can help fight inflammation, one of the primary culprits of sore, achy muscles and a long road to recovery.
- Protein – They provide necessary protein for muscular development.
- Electrolytes – Nuts and seeds can help replenish the body’s electrolytes, leaving you fully hydrated and ready for action. On the other hand, dehydration often exacerbates muscle soreness.
- Zinc – This immunity-booster can also boost the way your body feels after an intense workout. The immune system is intricately involved with physical recovery, so protecting one automatically improves the other.
Healthy ways to enjoy nuts and seeds:
- A healthy, homemade trail mix
- Toppings on leafy green salads
- In a bowl of oatmeal or yogurt
Which are the right foods to eat in order to have healthy and strong muscles?
Watch the video:
12 Foods to Prefer:
#1 – Veal: veal is extremely rich in essential amino acids and creatine, which is a protein useful to boost muscle mass.
#2 – Eggs: thanks to their lecithin content, eggs help synchronize muscle and nervous systems activity. In addition to lecithin, eggs are among those foods rich in vitamin D, which is essential to healthy tendons.
#3 – Chicken: eating chicken is helpful to the formation of muscle tissue.
#4 – Dairy foods: are precious sources of organic calcium, responsible for nervous impulses transfer. Eating dairy products may also be helpful in case of muscle pain.
#5 – Vegetables and green salads: Broccoli, asparagus and different kinds of green salads – all of them are rich in magnesium, which is extremely helpful in case of muscle fatigue.
#6 – Mackerel: is extremely rich in omega-6 and omega-3 fats – precious sources of energy for our muscles.
#7 – Pine-apple: this fruit is rich in bromelain, which is an enzyme involved in the digestion of proteins and their transformation into muscle mass. Bromelain, moreover, protects muscles from fatigue and inflammation.
#8 – Green tea: not only is this beverage rich in antioxidants, but it also helps muscle resistance.
#9 – Turmeric: this spice has proven to help regenerate muscle tissues.
#10 – Buckwheat: it is extremely rich in those amino acids essential to muscle mass growth.
#11 – Almonds: they contain a large amount of vitamin E, and help muscles regenerate, especially after traumas.
#12 – Red pepper: it is extremely rich in Vitamin C. Red peppers contain much more of this vitamin than lemons and blueberries. Vitamin C has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and stimulates the formation of collagen – one of the most important proteins in our body, and the main stringy element in our tendons and muscles.
5 Foods to Avoid for Healthy Muscles:
#1 – Sugar: if you want to keep your muscles healthy, you have to limit the intake of those foods rich in sugar, such as sweets, biscuits, brioches, candy etc.
#2 – Fat-rich foods: eating extremely fat foods may stop calcium absorption, essential to the proper functioning of our muscles.
#3- Fried foods: The toxic substances which are given off during the process of frying foods may irritate nervous fibers, causing a reduction in the production of muscle cells.
#4 – Alcohol: it blocks calcium absorption drinking too much alcohol may lead to muscle tissues decline.
#5 – Preservatives : they impair digestion and nutrients absorption, thus affecting the health of our muscles.
Thank you for reading and if you find the article The best foods for healthy muscles – foods to prefer and foods to avoid useful, please comment below and share it so other people can benefit from it as well!
Nuts are an easy topping for oats, but if you're not careful, you can easily overdo it on the calories. Adding 24 whole almonds adds an extra 164 calories to your bowl! Instead, opt for sliced almonds. Sliced almonds give you that same crunch that you desire without totally overdoing it. You can add 2 tablespoons of sliced almonds for just 61 calories! Plus, that small amount still adds a good amount of healthy fat (5 grams), protein (2 grams), and dietary fiber (1.3 grams).
If you frequently find yourself pouring a bowl of cereal an hour after finishing dinner, you might not be eating enough protein and fiber at suppertime. These meals fix that.
21. A Big Ol&rsquo Pot of Clams
In a big pot, steam 1 (25 count) bag scrubbed littleneck clams with 1/4 cup white wine, 2 cloves thinly sliced garlic, 2 Tbsp butter, and 1 large thinly sliced shallot until the clams open. Top with parsley. Eat with crusty whole-grain bread and 2 cups sauteed green beans.
819 calories, 49g protein, 92g carbs (10g fiber), 28g fat
22. Surf 'n' Spud
In an oiled cast-iron pan over high, sear 6 large sea scallops till done, about 1 minute a side. Serve with a medium roasted sweet potato topped with 1 Tbsp good butter and 1/2 cup pomegranate arials, plus 1 cup sauteed halved and seasoned Brussels sprouts.
452 calories, 34g protein, 52g carbs (11g fiber), 14g fat
23. Brat Rolls
Into a whole-wheat steak roll, stuff a grilled Beyond Brat and top with 3/4 cup warmed sauerkraut and spicy brown mustard. Serve with 1/2 cup potato salad.
654 calories, 30g protein, 72g carbs (15g fiber), 27g fat
24. Fish Tacos
Season and roast a 4 oz salmon fillet, then flake and tuck into three 5-inch corn tortillas with 2 Tbsp black beans, 1 Tbsp guacamole, and 1 medium sliced radish. Add some hot sauce and cilantro on each.
408 calories, 32g protein, 42g carbs (11g fiber), 14g fat
25. Tofu Stir-Fry
Stir-fry in 1 Tbsp of canola oil 1/2 block extra-firm tofu, 1/2 cup shelled edamame, and all of the following, chopped: 1/2 bunch asparagus, 1 cup broccoli florets, 1/2 red bell pepper, 1/2 cup water chestnuts, and 1/2 cup sugar snap peas. Season with rice-wine vinegar and soy sauce.
530 calories, 35g protein, 37g carbs (14g fiber), 28g fat
26. Chop Chops
Sear 2 seasoned lamb chops and serve drizzled with 2 Tbsp balsamic syrup and topped with 1 Tbsp minced mint. Serve with 1/2 cup cooked green lentils and 1/2 large broiled tomato.
398 calories, 41g protein, 40g carbs (13g fiber), 8g fat
27. Shrimp Pasta
Saute 4 large peeled, deveined shrimp in 1 Tbsp olive oil, 2 minced garlic cloves, 1/4 cup roughly chopped unsaltedalmonds, and 1 lb chopped broccoli rabe. Toss with 2 oz cooked whole-wheat spaghetti and 1 Tbsp freshly grated Parmesan.
708 calories, 38g protein, 70g carbs (13g fiber), 35g fat
28. Buffalo Bun
Slide 1 boneless, skinless grilled chicken breast into a wholewheat bun with 1 Tbsp Frank&rsquos RedHot and 2 Tbsp crumbled blue cheese. Eat with 1 cup raspberries on the side.
383 calories, 36g protein, 38g carbs (11g fiber), 11g fat
29. At Red Lobster .
Order the Southwest-Style Tacos with Grilled Shrimp and a side Caesar salad.
920 calories, 30g protein, 91g carbs (10g fiber), 50g fat
30. At Chipotle .
Ask for a Chicken Burrito Bowl with pinto beans, fajita vegetables, guacamole, corn salsa, and lettuce.