Foods to Strengthen Muscles

by Andrew Potter, Demand Media
    The foods you eat can help to maximize your workouts.

    The foods you eat can help to maximize your workouts.

    Building muscle can be sexy -- and it can also help melt the fat away from your body. The foods you eat play a role not only in performance during resistance-training, but also in sculpting muscle after you train, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Optimizing your diet will lead to bigger muscle gains and a more toned and fit body.

    Pre-Workout Meals to Power Your Muscles

    Experiment with eating from one to three hours before exercising. Eating right before exercising is not recommended because your stomach will still be digesting food -- diverting energy from your exercise. Eating both carbohydrates and protein before exercising is critical to optimal exercise performance. Muscles primarily use carbs for energy during strength training. The protein you eat before your workout will help ensure that there is an adequate supply of amino acids available to your muscles to begin repairing and building new muscle after your workout. Meals that contain an optimal mix of carbs and protein include oatmeal with low-fat milk and fresh fruit, peanut or almond butter on whole-wheat toast and an egg white omelet with a whole-grain bagel.

    Post-Workout Meals to Build Your Muscles

    For muscle recovery -- and to build new muscle -- eat a snack immediately after your workout. This will replenish your muscle glycogen stores and help ensure an adequate supply of amino acids for building muscle. The recovery snack should include an approximately 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein. Examples of post-workout snacks include a fruit smoothie with soy milk, Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and a pita-wrap with poultry and veggies. Following your post-workout snack, eat a balanced meal containing a mix of carbs, fat and protein three to four hours after your workout. Examples of balanced post-workout meals include whole grain spaghetti with lean-meat pasta sauce, grilled fish with rice and veggies and grilled ham and cheese on sourdough bread with tomato soup.

    A Healthy Supply of Fats and Oils

    Fat is not used to fuel your muscles during resistance training -- however, fat still provides you with calories -- which allows more of the carbs and protein you eat to be directed toward powering and building muscle. When building muscle it is not necessary to load up on unhealthy sources of dietary fat -- such as red meat, solid fat and full-fat dairy -- which contain saturated fats. Instead, focus on supplying your body with a mix of healthy, essential fats and oils. These are found in foods such as nuts and seeds, fish, olive and vegetable oils. A diet for building muscle should contain approximately 20-35 percent fat primarily from monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.

    Optimizing Macronutrient Intake

    The diet pattern you should follow to help build muscle is not substantially different than an overall healthy diet. Building muscle will require a diet slightly higher in protein -- however, you’ll be able to meet your protein needs with high-quality food sources of protein. Protein needs when building muscle are from 0.63 to 0.77 grams per pound of body weight. Build your meals with complete sources of protein such as low-fat dairy, nuts and seeds, tofu, egg whites, fish and poultry. It is also imperative when building muscle to maintain positive energy balance -- eating more calories than you burn. A positive energy balance will facilitate muscle growth -- whereas a negative energy balance tends to lead to loss of fat and muscle.

    About the Author

    Andrew Potter is a registered dietitian living in Cincinnati. He graduated from the University of Cincinnati with a Bachelor of Science in food and nutrition. Potter also completed a dietetic internship and earned a Master of Science in human sciences from Texas A&M University-Kingsville.

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