What if I told you that you could retain or even gain more muscle mass and strength with less training? The secret lies in your nutrition.
As a personal trainer, most of my clients exhibit similar behavior: they train hard, but they don’t give a damn about nutrition. So the time and effort they spend on training is wasted. Why do they sabotage their own success? Because they think nutrition is complicated and want to avoid the topic.
But ignoring nutrition isn’t an option. Knowing how nutrition works will help you utilize it for your fitness and strength gains. This works for anyone and everyone, for general fitness maintenance or muscle mass gain.
To get you started, here is my list of the top ten foods to help you gain more muscle mass and strength.
If you’re training your brains out and eating mindlessly, you’re holding yourself back. [Photo courtesy coach Tom MacCormick]
1. Lean Beef
This should be a staple of your diet if you want to gain muscle mass. Lean beef is loaded with all sorts of things conducive to muscle growth, including iron, zinc, and B-vitamins. More importantly, it provides your body with high-quality protein (not all proteins are equal), and a high level of amino acid that works with insulin to promote muscle growth.
For those who are trying to lose weight, this should come as great news – a 3oz serving of lean beef provides roughly the same amount of protein as 1.5 cups of beans but at half the calories.
How about these recipes to help you make the most of your nutrition plans:
2. Skinless Chicken
Like beef, chicken is an excellent source of high-quality protein, which is important for muscle maintenance and repair, bone health, and weight maintenance. And of course, there are so many ways you can cook and prepare chicken. Go down to the store and you can easily find chicken meat cut into single serving sizes that can be seasoned and quickly cooked.
3. Cottage Cheese
Not many people know this, but cottage cheese is almost entirely pure casein protein. Casein is a slow-digesting protein, which means it is perfect for muscle maintenance. This is useful especially for people who have no choice but to go long periods without eating. Cottage cheese is also an excellent source of vitamin B12, calcium, and other important nutrients.
Eggs contain high-quality protein, nine essential amino acids, choline, the right kind of fat, and vitamin D. They provide the most value for your money. And eggs are not harmful to your health, as numerous studies have already shown.
What was “bad” is good again:
5. Whey Protein
There is a reason why whey protein supplements are the most popular supplement in the fitness industry: they provide a fast and convenient source of protein at an affordable price. Bodybuilders normally use them when they wake up, right after their workout, and mixed with some of their meals.
For the rest of us, a scoop in our shakers right after our workouts can be very effective for muscle mass gains. It’s important that you still get high-quality protein from whole foods, and use whey protein as a boost.
6. Tuna and Other Fish
Fish are high in protein, low in fat, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3s are essential because they aid in fat loss and ensure the proper function of your body processes, such as your metabolism.
Oatmeal is a great source of carbohydrates due to both its low glycemic index (GI) value and the fact it is minimally processed. The benefits of a low-GI diet include:
- Better micronutrient profile and more fiber
- Increased satiety
- Decreased hunger
- Lower subsequent energy intake (second meal effect)
- Fat loss
In short, low-GI foods can enhance fat loss for those looking to lose weight, and provide a constant source of carbs for muscle preservation.
Wait, aren’t carbs bad? Not if you do them right:
8. Whole Grains
Whole grains digest more efficiently and provide more nutrients than refined grains. This promotes sustained energy levels and overall health. In particular, brown rice can help boost your growth hormone levels, which are critical for encouraging lean muscle growth, fat loss, and strength gains.
9. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are a rich source of antioxidants, which are essential for the healthy functioning of your immune system. They also provide tons of other nutrients, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene. Finally, your body requires the fiber these fruits and vegetables provide to aid in proper digestion and nutrient uptake.
10. Healthy Fats
I know the thought of consuming fat makes some of you shudder, but good fats are essential for muscle growth. In fact, they play an essential role in hormone production (testosterone and growth hormones), which helps drive muscle growth and strength gains. In addition, fats are needed for many important maintenance functions.
Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are good fats. You can find them in salmon, other fishes, nuts, leafy veggies, oils such as flaxseed, avocados, and seeds. They are also all rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
That covers what to eat. What about how to eat and train to gain mass?