Approximately 70 percent of your total muscle is made up of water. The remainder of muscle is supported by essential macronutrients – protein, carbohydrates and fat – in the diet. A balanced diet with whole foods along with regular exercise is particularly important for muscle health. However, certain key foods in your daily diet can make a difference in your attempts at building muscle mass.
Protein For Muscles
Protein comprises 20 percent of muscle tissue and it is formed from amino acids, which are the basic building blocks of life. When you consume a protein-containing food, your body digests the protein and metabolizes it down into the smallest molecules possible, or individual amino acids, for absorption into the bloodstream. The amino acids required for muscle are dispersed from the bloodstream to predetermined locations and then rebuild back into protein to form muscle tissue.
Consistent, daily intake of protein sustains existing muscles. Increase muscle mass by adding a tad more protein to your diet. Increase protein based on your daily activity level and energy needs because muscle building is energy intensive. Essentially, muscle protein synthesis, or how your body uses additional dietary protein to build muscle, is most efficient when ingested at the right time. This means two hours before and within two hours after your strength-training workout.
Best Proteins: Egg Whites, Poultry and Fish
Hands down, egg whites reign supreme in the world of body building. Egg whites contain no cholesterol, therefore your heart is protected from arterial damage, and they are power-packed with nutrients like protein, B vitamins, potassium and iron.
Not a fan of eggs? Never fear, poultry and fish are the next best choice. Baked, skinless chicken, roasted turkey and grilled salmon are a few of the varieties you can choose as part of a protein-filled snack or entrée for muscle bulking. Lean poultry and fish also provide essential vitamins and nutrients without adding too much unhealthy saturated fat to your diet. If you are a fan of red meat and whole dairy, which are protein-rich yet high in saturated fat, opt for leaner versions. Lean cuts of red meat like sirloin and non-fat or low-fat dairy is best for protecting your heart while muscle building.
Carbohydrates and Muscle
Carbohydrates are important in the muscle building process, not as components of muscle tissue but as the energy source needed for your muscles to work hard enough against resistance to gain mass. When you exercise, your body burns carbohydrate energy first but when you do not have enough glucose, the basic carbohydrate unit of energy used in all your cells, the body must tap into protein stored in muscle. You need that protein to build muscle, not be displaced in the rest of your body expending excess energy to get you through an intense workout. Essentially, a diet lacking in sufficient amounts of carbohydrates can cause your body to reduce its ability to preserve muscle mass, according to a 2001 study published in the “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism.”
Best Carbohydrates: Beans, Nuts, Berries, Greens and Whole Grains
Not all carbohydrates are created equal. To support muscle building, choose slow-burning carbohydrates with high nutritive value. Beans and nuts are protein-packed, plant-based forms of protein that are also plentiful in energy supplying carbohydrates.
Fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains contain natural forms of carbohydrates instead of added sugars that can cause you to bottom out during exercise. Strawberries, blueberries, spinach, broccoli, wheat bread and brown rice are excellent sources of fiber, which allows you to process out waste regularly. This is particularly important to prevent storing excess calories as fat.
Gain lean muscle by avoiding foods with empty calories and stick to the healthy forms of protein and carbohydrates. Eat several frequent but small meals daily to keep your energy flow constant. Include lean protein and natural carbohydrates in every meal and snack. Do not forget the water. Remember, muscle is primarily made of water and proper hydration throughout the day is necessary for homeostasis and growth. One more thing, don’t think you can sit around and eat a lean protein, healthy carbohydrate diet and magically grow muscle. If you want to build it you must also work it.