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What if I told you that you could gain more muscle mass with less training? Or retain more muscle mass with less training? And even gain/retain more strength with less training? The secret is nutrition.
As a personal trainer, most of my clients exhibit this behavior: they train hard, but they don’t give a heck about nutrition. So the time and effort they spend on training is wasted. Why? Because they think nutrition is complicated and they avoid the topic. I understand perfectly, because I used to be like that as well.
But we need to train smart. This means knowing how nutrition works and how to utilize it for your own fitness and strength gains. This works for anyone and everyone, be it 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:
1. Lean Beef
This should be a STAPLE of your diet if you want to gain muscle mass. Why? Because it is loaded with all sorts of things conducive to muscle growth. On average, a three-ounce serving of lean beef is only 154 calories, yet it provides ten essential nutrients, 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 3 ounce serving of lean beef provides roughly the same amount of protein as 1.5 cups of beans, but at half the calories.
2. Skinless Chicken
Like beef, it 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 constitutes relatively pure casein protein. For those who don’t know, casein protein is a slow-digesting protein, which means it is perfect for muscle maintenance. This is useful especially for guys who have no choice but to go long periods without eating. Not forgetting, cottage cheese is also an excellent source of vitamin B12, calcium, and other important nutrients. My advice: buy the nonfat/low-fat versions.
Eggs contain high quality protein, nine essential amino acids, choline, the right kind of fat, and vitamin D. To sum it up, they are the most value for money. And please note, eggs are not harmful for your health, as numerous studies have already shown.
5. Whey Protein
There is a reason why whey protein supplements are the most popular supplement in the bodybuilding world: because 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. However, for those of us non-bodybuilders, simply using it right after our workouts can be very effective for muscle mass gains. Do not rely on it completely though. It’s more important to get high quality protein from whole foods, and use whey protein as a boost.
6. Tuna and Other Fish
High in protein, low in fat, and rich in omega-3 fatty acids. The key here is omega-3 fatty acids. They are essential, not only for health reasons, but also because they improve fat loss and ensure the proper function of your body processes, such as your metabolism.
Oatmeal is an ideal source of carbs due to both its low glycemic index (GI) value and the fact it is minimally processed. The benefits of a low GI diet are as follows:
- Better micronutrient profile and more fiber
- Increased satiety
- Decreased hunger
- Lower subsequent energy intake (second meal effect)
- Fat loss
In short, enhanced fat loss for those looking to lose weight, and a constant source of carbs for muscle preservation.
8. Whole Grains
Whole grains digest more efficiently and provide more nutrients than refined grains, and as such promote sustained energy levels and overall health. For instance, 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
Firstly, fruits and vegetables are a rich source of antioxidants, which are essential for the healthy functioning of your immune system. Secondly, they 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, which helps to flush out the substances your body does not need.
10. Healthy Fats
I know some of you shudder at the thought of consuming fats, but good fats are essential for muscle growth. In fact, they play an essential role in hormone production (testosterone and growth hormones) that is responsible for muscle growth and strength gains. Your metabolic rate is elevated as well, which helps you shed more fats. In addition, fats are needed for many important maintenance functions. Polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats are the 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.