The Best Foods For Muscle Gain, According To Experts – Forbes

The Best Foods For Muscle Gain, According To Experts – Forbes

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Expert Reviewed
If you’re serious about building muscle, then nutrition should be a big focus for you, as what you eat—or don’t eat—is just as important as how you exercise. Studies show that several nutrients such as proteins, folic acid and vitamin B12 play a role in muscle growth and performance.
But not every food is right for muscle building. While high-protein foods can fast-track your muscle growth, others, like refined sugars, may not do your muscles much good. Here’s everything you need to know about the best foods for building muscle.
Nutrition plays a critical role in muscle growth. Intense exercise (such as resistance training) causes trauma to muscle fibers, which then triggers a process to repair and replace those damaged muscle fibers. Muscle growth occurs when the rate of muscle protein synthesis (or the muscle repair process) is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. Nutrients like protein help fuel muscle synthesis, while decreasing muscle protein breakdown.
Indeed, protein helps you grow and repair muscle, reduce hunger and burn fat, according to Karisa Karmali, a sports nutritionist and owner of Self-Love and Fitness in Ontario, Canada.
However, proteins alone won’t guarantee maximal muscle gains—you’ll also need an energy source to fuel your body, and the easiest way to do that is by loading up on carbohydrates, according to Rachel MacPherson, a Canada-based certified personal trainer and exercise nutritionist. “Carbs fuel your workout and also stimulate insulin—a hormone that helps build muscle,” says MacPherson.
You’ll also need to add healthy fats—such as monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids—to your diet, explains MacPherson, as these fats promote the production of muscle-building hormones such as testosterone. “In general, about 20% fat in your diet is usually enough,” she adds.
While it’s helpful to know about the individual nutrients that are best for building muscle, most of us are more focused on actual foods. If you’re wondering about specific foods to add to your diet to encourage muscle growth, some of the best foods for the job—according to experts—are below.
Protein powder is an excellent way to supplement protein on the go, says Karmali. Most brands contain about 10 to 30 grams of protein per serving, which makes protein powder a great way to boost your protein reserve pre- or post-workout. What’s more, most powders dissolve readily in water or milk, and can easily be added to smoothies. Protein powder comes in a variety of formats, including whey protein and plant-based protein.
One systematic review in Sports Medicine looked at protein supplementation’s effect on performance in adults ages 18 to 50. It found that while untrained individuals’ supplemental protein had no impact on lean muscle mass and muscle strength during the initial weeks of resistance training, as the duration, volume and frequency of the training increased, protein supplementation seemed to enhance gains in muscle strength in both untrained and trained individuals[1].
One piece of skinless, boneless chicken breast contains about 55 grams of protein, which makes it a great muscle building food. But beyond protein, chicken is also a great source of micronutrients such as iron and vitamin B12, which may also support muscle building.
There are many ways to enjoy chicken in your diet, and Karmali notes you can add it to both hot and cold dishes. However, Karmali cautions against breading or deep frying your chicken, as it may hinder your muscle building goals. Instead, she recommends pan-searing or grilling your chicken breast.
“Many people may find chicken breast boring, but when it is seasoned correctly, for instance with paprika or lemon pepper seasoning, it can be delicious,” says Karmali. “I would also pair it with a complex carbohydrate such as sweet potato, brown rice or quinoa.”
Eggs are one of the best forms of complete protein (a protein source that contains all nine amino acids), according to MacPherson. One large boiled egg contains about 6 to 7 grams of protein. They are also packed with other nutrients and healthy cholesterol, which support muscle growth.
Both whole eggs and egg whites have been shown to improve muscle building, but whole eggs may have an edge. According to a small study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming whole eggs shortly after a resistance training session increased muscle protein production more efficiently than egg whites[2].
Tofu, a soy-based food, is an excellent alternative to animal protein, says Karmali. “It contains roughly 6 grams of protein per 3-ounce serving,” she says. Tofu is also a great source of calcium and iron, which promotes muscle growth. Calcium helps muscles contract and relax properly, while iron helps deliver oxygen to the muscle cells.
According to a 2015 review in Journal of the American College of Nutrition, soy protein is just as effective as animal-based proteins in supporting weight loss and promoting lean muscle gain, and even offers additional cardiometabolic benefits[3].
Skim milk—which is high in carbs but low in fat—is a perfect addition to post-workout protein shakes, says MacPherson. It contains about 12 grams of carbs and 8 grams of protein per cup, making it a great protein and energy source.
In an older study from 2007 that examined the effect of post-workout consumption of skim milk in novice, male weight lifters, it was found that skim milk boosted muscle hypertrophy in the early stages of resistance training[4].
A can of tuna contains about 42 grams of protein, which makes it a great choice for muscle building. It also contains several vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium and vitamin B12, which all support muscle growth.
Tuna is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids which are not only great for the heart, but also help improve muscle mass and strength. For instance, a small 2015 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that fish oil-derived omega-3s slowed muscle mass decline and function in older adults[5].
Change Your Relationship With Food
Noom doesn’t follow a “one-diet-fits-all” approach. What you’re already eating can likely be adapted to your goals. Start your custom program today.
Not all foods support muscle building. If you’re focused on building muscle, foods to limit include:
Knowing when to eat is also important for muscle gains. MacPherson recommends eating a few hours before you start working out so you don’t get nauseous. You should also avoid high-fat foods close to a workout, as they can slow down digestion.
“You can consume a high-carb, high-protein meal about an hour before your workout for fuel,” says MacPherson. After your workout, she recommends getting 25 to 40 grams of protein and 50 to 100 grams of carbs. Some foods that can help get you there, according to MacPherson, include:
In addition to a balanced diet, Karmali recommends taking a protein supplement—such as a protein powder—to maximize muscle building and retention.
Bottom line: Nutrition plays a critical role in muscle building. So, for best results, do your best to stick to foods that complement your goals, avoid foods that can slow you down and eat the right foods at the right time.
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Dr. Antonio is chief executive officer and co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, an academic nonprofit dedicated to the science and application of sports nutrition and supplementation. In addition, he is the co-founder and vice president of the Society for Neurosports, an academic nonprofit with a focus on sports neuroscience. Dr. Antonio earned his Ph.D and completed a post-doctoral research fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He has published over 100 peer-reviewed papers as well as over a dozen books. His current areas of research include: dietary supplements (e.g., creatine, protein, etc.), sports neuroscience and human performance. He is currently a professor at the Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Florida.


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