Nutrition should be a major focus if you are serious about gaining muscle, because what you eat—or don’t eat—is equally as essential as your exercise regimen. Multiple nutrients, including proteins, folic acid, and vitamin B12, have been linked to muscle gain growth and performance, according to scientific research.
However, not all foods promote muscle growth. While foods rich in protein can accelerate muscle growth, others, such as refined carbohydrates, may be detrimental to the muscles. Everything you need to know about the optimal nutrients for muscle growth is provided below.
How Does Nutrition Impact Muscle Growth?
Importantly influenced by nutrition is muscle growth. Resistance training and other forms of intense exercise induce injury to muscle fibers, which subsequently initiates a repair and replacement mechanism.
When the rate of muscle protein synthesis (or the process of muscle regeneration) exceeds the rate of muscle protein breakdown, muscle growth ensues. Protein and other nutrients facilitate muscle synthesis while inhibiting muscle gain protein degradation.
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Protein aids in fat burning, muscle growth and restoration, and appetite suppression, according to Karisa Karmali, proprietor of Self-Love and Fitness in Ontario, Canada, and a sports nutritionist.
However, proteins alone do not guarantee maximum muscle gains; according to Rachel MacPherson, a certified personal trainer and exercise nutritionist based in Canada, you will also need an energy source to sustain your body. The simplest way to accomplish this is by loading up on carbohydrates. “Carbohydrates fuel exercise and stimulate insulin, a hormone that aids in muscle growth,” explains MacPherson.
MacPherson adds that you should also incorporate healthy lipids into your diet, including omega-3 fatty acids and monounsaturated fats, which stimulate the production of muscle-building hormones like testosterone. “About 20% fat in the diet is sufficient in most cases,” she further states.
Foods to Eat for Building Muscle, According to Experts
Although possessing knowledge regarding the specific nutrients that promote optimal muscle growth is beneficial, the majority of us tend to prioritize whole foods. If you’re curious about which foods to incorporate into your diet to promote muscle growth, experts have compiled a list of the most effective foods for the purpose.
Karmali states that protein powder is an excellent method to supplement protein while on the move. With an average protein content ranging from 10 to 30 grams per serving, protein powder is an excellent method to increase your protein storage before or after a workout.
Moreover, the majority of powders are easily soluble in milk or water, making them versatile additions to smoothies. There are numerous forms of protein powder, such as whey protein and plant-based protein.
A systematic review published in Sports Medicine examined the impact of protein supplementation on the athletic performance of individuals aged 18 to 50. It was discovered that during the initial weeks of resistance training, supplemental protein had no effect on lean muscle gain mass and muscle strength in untrained individuals.
However, as training volume, duration, and frequency increased, protein supplementation appeared to enhance gains in muscle strength in both untrained and trained individuals.
A breast of boneless, skinless chicken contains approximately 55 grams of protein per portion, making it an excellent food for building muscle. In addition to protein, chicken is an excellent source of micronutrients that may also promote muscle growth, including iron and vitamin B12.
Chicken can be incorporated into a variety of dishes, including both cold and heated ones, as noted by Karmali. In contrast, Karmali advises against deep-frying or breading chicken, as doing so could potentially impede one’s efforts to acquire muscle mass. She suggests pan-searing or barbecuing the chicken breast instead.
“Chicken breast may be unappealing to many, but it can be delicious when properly seasoned, such as with paprika or lemon pepper seasoning,” explains Karmali. “A complex carbohydrate, such as sweet potatoes, brown rice, or quinoa, would also complement it.”
In accordance with MacPherson, eggs are among the most advantageous sources of complete protein, which comprises all nine amino acids. Approximately 6 to 7 grams of protein are present in one large cooked egg. Muscle growth is also supported by the healthful cholesterol and additional nutrients they contain in abundance.
While both whole eggs and egg whites have been demonstrated to enhance muscle growth, whole eggs may possess a slight advantage. Whole eggs stimulated muscle gain protein synthesis more effectively than egg whites, according to a modest study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, following resistance training.
Tofu, a product derived from soy, is an outstanding substitute for animal protein, according to Karmali. She explains, “Each 3-ounce serving contains approximately 6 grams of protein .” In addition to being an excellent source of iron and calcium, tofu promotes muscle growth. Calcium facilitates appropriate muscle gain contraction and relaxation, whereas iron aids in oxygen delivery to muscle cells.
In addition to providing additional cardiometabolic benefits, soy protein is just as effective as animal-based proteins in promoting lean muscle gain and aiding in weight loss, according to a 2015 review published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition.
MacPherson recommends skim milk, which is high in carbohydrates but low in fat, as an ideal complement to post-workout protein shakes. Each cup contains approximately 8 grams of protein and 12 grams of carbohydrates, making it an excellent source of protein and energy.
An earlier research from 2007 investigated the impact of skim milk consumption after exercise on novice male weightlifters. The results of the study indicated that skim milk promoted muscle gain hypertrophy during the initial phases of resistance training.
Approximately 42 grams of protein are contained in one can of tuna, making it an excellent option for muscle development. It also contains a number of vitamins and minerals that promote muscle growth, including magnesium, iron, and vitamin B12.
Additionally, tuna is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which not only promote cardiac health but also enhance muscle mass and strength. For example, a 2015 small study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that omega-3 fatty acids derived from fish oil slowed the decline of muscle mass and function in older individuals.
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Foods to Avoid for Muscle Growth
Not all foods support muscle building. If you’re focused on building muscle gain foods to limit include:
- Alcohol: Alcohol consumption has been found to have an adverse effect on muscle growth due to its interference with the process of protein synthesis. Moreover, alcohol digestion, according to Karmali, compels the body to utilize antioxidants—compounds that shield cells from damaging free radicals.
- Refined sugars: Donuts, cake, and ice cream are examples of sugary foods that are high in calories but low in nutrients. “While it is mathematically true that a calorie is a calorie,” Karmali explains, “not all calories possess the same quality.” Karmali advises consuming complex carbohydrates (e.g., pears and bananas) rather than sugary foods, due to their fiber content and additional nutrients that enhance digestion and exercise performance.
- Deep-fried or breaded foods: Foods that promote inflammation and digestion issues, such as chicken fingers, french fries, and onion rings, should be avoided, according to Karmali, as they can ultimately impair exercise performance.
When to Eat for Muscle Gain
Additionally crucial for muscle gain is the knowledge of when to consume. For prevention of nausea, MacPherson suggests consuming food a few hours prior to beginning exercise. Additionally, densely packed meals should be avoided prior to exercise because they can impede assimilation.
One hour prior to exercise, MacPherson suggests consuming a high-carbohydrate, high-protein meal as sustenance. She suggests consuming 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates and 25 to 40 grams of protein following exercise. Some foods that can help get you there, according to MacPherson, include:
- A cup of egg whites with 1 cup of oatmeal
- A scoop of protein powder with a banana
- 1 cup skim milk and 1 cup of sliced strawberries
To optimize muscle growth and maintenance, Karmali suggests supplementing with a protein source, such as protein powder, in addition to a well-balanced diet.
In conclusion, proper nutrition is indispensable for muscle gain growth. Therefore, to achieve optimal results, consume foods that support your objectives, avoid foods that hinder your progress, and consume the appropriate foods at the appropriate times.