If you’re looking for muscle growth and definition, there’s no getting around exercise. However, you cannot exercise your way out of a poor diet, and when it comes to muscle definition, one of the keys is to lose body fat, or else you will not be able to see the muscles in the first place.
The common belief is that if you want to build muscle, you need to eat lots of protein and carbohydrates because carbs fuel your muscles and protein builds them up. However, the evidence that has emerged over the past several years shows us it’s not that simple.
One particularly intriguing finding is that your body has a mechanism that allows it to build muscle even when deprived of food. As it turns out, amino acids and protein serve not just as building blocks for tissues and muscle.
Certain amino acids — most notably branched chain amino acids like leucine — also signal muscle genes to grow and to build protein, and they do that even during times of food deprivation as long as these amino acids are circulating through your blood stream.
Moreover, research reveals that high-carbohydrate diets are a disaster for most people, as they promote insulin and leptin resistance, which actually in turn promotes muscle wasting.
Similarly, eating more protein than your body actually needs — which is usually far less than most people are eating, whether they’re athletes or not — may promote elevated blood sugar, weight gain and kidney stress, and may even stimulate cancer growth. I’ll discuss suggested dosage recommendations further below.
Foods That Promote Muscle Definition
Nutritionist, fitness trainer and author of “The Sugar Impact Diet,” JJ Virgin, recently published an article listing seven foods that can help you get lean and toned.1
Chef and three-time bodybuilding champ, Carlo Filippone, founder and CEO of Elite Lifestyle Cuisine, has also compiled a list of 20 foods that help build and tone muscle.2
Known as “The Muscle Chef,” Filippone recommends including these foods in your cooking as often as possible. Below I will summarize a number of their suggestions, along with some of my own.
1. Wild-Caught Alaskan Salmon
Rich in the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and high-quality protein , wild salmon helps combat the chronic inflammation that plagues most people in poor health. Animal-based omega-3 fatshelps build muscle.3
“These [fats] go a long way in inhibiting muscle breakdown and supporting strong blood circulation ”as noted by Filippone.
Salmon also contains leucine, with 100 grams of salmon providing you with about 1.6 grams of leucine, there’s no way you could get the recommended 8 grams of leucine from salmon, but it does contain higher amounts than most other foods.
Wild Alaskan salmon is low in mercury, which is a serious concern when you’re trying to improve your health. Canned wild Alaskan salmon is a less expensive option than salmon steaks.
Avocados are high in potassium, important for recuperation after physical exertion and water balance regulation , and healthy monounsaturated fat that your body can easily burn for energy.
The fat in avocados can help with weight management. One study found that eating just one-half of a fresh avocado with lunch helped curb snacking and boost satiation
The fat in avocados also helps your body absorb fat-soluble vitamins and minerals from other foods (and/or supplements).
Research4 has shown that consuming a whole fresh avocado with tomato sauce or raw carrots significantly enhanced absorption of the carotenoids and conversion of them into an active form of vitamin A.5
Avocados also provide nearly 20 essential nutrients, including folic acid , vitamins B, E .
The dark green flesh of the avocado is the greatest concentration of beneficial carotenoids, closest to the peel, so you’re best off peeling your avocado with your hands, like a banana.
Spinach is high in zinc, protein, fiber, potassium, copper , niacin,vitamins A, B6, C, E and K, thiamin, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, and manganese. In other words, it’s loaded with nutrition for every part of your body.
Abundant flavonoids in spinach protect your body from free radical damage and also help keep cholesterol from oxidizing . Magnesium helps lower high blood pressure and folate helps promote a healthy cardiovascular system.
Research suggests there may have been something to Popeye’s ability to turbo-charge his muscles with spinach after all, as the dietary nitrate found in spinach actually helps increase production of proteins that boost muscle strength.6
Spinach helps maintain your brain function, memory and mental clarity, studies have shown . To retain the rich iron content of spinach, lightly cook it and add a splash of lemon juice or vinegar on top.
4. Coconut Oil
Coconut oil provides a mix of medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), including caprylic acid (C8), caproic acid (C6), capric acid (C10) and lauric acid (C12). MCTs are an ideal fuel for your body.
50 percent of coconut oil is lauric acid, that has a longer carbon chain, coconut oil is not necessarily an ideal source of MCTs.
If you’re looking for ketone production specifically, MCT oil is a better alternativealthough you could opt for FRACTIONATED coconut oil, which contains primarily C8 and C10, the former of which readily converts to ketones.7
Coconut oil has many tremendous health benefitslike your body converts lauric acid into monolaurin, a monoglyceride that can destroy viruses and gram-negative bacteria. This is undoubtedly part of what makes it so medicinally useful.
5. MCT Oil
Your body processes MCTs differently from the long-chain fats in your diet. Normally, a fat taken into your body must be mixed with bile released from your gallbladder and acted on by pancreatic enzymes to break it down in your digestive system. MCTs don’t need pancreatic or bile enzymes.
Once they reach your intestine, they diffuse through your intestinal membrane into your bloodstream and are transported directly to your liver, which naturally converts the oil into ketones. Your liver then releases the ketones back into your bloodstream, where they are transported throughout your body. They can even pass the blood-brain barrier to supply your brain with energy. MCTs also have a thermogenic effect, which has a positive effect on your metabolism.8
For these reasons, by your body MCTs are readily used for energy rather than being stored as fat. Most commercial brands of MCT oil contain a combination of C8 and C10 fats. My personal preference is straight C8 (caprylic acid), as it converts to ketones far more rapidly than do C10 fats.
Kale include lots of highly bioavailable calcium and very high amounts of protein . One cup of raw kale contains 7 grams of carbs , 1 gram of fiber (for a net carb value of 6 grams), 2 grams of protein, . Like meat, kale contains all nine essential amino acids needed to form the proteins your body needs, plus nine other non-essential ones for a total of 18.
The vitamins offered by just 1 cup of kale can also trump a whole week’s worth of other foods: 206 percent of the suggested daily amount of vitamin A , 684 percent of the daily value of vitamin K,and 134 percent of vitamin C.
Sulforaphane, a naturally occurring organic sulfur compound found in broccoli is probably most well-known for its anti-cancer activity. Sulforaphane also “increases testosterone levels and staves off the retention of body fat” Filippone points out.
It also “ broccoli is a must have in an active person’s diet because blocks certain enzymes that have been linked to joint destruction.” Research has also shown sulforaphane helps protect your muscles against exercise-induced damage.9
Sprouts are a concentrated source of nutrition, allowing you to get more nutrients with less bulk. Look no further than sprouts if you’re looking for high-quality protein. These little powerhouses are also up to 30 times more nutrient-dense than homegrown organic vegetables.
Sprouting also makes most of the nutrients more bioavailable. Some of the most common sprouts include wheatgrass, peas, broccoli alfalfa, mung bean, and lentils. My personal favorites are watercress and sunflower.
Berries contain concentrated amounts of the disease-fighting phytochemicals that protect your heart and boost your immunity . Berries are a good choice as they’re lower in sugar than many fruits and high in fiber , making them less likely to destabilize your insulin levels.
In particular, blueberries have several known health benefits. They exert positive effects upon your lipid profile, reducing your risk for type 2 diabetes. Blueberries are one of the best fruits to protect you from premature aging because of their bountiful antioxidants.
Being high in digestible and glucose sugars , if you struggle with insulin resistance or excessive weight bananas are best avoided. Thanks to their potassium content bananas are a popular pre- or post-workout food. Potassium is a mineral that tends to be exhausted by intense exercise, so potassium-rich foods are highly recommended. One banana contains 467 milligrams (mg) of potassium, which is also important for controlling your heart rate and blood pressure.
“Eating watermelon has been shown to improve lipid profiles and lowers fat accumulation, because of its concentration of anthocyanin, a compound that mollifies fat-storage genes , according to Filippone. After a strenuous workout it’s refreshing, aides in hydration and can also help reduce muscle soreness. I usually melon ball them into a small container and use them as a pick-me up between reps.”
That said, be careful when eating any melon, including watermelon, as they do not digest well with other foods. Unless consumed by itself , melon frequently causes digestive problems, do not eat any other food 30 minutes before or after eating watermelon.
Filippone recommends eating a grapefruit before your workout to aid rehydration (which in turn also aids weight loss), as grapefruit is 90 percent water. Pink grapefruit is also a good source of vitamins A and C (providing 53 percent and 120 percent of the recommended daily value respectively) as well as fiber and potassium.
Red grapefruit contains a bit more anthocyanins and flavonoids than white or pink grapefruit. It also contains lycopene, which help fight free radical damage and protect your skin from UV damage from the sun , helps lower triglycerides.
I recommend consuming grapefruit in moderation due to its fructose content, which may be harmful to your health in excessive amounts. Also beware that grapefruit may, in rare cases, interfere with certain medications, so if you’re on meds, be sure to discuss it with your doctor.
After intense exercise papaya and other vitamin C-rich foods may help lower your cortisol level . Men who consumed 1,000 mg of vitamin C per day for two weeks had significantly lower cortisol following a 2.5-hour run compared to the placebo group.10
Unripened papaya has yet another advantage. Papaya contains higher amounts of digestive-resistant starch, which is important for optimal gut health. The same goes for unripened mangos and bananas . Resistant starches, which are indigestible, also do not result in blood sugar spikes.
While both green (unripe) papaya and ripe are rich in fiber , antioxidants,and papain (an enzyme that helps with protein digestion and dampens inflammation), green papaya contain higher amounts of papain and potassium.
14. Raw Nuts
Magnesium is important for muscle strength and growth , and raw nuts are an excellent source. Nuts such as pecans and macadamias are also excellent choices because they’re high in healthy fats while being lower in net carbs. Of any nut, macadamia nuts have the highest fat and lowest protein and carb content and they also happen to be one of my favorites.
Raw macadamia nuts also contain high amounts of magnesium, manganese , vitamin B1, . Just one serving of macadamia nuts provide 58 percent of what you need in manganese and 23 percent of the recommended daily value of thiamin. In macadamia about 60 percent of the fatty acid is the monounsaturated fat oleic acid. This is about the level found in olives, which are well known for their health benefits.
Pecans are a close second to macadamia nuts on the fat and protein scale, and they also contain phenolic antioxidants, anti-inflammatory magnesium, heart healthy oleic acid, and immune-boosting manganese.
15. Grass-Fed Beef
As noted by Virgin: “Beef that’s been raised conscientiously is a perfect source of healthy fats, nutrients , protein. Grass-fed beef also comes loaded with the multi-tasking amino acid L-glutamine to help build muscle while preventing muscle breakdown.”
An excellent source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which has potent anti-inflammatory activity is grass-fed beef is . Just be mindful of the amount of protein you eat (all protein, not just that from beef). Most Americans consume three to five times more protein than they need. A more ideal protein intake for most people is likely around one-half gram of protein per pound of lean body mass, which for most amounts to 40 to 70 grams per day.
Most of those calories will simply be converted to sugar and then fat if you eat more protein than your body requires. Excessive protein have a stimulating effect on an important biochemical pathway called the mammalian target of rapamycin (mTOR), which plays an important role in many cancers.
MTOR helps minimize your chances of cancer growth. Your body must remove more nitrogen waste products from your blood, which stresses your kidneys , when you consume too much protein. Chronic dehydration can result, as was found in a study involving endurance athletes.11
A natural source of vitamin D are mushrooms , that are important for muscle function. Muscle weakness is a classic symptom associated with vitamin D deficiency. Mushrooms also improved immune function.
It’s important to eat organically grown mushrooms because they absorb and concentrate whatever they grow in — good or bad. Mushrooms are known to concentrate heavy metals, as well as water pollutants and air , so healthy growing conditions is a critical factor.
17. Olive Oil
While many recommend cooking with olive oil, this is not recommended as high temperatures will cause the olive oil to go rancid and oxidize . Coconut oil, raw grass-fed butter or even lard are better options for cooking. That said, olive oil is a healthy fat with many health benefits when used COLD, drizzled on salads . As noted by Filippone:
“Olive oil contains … monounsaturated fat, which raise serotonin -hormone associated with satiety, in your blood levels. You’ll feel fuller after a meal prepared with olive oil, which will help keep you from indulging in extra calories at mealtime.”
Be aware that olive oil is a common target of food fraud. Even “extra virgin” olive oil is often diluted with other less expensive oils, such as soybean, corn, sunflower, hazelnut, palm, sesame, grape seed or walnut. These other oils will not be listed on the label, nor will most people be able to discern that their olive oil is not pure.
Buying from a local producer if you live in an area where olive oil is made, is the ideal solution as it allows you to know exactly what’s in your oil. If not, try an independent olive oil shop that can tell you about the growers, or do your research and seek out a brand name you trust.
18. Whey Protein
Whey protein is the perfect “fitness food” as it contains not only high-quality protein, but also extremely high amounts of leucine. Leucine signaling the mTOR mechanism to build muscle and increase protein synthesis . The highest concentrations of leucine are found in dairy products; particularly whey protein and quality cheese.
1 to 3 grams daily is the typical requirement for leucine to maintain body protein . However, to optimize its anabolic pathway, you need an estimated 8 to 16 grams of leucine per day. You only need 3 ounces of high-quality whey to reach 8 grams of leucine while you’d have to eat an enormous amount of leucine-containing foods to reach this amount. This makes whey an obvious choice.
30 minutes before your workout consume the whey to help increase both fat burning and muscle building. The whey meal will stop the catabolic process in your muscle and promote protein synthesis towards recovery and growth.
On strength training days you could add a serving after your workout. Keep in mind there’s only a two-hour window after exercise during which your body will fully use the proteins you ingest for optimizing muscle repair and growth, so your timing is important.
One of the reasons whey works so well is that it is a protein that assimilates very quickly, and will get to your muscles within 10 to 15 minutes of swallowing it. This makes it easier to supply your muscles with the right food at the right time.
The amino acids found in high-quality whey protein activate certain cellular mechanisms, including mTOR, which in turn promote muscle protein synthesis, boost thyroid function and protect against declining testosterone levels after exercise , showed a study12 published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise . You just need to be careful that you are not chronically stimulating mTOR on a daily basis, as most studies suggest it will decrease your lifespan.
source : justnaturallyhealthy.com