Diet & Nutrition for Lean (but Buff) Muscle
When you’re trying to pack on some lean muscle mass, knowing what to eat (and what to avoid) is just as important as working out.
These foods can make you gain fat, so eat them sparingly: Potato chips and potatoes, sugar-sweetened drinks, processed and unprocessed red meats, refined grains, and sweets and desserts
These foods can help you stay trim, so enjoy plenty of them: Vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and yogurt
Adequate protein is necessary for proper muscle formation and function. It’s equally important to get enough protein throughout the day and immediately post-workout to optimize muscle function. Most body-building experts recommend getting about 1.7 to 1.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day.
These protein-rich foods can help you build muscle, so include them in your diet regularly:
- Fish, especially wild salmon and shellfish. Salmon has an abundance of omega-3 fatty acids and provides about 35 grams of protein per 5-ounce serving. Shellfish like clams and scallops are rich sources of iron and vitamin B12 to help keep your muscles energized. Omega-3 fatty acidsfound in high concentrations in cold water fish can help build and maintain muscle mass.
- Poultry, like chicken and turkey. A 3.5-ounce serving of chicken contains about 30 grams of protein. Poultry is also a great source of B-vitamins, iron, and zinc.
- Beans, tofu, and other legumes. These foods are high in protein as well as fiber, a winning combination to help keep blood sugar levels stable during workouts.
- Low-fat dairy products like skim milk can help you gain more lean muscle mass from weight training, while helping you lose fat at the same time.
- Nuts are rich in B vitamins, vitamin E, minerals, protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Raw walnuts and almonds make a satisfying post-workout snack.
- Eggs are a terrific source of high quality protein. They’re also rich in choline, a substance that helps your nerves communicate with your muscles. Omega-3-enriched eggs give you an extra shot of these healthy fatty acids.
In addition to a healthy diet, many workout buffs recommend performance-enhancing supplements. These supplements usually contain some combination of amino acids (the building blocks of protein), as well as vitamins and other nutrients to help build muscle and aid in post-exercise recovery.
Here are some popular performance-enhancing ingredients and their functions:
- Beta-alanine (an amino acid) and creatine (a storage molecule for the body’s major energy source, ATP) have been shown to delay muscle fatigue during exercise.
- Vitamin B6 assists energy-producing cells of the body and vitamin B12 helps repair damaged cells and synthesize new red blood cells.
Leucine, isoleucine, and valine are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that can enhance post-exercise recovery by reducing protein breakdown.
What else works?
- Water makes up about 70% of your muscle mass and is crucial for building healthy muscles. Most people should drink about 8, 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
- Caffeine enhances muscle strength and can decrease post-workout muscle pain.
Exercise: Cardio, Weight-Resistance & Cross-Training
Resistance (weight) training helps you build muscle, while cardiovascular exercise (cardio) helps you trim the fat. Cross-training refers to engaging in a variety of regular exercises to experience well-rounded health and muscular development
Resistance training refers to any kind of exercise that causes the muscles to contract against a force or resistance, such as weights, rubber tubing, or even your own body weight. Examples of resistance exercises include weight-lifting, push-ups, lunges, chin-ups, squats, leg presses, leg extensions, abdominal crunches, and sit-ups.This type of training builds and tones muscle tissue and can help:
Strengthen your muscles
Decrease the risk of falls, especially in seniors
Raise your resting metabolic rate so you burn more calories even when you’re not exercising
Lower blood pressure
Build stronger bones
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults train each major muscle group on two or three non-consecutive days each week with two to four sets of each exercise for 8 to 12 repetitions.
Tip: Make sure to give your body time to rest between training days. Muscle is built during these “off” times, so avoid over-training.
Cardio exercise includes those activities that get your heart pumping harder and your respiratory rate up, like running, walking, rowing, cycling, soccer, swimming, dancing, and tennis. This type of exercise can help you:
Have more energy
Decrease your risk for heart disease and diabetes
Lower blood pressure
Lower stress levels
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio exercise per week. The time spent doing cardio can be spread out over several days or condensed into three days per week.
Tip: To lose weight, you may need as much as 60 to 90 minutes of cardio several times per week.
Cross training is recommended by both amateur and professional athletes as a technique for achieving peak conditioning. Nate Godfrey, a life-long rugby player who coaches women’s rugby at the University of Rhode Island, uses a model of cross-training called Cross Fit:
“Cross Fit is a cool concept that deals with strength and conditioning fitness, and has a dietary component, as well,” Nate says. “To build strength, you have to lift weights, but traditional machines have their limitations,” he explains. “Weight stacks work on a vertical axis—up and down—but when you go to put something up on a shelf, you don’t do it in a vertical plane. You need to be able to lean and reach with the weight, so each joint and muscle group needs to be exercised in ways that optimize their full range of motion to help you accomplish this.”