Though everyone and their mother (and their dog, and their mother's dog) is blatantly aware that eating poorly will result in an increase in fat, somehow the opposite has evaded many of us: eating healthy in order to increase lean muscle mass. Before you try to bulk up on celery and carrots, let’s take a look at the top ten foods that will help you effectively building lean muscle.
1. Eggs (and not just the whites)
While many bodybuilders used to consume egg whites in the belief that they would avoid the cholesterol in the egg yolk, it’s now widely known you should in fact eat both the egg white and the egg yolk together. During a study at Texas A&M, subjects who ate three whole eggs per day throughout the length of their 12-week weightlifting program gained twice as much muscle mass and twice as much strength as those eating one per day or none at all. Whole eggs might be egg-zactly (groan) the ticket to gaining muscle mass after all.
2. Greek yogurt
This is the perfect post-workout snack to help you replenish bone mass, lower stress and reduce belly fat. Greek yogurt offers calcium, lean protein, Vitamin B12, magnesium and potassium that will work towards building lean muscle mass. Plus, this delicious, creamy yogurt can be used in smoothies, with fruit or granola for breakfast or even in sauces and dips to diversify how you consume it.
3. Leafy greens
Packed with iron for optimal oxygen circulation when you exercise, leafy greens like kale, arugula and spinach also help to rebuild and repair your muscles. So don’t get green with envy when your friends start to bulk up—join them by incorporating leafy greens into your daily diet.
A top source of lean protein with heart healthy fats and loads of Vitamin B12, magnesium and potassium, fish is a great ingredient for building muscle mass. The fatty acids in fish stimulate muscle building when paired with protein, which can be found in capsules or the fish itself. Try salmon or tilapia for an option that's super high in protein and delicious!
One of the only grain-like sources that can aid in building lean muscle mass, quinoa contains lean protein and essential amino acids to aid in the repair of your muscles. Like yogurt, it can also be incorporated into a variety of meals with other protein-rich foods, like in fishcakes or even in homemade sushi!
6. Low-starch veggies
Low-starch veggies such as broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and celery have a lower glycemic index than high-starch veggies, assisting in weight loss and offering plenty of fiber for digestion. With just the right amount of carbs to replenish glycogen to the muscles after working out, these are the perfect option for those looking to gain lean muscle.
Particular polyphenols (a type of micronutrient) in apples help to increase muscle strength and prevent muscle fatigue. A recent study from the University of Iowa suggests that a compound in apples even turns off a protein responsible for the aging of muscles. Turns out an apple a day could actually keep you buff.
8. Brown rice: Slow-digesting and great for feeling full throughout the day while exercising, brown rice is said to increase natural growth hormone (GH) levels to encourage lean muscle growth and fat loss. So next time you go grocery shopping, make the easy switch and pick up a bag of brown rice, leaving that white rice behind.
8. Grass-fed beef
Building lean muscle is made easier with the protein content in beef. Even better is grilling up some grass-fed cattle which has much higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid, a super nutrient. By helping you to shed body fat and build lean muscle, grass-fed beef can be an ideal part of your muscle-building routine.
10. Cottage cheese
Rich in the protein casein, cottage cheese is a great source of protein before bed. As a slow digesting protein, cottage cheese will help your muscles from being used as an energy source while you sleep. Plus, it’s an option that’s easily added to many meals and snacks.
When working towards building leaner muscle, keep in mind the foods you’re eating—not just the exercises you're doing. The old saying "You are what you eat!" may actually be true after all.