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The Top 10 Muscle Building Foods

Growing muscle begins by hitting it hard in the gym, while following a well-defined protocol of which muscle groups to work, and when. And that's just the beginning. How you work out plays a major role, along with proper supplementation. Think about it, muscle grows as a response to the stress of weight bearing exercise. That's right, your muscle may grow as a compensatory method for dealing with mechanical loads that are greater than what the muscles are generally able to push or pull. Sure, we have all read the "grow your arms" in one workout type articles, and perhaps even some of us have tried these extreme training regimens. However, what we sorely forget and underestimate is the anabolic power of food. Yup, you have to eat to grow and what and when you eat can make more of an impact on your body than perhaps even how you train. To give you an idea of what muscle-foods are (these are not just red-meat), we reviewed the scientific and non-scientific literature and have compiled foods that not only belong in your refrigerator, but also on your daily menu. Blood Food -- Muscle Food One would think that if it was good enough for ancient warriors, these types of foods might be also right for us. We can eat the meat of red-blooded animals for the high protein and muscle building content. We know from science that meat protein has a higher absorption rate when compared to vegetable protein (red meat versus soy). From this we can easily surmise that red meat (extra lean beef is best) should be at the top of any bodybuilders food chain. For your optimal red meat (beef) you must choose organic. Organically fed animals have lower, more normal amounts of estrogenic hormones (a hormone that any male body builder does not want). And should also be free of antibiotics and other crap. If you cannot afford this type of red meat (usually sold at health food stores, Whole Foods, Wild Oats and even Trader Joes), than go for grass-fed beef. Grass-fed beef has higher amounts of omega-three fatty acids (n-3 FA) and CLA than hormonally treated, feed-fed beef. The Versatile Egg Eggs, especially the organic variety is rich in protein, contains essentially fatty acids and is probably the most versatile food on this list. Organic eggs usually contain about 400 mg of omega-3 fatty acids, while also being low in saturated fat (< 1gm). A typical supermarket egg contains almost no omega-3 fatty acids and more saturated fats. An abundance of saturated fats in the diet is linked with heart disease and many other death-defying conditions. If your supermarket does not carry organic or free-range eggs, go to or Terrrific Turkey Turkey is not only for Thanksgiving but also all year round. It is versatile, from sliced deli-lunch meat to the nice oven-roasted full 12-pounder that your Mom makes for a holiday. Turkey is low in fat and high in protein. It is an inexpensive source of iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium and B vitamins. In fact, if you like to eat the skin on a piece of turkey breast (the healthiest part), it will provide only an additional four grams of fat as compared to the skinless version. Skinless chicken breast happens to contain about one-fourth the amount of fat, as does red meat, so it too should be included in your diet. For all meats, choose organic or free-range. To increase your palate, feel free to enjoy turkey or chicken sausage. To learn more about the nutritional side of these foods, see Oil Your Joints Sure, we like to have non-creaky joints, especially after years of hitting the iron hard, but is this always possible? Specific fats found within fish oil, olive oil and canola oil can have vastly different effects within your body. These three healthy fats are all desirable. Extra virgin olive oil is the richest oil containing polyphenols. These little olive-charged diddies help your heart stay healthy, while also maintaining a normal blood sugar. Keeping blood sugar in check helps avoid fat gain. No bodybuilder wants to gain fat weight, at least not during the summer months. In addition to olive, I like canola oil (rapeseed) to be part of the diet. It is rich in monounsaturated fats and contains only one-half the amount of saturated fats as does olive oil. Outside of flaxseed oil, canola oil contains the second highest amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. Fatty fish and fish oil are the richest sources of Omega 3 fatty acids, especially EPA and DHA, which are particularly beneficial to bodybuilders and other athletes.Weight training and hard exercise induces cellular inflammation that can lead to minor muscle loss (catabolism). An intake of at least one to two grams of fish oil every day can reduce inflammation and provide overall health benefits as well. In fact, according to the FDA, supportive research shows that consumption of EPA and DHA Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease. The Vegetable Forrest Okay, let's face it, most vegetables do not taste like a Twinkie or even a Supreme Protein bar (I love these bars!), however these water-rich nutritional dynamos do promote leanness and a healthy body in many different ways. Can or should we ask if one vegetable is better than another? From a nutritional standpoint, that is a simple question. The more colorful a vegetable is, the better or more nutritious it is. Each different color (yellow, red, blue, green, orange, etc.) has its own nutritional fingerprint, with one thing in common, rich in antioxidants, polyphenols, indoles and other cellular detoxifying agents. We are supposed to eat at least five servings of vegetables and/or fruits per day (a serving equals about one-half a cup). Vegetables for the most part are also low in calories and contain fiber. We need fiber for more than just regularity, it also helps with satiety. Thus, vegetables can help you with leanness. Fish Believe it or not, there are whole University departments devoted to the health of the fish species ( If you are a fan of freshwater fish, and want the lowest-fat fish, choose burbot (~1gm fat/serving), if saltwater (ocean) fish is your love, than the following are among the lowest in fat, orange roughy, pollock, cod, perch, skipjack or yellowfin tuna. Since the fat in fish is actually anti-catabolic, has anti-inflammatory effects and is among the best protein sources for you, try to eat the following at least two to three times per week; sockeye or wild salmon, whitefish and sea trout. Most bodybuilders include the staple canned tuna (canned in water, not oil) as it is an easy to eat food, high in protein and ultra-low in fat. Thankfully today we have the type of tuna that comes in a ripable foil, so we do not need to have a can opener always around. I advise trying to evenly split your protein meals between red meat, fish and fowl so that one form does not rule your gastronomic experience. Fruits Fruits are chock full of natural antioxidants, fiber, vitamins, minerals and even digestive enzymes. Did you know that the enzymes within papaya and pineapple have been found to help relieve joint pain associated with weight training? In fact, one study also found that these fruit enzymes r educed post-exercise muscle soreness ("DOMS"). So for the fact that no one ever got fat eating fresh fruits or vegetables and that these items contain great amounts of vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals and agents that may help your exercise recovery, they are a must have on any top ten list. Quinoa is Not Just a Grain Do you like to eat barley? Have you ever had just a real good slice of rye bread? Or have you just enjoyed a nice slow cooked bean meal? Nutritionally, quinoa might be considered a super-grain--although it is not really a grain, but the seed of a leafy plant that's distantly related to spinach. Quinoa has excellent reserves of protein, and unlike other grains, is not missing the amino acid lysine, so the protein is more complete (a trait it shares with other "non-true" grains such as buckwheat and amaranth). The World Health Organization has rated the quality of protein in quinoa at least equivalent to that in milk. Therefore, quinoa truly is a protein packed grain that is like none other. Per half-cup, quinoa contains 11 grams of protein, five grams of fiber and only 4.9 grams of fat. It is rich in complex carbohydrate and the one true "grain" that we all should be eating. Since we all should be fiber striving for 25 or more grams per day, this is one food that can help you achieve both your protein and fiber goals. Oatmeal Yup, this porridge-looking breakfast dish is a muscle-building food. Oatmeal, slow-cooked oatmeal is low-glycemic, rich in beta-glucans, full of fiber and induces satiety while not promoting sluggishness. Beta-glucans are compounds within oats that actually can lower your risk of heart disease, oatmeal also contains fiber and is a perfect complement to a breakfast of eggs and fruit. Meal Shakes Let no one tell you differently, the shakes that you and I love to have either before or after we train is real food. You drink it like any beverage and in fact, your digestive system digests the contents of the shake just as if you were to chew its original contents and swallow them. For the reasons that muscle-making can be influenced greatly by meal timing and that the majority of these shakes are comprised with various derivatives of dairy (casein, whey, etc.) and carbohydrates (oats, maltodextrin -- from potato or corn starch) and with some fat. For example, ProSource's NutriPure Supreme is certainly a food and should be included in every serious bodybuilders supplement list. The Shopping List Without a doubt, the hardest part for some lifters is actually getting to the supermarket and picking up these top ten muscle-building foods. I would think that if you remembered to pick up eggs, red meat, chicken/turkey, plenty of vegetables and fruits, fish, olive and canola oil, whole grains, MRP powders or shakes and of course water and pretty much you will not have any nutritional worries. Try for organic food items where possible and of course, learning to cook from such great books as Gourmet Nutrition or From Scrawny to Brawny will make this process that much easier. Eat up and enjoy! Douglas S. Kalman MS, RD is a Director in the Nutrition and Endocrinology Department of Miami Research Associates ( and contributes to the ProSource Forum.