Proper nutrition is fundamental to muscle gain. An adequate intake of high-quality protein is needed to supply the body with amino acids, the building blocks of lean muscle tissue. Tom Venuto, a steroids-free bodybuilder and author of "Burn the Fat, Feed the Muscle," notes that an ideal muscle-building diet will contain approximately 30 to 40 percent protein, if not higher. Macro-nutrient percentages vary in foods, making certain foods better at building muscle.
According to Murray et al. in the book "Healing Foods," the protein with the highest biological value is whey. Whey-based protein has the advantage of being convenient. Whey-protein supplements should generally be used when you are not getting enough protein from whole foods.
Eggs are rich in protein, lutein, choline, zeaxanthin, vitamin A and vitamin B12. The authors of "Healing Foods" state that eggs are the second-highest-quality food protein. A muscle-building program will focus on egg whites, but the yolk is where most of the nutrients are, including choline, which has been shown to help reduce cardiovascular disease risk. Incorporate one egg yolk with every five or six egg whites.
A positive nitrogen balance is required to prevent muscle breakdown. Ideally, a meal containing a source of complete protein should be consumed every two to three hours. Animal foods contain complete protein, making chicken breast among the top muscle-building foods.
The benefits of wild salmon are twofold: it is a source of both complete protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Venuto says that essential fats are an important part of a fat loss and muscle-building program. Omega-3 fatty acids help maintain cell membrane integrity, improve insulin sensitivity, promote growth and oxygen transfer and increase metabolic rate.
Beans are high in fiber, iron, protein and folate. Patrick Holford, author of "The New Optimum Nutrition Bible," advises mixing legumes with grains, nuts or dairy products to obtain a complete protein.
Holford claims that the ancient grain quinoa contains a better source of quality protein than meat; 16 percent of its calories come from protein. Quinoa is also a rich source of essential fats, vitamins and minerals. Quinoa also contains a good amount of B vitamins, which are important in the metabolism and digestion of proteins and carbohydrates.
Peanut butter is rich in monounsaturated fats and protein. Eat 1 to 2 tbsp. of peanut butter with an apple or celery as a snack; it's an easy way to curb hunger pangs and provide your body with adequate protein to replenish muscles. Choose natural, organic peanut butter that has no added sugar or hydrogenated fats.
Dairy products are a good source of quality protein, calcium and vitamin D. Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products to minimize your intake of saturated fat. Good lean protein sources include skimmed milk, low-fat cottage cheese and ricotta. Note, however, that dairy is a source of simple carbohydrates and should be consumed in moderation. People who are lactose intolerant may also want to greatly reduce the amount of dairy consumed to avoid symptoms of bloating and water-retention.
Almonds and Walnuts
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, author of the book "Ultrametabolism," a whole-foods diet that contains quality protein, such as nuts and seeds, best communicates with our genes. Almonds and walnuts should be on your list of fat-burning, muscle-building foods. Although calorie dense, these nuts are rich in protein, polyunsaturated fats, vitamin E, fiber, magnesium and phosphorous.
Holford regards soybeans as ideal protein foods. They are suitable for vegetarians, contain no saturated fat and half their calories come from protein.