Aside from strength and power training, you need carbohydrates and protein to help muscles repair damaged tissues (from exercise), grow in size and provide energy. Choose foods that have complex carbohydrates, high-quality protein and are nutrient dense. These foods are easy to shop for and do not cost you much money and time to prepare.
Animal sources, such as lean cuts of chicken, turkey, beef and pork, provide essential amino acids that your body can use to repair and build muscle tissues immediately. Lean meats provide less saturated fat and less calories. You do not need to consume large quantities of meat in one sitting or in a day to gain muscle. Excess protein in your body will be either excreted in the urine or stored as body fat.
Whey is a liquid byproduct made from cheese production. Whey protein is a mixture of globular proteins isolated from whey once the cheese-making process is finished. After the fat is removed from the whey, the whey is dried and heated, denaturing the proteins for easier digestion and absorption. Whey protein is common consumed as a post-exercise meal for both strength athletes and endurance athletes. It is easy to prepare and costs less than meat per serving.
Whole grain products provide a rich source of complex carbohydrates that your muscles need for fuel to perform work. These carbohydrates do not absorb as quickly as simple carbohydrates (sugar, refined bakery products) and your muscles receive a steady supply of energy throughout the day. Whole grains also contain a rich supply of B vitamins, fibers and phytochemicals, which support energy metabolism, improve immune functions and reduce bad cholesterol. Such foods include brown rice, whole-grain cereals, oats, millet, whole-grain bread and pasta, and barley.
Carbohydrates also spare your body from using protein as a source of fuel (in the form of glucose). If you do not consume enough carbohydrates, you body will use proteins from your muscle for energy which would defeat your muscle-building goal.
Legumes, Nuts and Seeds
Legumes (beans, soy, lentils, carob, peanuts), nuts and seeds are excellent plant sources of energy and protein, especially for vegetarians. However, they provide mainly incomplete proteins that your body cannot use. Therefore, you must combine different types of plants sources of protein to make complete proteins, such as beans and corn, rice and tofu, and peanut and jelly with whole-wheat bread.
Fruits and Vegetables
Although fruits and vegetables do not have much protein and fewer calories of carbohydrates compared to legumes and whole-grain foods, they do provide indirect aid to your muscles with vitamins and minerals that optimize energy metabolism and immune functions. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are antioxidants that help reduce free radicals that are prevalent during and after exercise. Iron in your red blood cells transports oxygen throughout your body. Calcium and phosphorus are the basic building blocks of strong and flexible bones.
- "Perspectives in Nutrition;" Gordon Wardlaw and Margaret Kessel; 2002
- "Exercise Physiology, 5th edition;" William McArdle; 2001