Build Muscle by Fueling Yourself the Right Way
By KIMBERLY WOLF
LIVESTRONG.COM is dedicated to empowering and inspiring people of all ages to live active, healthy lives. In light of that mission, the Editorial Team has partnered with ShimmerTeen.com to create content that promotes health and wellness for teens.
If toning or bulking up is your goal, you might be envisioning a serious workout schedule. However, your strategy for building and maintaining muscle over time shouldn't just revolve around hitting the gym. Your diet plays an important role too.
Foods to Limit
You can probably guess the foods you shouldn't eat. Too much unhealthy fat and sugar can cause you to keep weight on or gain weight, and this extra fat can hide muscle tone. You may have strong muscles, but if you have excess weight on your body, you might not be able to see them.
The Building Blocks of Muscles
"In order to build muscle, maintain a normal metabolism and not lose strength, your diet needs to contain adequate protein," says Dr. Caroline Cederquist, founder of bistroMD.com and author of The MD Factor. When you work a muscle at the gym or through everyday activities like walking or even writing, you are breaking down the muscle, and then your body works to repair it. (This process is similar to what happens if you damage a piece of clothing and then need to fix it with fabric glue or a patch.) It may sound painful or dangerous, but most of the time, the breaking down and rebuilding of muscles is a normal, healthy occurrence. It's happens all the time, even if you can't feel it!
It is through the muscle-repair process that the muscle builds itself, but only if you are supporting your body with the right nutrients. "The muscles you use repair when your diet contains adequate amounts of the building blocks of muscles, which are amino acids," Dr. Cederquist says. "Amino acids are only found in foods that contain protein."
Good Sources of Protein
Dr. Cederquist points to "foods of animal origin," such as chicken, fish, eggs, pork and beef, as good sources of protein. Vegetarian foods also contain protein, but they are not complete proteins, so vegetarians may need to eat a variety of foods to get the full range of amino acids they need.
[Read More: Why Starvation Diets Are a Bad Idea]
How Much to Eat
To maintain or increase your protein intake, Dr. Cederquist recommends having a portion of protein that's roughly the size of your palm at lunch and dinner. You can also have protein-rich foods like yogurt or eggs at breakfast.
One note of caution: You might be tempted to eat more protein than you need. "While protein is needed," Dr. Cederquist says, "the body can only utilize a small amount at a time -- three to five ounces. Any additional protein is converted into fat for storage." And don't forget to eat enough of the other foods you need, like vegetables and healthy fats. If you're not sure how to structure your diet to maximize for building muscle and general wellness, a knowledgeable adult or health care provider can help you find personalized recommendations for your age and body composition.
Building muscle can change your appearance, make you feel stronger and improve your overall health. "All people, children and teens alike, need to move and exercise their muscles and bodies in order to keep them functional," Dr. Cederquist says. "I suggest that teens just live a fun, young, healthy life by being active."
[Read More: Getting in Shape Doesn't Have to Mean Losing Weight]
Because most teenagers are still growing and developing physically, and because everyone's bodies are different, it's always a good idea to check with a wellness professional before starting a new exercise routine. If done incorrectly, weightlifting and extreme muscle-building activities can cause injuries and have harmful effects on tendons and growth plates. Ask your parent to take you to the doctor or fitness trainer. They can help you learn how to build muscle safely without putting yourself at risk.
Readers -- What was the most surprising fact that you learned from this article? If you're trying to put on muscle, how are you doing it? Are you seeing any results? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Kimberly Wolf, M.Ed., is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of ShimmerTeen.com, a new health, wellness and lifestyle destination just for teenage girls. Kimberly graduated from Brown University, where her senior thesis exploring the history and evolution of sexual-health content in girls' magazines earned honors in Women's Studies. She also holds a master's degree in human development and psychology from the Harvard Graduate School of Education, where she studied adolescent health and media. She is a national speaker and has been quoted on such websites as CNN.com, WebMD and Health.com.
Charge, Sophie B. P., and M.A. Rudnicki. “Cellular and Molecular Regulation of Muscle Regeneration.” 84 (n.d.): 209-38. Physiological Reviews. American Physiological Society, 2004. http://physrev.physiology.org/content/84/1/20.
Sub Kwon, Young, M.S, and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. “How Do Muscles Grow?” How Do Muscles Grow? University of New Mexico, n.d. May 2015. http://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/musclesgrowLK.html.