Noshing on a variety of nuts is good for you in so many ways, even in the results you glean from your workouts. Provided you put in the effort with the right muscle-building exercises, nuts are a good dietary staple to support you in getting stronger and more fit.
Nuts aren't what you'd think of as traditional muscle-building foods, but they contain valuable amounts of protein and nutrients that can support muscle gains and fitness.
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Nuts Provide Muscle-Building Protein
Figures from the USDA indicate that about a handful (one ounce) of mixed roasted, unsalted tree nuts average about 5 grams of protein. Roasted, unsalted peanuts have 7.9 grams of protein per ounce, USDA says.
This makes nuts a useful addition to your basket of muscle-building foods. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, if you're lifting weights or training for a marathon, you should consume protein at 0.5 to 0.8 grams per pound of body weight. For instance, if you weigh 150 pounds, you'll want to eat 75 to 120 grams of protein daily.
That's not too hard, considering the USDA notes a medium chicken breast without the skin provides about 36 grams of protein, and a cup of canned chickpeas provides about 11 grams, per USDA.
"Evidence suggests that you'll get improved muscle building if you spread your protein intake out over the day," says Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, CDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, in New York City. "Nuts really come into their own here, as they are both an easily portable snack and can seamlessly be added to meals to boost their protein content."
Nuts don't just bring protein to the table — they're also rich in useful nutrients such as magnesium, which can also help when you're trying to max your muscle power.
The USDA reports that Brazil nuts contain 105 milligrams of magnesium in an ounce — at least 25 percent of the recommended daily allowance, which varies between 310 and 420 milligrams depending on age and gender, according to the Office of Dietary Supplements.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, a lack of magnesium can cause muscle spasms and weakness or stiffness if you don't get enough. Nuts also top off your levels of zinc and iron, with an ounce of raw cashews providing 1.9 milligrams of iron and 1.6 milligrams of zinc, according to the USDA.
An April 2020 review in the Journal of King Saud University - Science reported that zinc increases levels of a hormone that promotes muscle strength called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).
Iron is vital for making myoglobin, a protein that carries and stores oxygen in muscle tissues, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Female endurance athletes, in particular, are at high risk of iron deficiency.
Nuts for Workout Snacking
So, nutritious nuts are your fitness friend, but is there a best way or time to eat them pre- or post-workout?
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics says that you should make sure you consume a meal or snack that contains protein and carbohydrates one to four hours before your workout and again within approximately 60 minutes post-workout.
"Nuts can provide the protein element of a pre- or post-workout snack, then you just need to add the healthy carb part," Taub-Dix says. The following are some pre- and post-workout snacks that contain nuts that Taub-Dix suggests will help fuel you. Remember: You still need to keep an eye on portion sizes if you're sculpting muscles as part of a weight-loss plan.
- Bowl of low-fat yogurt topped with berries and chopped mixed nuts.
- Peanut butter and banana sandwich.
- Handful of nuts and raisins (two parts raisins to one part nuts).
- Apple slices dipped in almond butter.
- Smoothie made by whizzing a cup of frozen berries, a tablespoon of almonds and half a cup of your favorite milk.
Read more: 9 Healthy Nuts That May Help You Live Longer
- USDA: “Unsalted Deluxe Roasted Mixed Nuts"
- American College of Sports Medicine: “Protein Intake for Optimal Muscle Maintenance”
- Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA, RDN, CDN; author, "Read It Before You Eat It – Taking You From Label to Table"; director, owner, BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, New York, New York
- Office of Dietary Supplements: “Magnesium”
- Cleveland Clinic: “Feeling Fatigued? Could It Be Magnesium Deficiency? (and If So, What to Do About It!)”
- Journal of King Saud University - Science: “The Influence of Zinc Supplementation on Igf-1 Levels in Humans: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis”
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: “Iron”
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Timing Your Pre- and Post-Workout Nutrition”
- USDA: “Mixed Nuts, Without Peanuts, Unsalted”
- USDA: “Chicken Breast, Grilled Without Sauce, Skin Not Eaten”
- USDA: “Brazil Nuts”
- USDA: “Nuts, Cashew Nuts, Raw”
- USDA: “Peanuts, Roasted, Unsalted”
- USDA: “Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans, Bengal Gram), Mature Seeds, Canned, Drained, Rinsed in Tap Water”