It’s an age old problem that never seems to get better. You go to the gym but you aren’t getting the results you’d hoped for, especially in terms of your muscular profile. If actors like John Krasinski and Joseph Gordon-Levitt can do it, why can’t you? The answer may lie in your diet. Busting a gut at the gym is one thing, but once you re-enter civilian life, there are other things you can do. Garbage in, garbage out, computer programmers say. So should say weight trainers. Sports nutritionists certainly do. Because superfoods are all the rage these days; foods that have so much nutritional value that they are almost medicinal. Foods that may just change the way you live. Not everyone can have a dietician on-call, but you don’t need one.
Instead you can DIY your diet with these 15 superfoods. Some are exotic, but most are just foods that your mom used to serve when you were a kid but that you may have turned your nose up at. These foods provide important nutrients to help your body prepare for your workout and help your body recover afterwards. Remember that although protein is indispensable, you can’t ignore carbs, iron, vitamins, minerals and even fats. The body needs it all. Don’t waste your energy on empty calories. Head to the grocery store or specialty food store and fill up that cart with the following foods.
15. Wild Salmon
Salmon has protein, a must for muscle building, but it also has omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and boost the immune system. Wild salmon is marginally better than farmed salmon because farmed salmon tends to be fed fattier foods than what wild salmon consume, so farmed salmon tends to be higher in all fats than wild varieties. Nevertheless, farmed salmon costs less than wild salmon, so you may be able to eat more farmed salmon than wild salmon. You may decide to splurge on the wild type from time to time. The important thing is to decrease dependence on less healthful animal proteins. It’s better, that is, to eat farmed salmon weekly than to eat wild salmon once a month and spend the rest of your meat budget on cheeseburgers from an el-cheapo chain restaurant.
With vitamin C, potassium, fibre and iron, broccoli is an efficient container of nutrients for all athletic endeavours. It also has phytochemicals, those vegetable-source nutrients that help fight disease. Eat broccoli raw, or steam them lightly until the greens get greener and the thick stalks become slightly tender. Throw raw or cooked broccoli into a salad with some other superfood veggies in this list. Don’t just eat the frilly heads, either. The stalks are part of the vegetable. The florets have more phytochemicals, but the stalks have more fibre. Even broccoli leaves are edible.
13. Low-Fat Greek Yogurt
People who want to get ripped must take care that fats don’t tip the scales at the expense of muscle mass. Still, everyone needs calcium. Be sure not to talk yourself into treating that chocolate milkshake as your daily source of calcium. Instead, eat low-fat Greek yogurt. One cup of yogurt will do it for your daily calcium intake. As a bonus, Greek yogurt has a higher protein content and half the sugar than regular yogurt, so that may be the best choice for your smoothies and berry-and-yogurt breakfasts.
Spirulina is a cyanobacteria, a single-celled organism found in fresh waters around the world. Sometimes called blue-green algae, spirulina is harvested and sold as a powder or tablet in health food stores. Like plants, spirulina use photosynthesis, so they contain large amounts of chlorophyll. Along with this body-cleansing substance, spirulina consists primarily of protein and has eight amino acids. Besides the protein, its nutritional content is staggering: iron, phytochemicals, salt, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, K, and E. Throw a spoonful of spirulina in your smoothies, sprinkle it on cereals and salads, and even bake it into your cookies.
11. Brown Rice
Weight-training requires nutrients other than protein. The body turns carbohydrates turn into glucose, a necessary substance for giving energy to the body during workouts and for repairing muscles afterwards. Brown rice is composed mostly of carbohydrates, so it works as a great glucose source. Brown rice is good for other things too. It has a high fibre content, so it fills you up more than does white rice or pasta. As well, brown rice contains magnesium. Magnesium works with calcium to make muscles contract properly, so having some magnesium in your body aids in the recovery periods of exercising. Consumption of brown rice has correlated with the reduction of rates of cancer, heart disease and type-2 diabetes. Be sure to eat brown rice before and after lifting.
10. Sweet Potatoes (Yams)
These South American tubers contain many nutrients to help build muscle mass and improve overall fitness. Sweet potatoes contain potassium (more than bananas), a mineral that helps with muscle contraction, and they are a good source of vitamin E, which helps prevent the formation of so-called “bad” cholesterol. The yellow-orange color of sweet potatoes signals the heavy presence of carotenoids, phytochemicals that that acts as an antioxidant. Beta-carotene is very present in sweet potatoes. Beta-carotene gets converted into vitamin A, and it helps keep metabolism ship-shape. True, sweet potatoes are carbohydrate-heavy, but don’t forget that people need carbohydrates. Use this vegetable instead of regular potatoes.
9. Goji Berries
Goji berries are a high-protein vegetable, so already their value to weight training is high. One quarter cup of the berries contains four grams of protein. Goji berries also have much more going for them nutrient-wise. They are another food with antioxidants, in this case vitamin A. A quarter cup of goji berries fulfills more than what you need daily. That same quarter cup contains four grams of fiber, 30 percent of one’s daily vitamin C requirements, 15 percent of one’s daily iron requirements, and only 90 calories. Goji berries often find their way into the smoothies and salads of health-conscious citizens.
Sure, nuts are fattier than a slice of tomato, but they are also neat little tasty packets of nutrition. Nuts in moderation have health benefits that make them impossible to ignore. Stay away from the big tub of peanut brittle your significant other has hidden from you (it’s in the linen closet, by the way). Stay with raw or roasted with zero added ingredients. If you must choose one nut over another, go for almonds. They contain the most protein of all nuts. They also have more fibre, calcium, vitamin E, and niacin than most nuts. On top of that, they are high in antioxidants, and they are relatively easy to obtain compared to other nuts.
Once considered too fatty to include in healthy diets, avocados have kicked off their bad reputation and entered the winner’s circle for muscle-building regimens. One avocado has 250 calories, sure, but it also has over 15 grams of fiber and 20 key nutrients. That same avocado has 10 grams of monounsaturated fat, the kind that helps your body shift fat from your midsection and thus shift heart attacks away from your chest. A 2013 study by scientists at the US Center for Disease Control reports that people who eat avocados have much better outcomes in terms of waist circumference and amounts of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, or “good” cholesterol. Unlike other green things that are good for you (I’m looking at you, kale), avocados taste good.
The maca is native to the Peruvian Andes and looks like a cross between a garlic head and ginger root. Usually sold as a powder, the maca root is noteworthy for its sterol content. Sterols, like steroids, help to build damaged muscles. Furthermore, maca contains potassium, vitamins B1, B2, C and E, as well as metals such as magnesium, copper, and zinc. Maca tends to be sold in health food stores rather than grocery stores. It has a malty flavour and therefore you can fool yourself into thinking you are eating a malted shake if you add some to your yogurt smoothie.
5. Raw Chocolate
Raw chocolate is not the same as a Milky Way bar that has been battered and deep-fried. Raw chocolate is made from unroasted or other unprocessed cocoa beans. By leaving the bean raw, the nutrients remain intact. Among those nutrients are those antioxidants that keep your body from slowly degenerating into a decrepit mess. The very high magnesium content also helps with muscle recovery after exercise. Raw chocolate doesn’t come in cheesecake form. You will have to do with a powder, pellets, or butter. Powders are great for smoothies. Hell, sprinkle some raw chocolate powder on your poached chicken breasts if that makes you feel better about eating chicken breasts.
4. Hemp Seeds
Hemp seeds (really, hemp nuts) come from cannabis plants, but they do not contain anywhere near the THC of smokeable varieties. Don’t let that news harsh your buzz, because you’re interested in building muscle, right? And hemp seeds are there for you in that case. Hemp seeds are one-quarter protein of the highly digestible sort, and they are full of omega-3 fatty acids. Hemp seeds are also high in fibre and contain vitamin B and E. Rather than use hemp powder supplements, consider putting a tablespoon of the seeds into your breakfast cereals or your salads.
Although quinoa looks like a grain, it is really the seed of a spinach-like plant. Its benefits resemble those for hemp seeds. This grainy seed has eight grams of protein per cup, so its muscle-building usefulness begins there, but that usefulness doesn’t end there. It is high in fibre, zinc, and magnesium, and it is full of amino acids. On top of all that, its glycemic index is low, meaning that its sugars burn off slowly and thus give you a sustained energy source over a long workout. Once a health-food store staple, quinoa has grown in popularity, so that everyday grocery stories now carry it. Cook it like a cereal grain and serve it like you would rice.
Some weight-training folks won’t eat fruit, but fruits are beneficial for general health as well as for muscle-builders. Fruit is high in fiber and contains a great many vitamins. In particular, mango contains vitamins A, B6 and C, and one cup of mango contains 2.6 grams of fiber. It also contains magnesium and copper. Because of its economical calorie density (0.6 calories per gram), mangoes are suitable for the weight-loss stage of a training regime. They also have a low glycemic index and therefore are beneficial for piecing out energy to your body during sustained workouts.
1. Boneless Skinless Chicken Breasts
When your Hugh Jackmans and your Chris Hemsworths get ready for their superhero roles, they pound down the poached chicken breasts like there’s no tomorrow. Maybe at this point you are sick of eating chicken breasts. Chicken breasts are perfect for weight training, which is why they form the staple of many a weight trainer past and present. They have a protein-to-fat ratio of 19 to 1, they contain muscle-stacking nutrients like zinc, vitamin B6 and iron, they are easy to cook and easy to find at the store, and they have enough class to make a chicken breast meal something you can serve to someone else for supper. Unlike, say, a kale and wheatgrass smoothie. You don’t have to poach the hell out of chicken breasts all the time. Grill them and toss a mango and avocado salsa on top of it.