Build Muscle Through Better Nutrition

Build Muscle Through Better Nutrition

Want to gain weight? Eat the right foods and watch your lean muscle mass and athletic performance improve.

The basic mantra for building muscle and either gaining weight or maintaining it for an athlete is pretty straightforward: "Eat, eat and then eat some more". The simple fact of the matter is that most athletes just don’t eat enough. I can already hear you saying, “But Coach, I eat all the time and can’t seem to put on weight.” Nonsense! You may be eating but you’re probably not eating in a way that’ll help you maximize your strength and lean muscle mass.

When eating to optimally fuel your body and build muscle mass don't get too fancy. In order to take out the guess work I’ve put together the list below which contains the best energy-producing and muscle-building foods proven to help you recover faster and add pounds of muscle to your body.

The Best Muscle Building Foods
So what’s a good muscle building food anyway? Simply put, any food that has a high quantity of carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of good fat qualifies itself as a quality muscle building food. The best way to ensure that you get adequate nutrition to fuel gains in strength and size is to combine two high quality sources of carbs and protein, and to make sure you get adequate amounts of the healthy fats. Never, never, never go on a low carb diet. I know those diets are overly-hyped but they’re not going to do anything for you as an athlete. Instead, focus on eating a diet that will assure you have plenty of energy, nutrients and good fats.

High Quality Muscle Building Carbohydrates
Carbohydrates are muscle sparing nutrients. Now you’re probably thinking, what’s that even mean? Let me break it down for you guys. The body uses carbs for energy and your muscles are the largest storehouses for this energy in the form of glycogen (stored carbs). By eating quality carbs you’ll increase your energy levels which will maximize your performance in workouts, practices, and games. Go a day without eating enough quality carbs and you’ll feel the negative results in your workouts, practice and basic mental and physical energy… so bottom line, don’t do it.

Complex carbs are the best for you to consume in large quantities because they are released slowly and won’t hit your blood stream too fast. Simple carbs like fruit juices, and sports drinks (Gatorade and PowerAde) should be restricted to around workout/practice periods as they provide immediately useable energy (which causes an insulin spike). Below you’ll find a few examples of each:

The Best Complex Carbs

  • Whole Wheat or Multi-Grain Bread (not white bread)
  • Brown rice
  • Oatmeal
  • Whole Wheat or Multi-Grain Bagel
  • Pasta (whole grain is best)
  • Natural Low Sugar Cereals (Kashi and Fiber One and not processed foods like Frosted Flakes and Coco Puffs)
  • Potatoes (sweet Potatoes and Yams are best)

The Best Vegetables/Fiber and Enzymes

  • All of them. There aren’t any bad veggie’s, just poorly prepared ones. Stay away from fried veggies and eat them raw whenever possible. Add some color to your plate every meal by eating steamed or raw vegetables.

The Best Simple Carbohydrates

  • Whole Fruits like Apples, Oranges, Bananas, Grapes, Raisins and Mangos
  • Honey
  • High carb drinks (PowerAde, Gatorade, etc.) Stay away from low nutritional value sodas and punches.

High Quality Muscle Building Proteins
Why is protein important? Because amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle, are only made when your body breaks down protein. Now, not all foods contain enough protein and protein completeness also differs, but the list below contains the best sources of lean protein if you’re trying to put on mass. It’s also important to note that vegetarian diets should combine a few protein sources in order to get all the essential amino acids in each mean (i.e. mix rice and beans or legumes).

When it comes to building muscle mass and strength, without sufficient protein you are guaranteed to fail so make sure you eat one of the foods listed below at every meal.

The Best Protein Foods

  • Chicken breast
  • Turkey
  • Tuna
  • Eggs (the protein is in the whites)
  • Cottage cheese
  • Yogurt (Greek yogurt has the highest protein content)
  • Protein Shakes
  • Lean cuts of beef
  • Milk
  • Fish (Salmon)
  • Low Fat Cheeses

High Quality Fats
High quality essential fatty acids help in your production of testosterone and hundreds of biological functions in the body.

The magical omega-3 fatty acids required for this can be found in the below listed foods.

The Best Fat Foods

  • Flaxseed oil
  • Olive oil
  • Udo's choice oil blend
  • Cod-liver oil
  • Avocados
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Natural Peanut Butter and Almond Butter

Nature’s High Quality Energy Drink - Water
There is no replacement for water. Only water means only water boys and girls. Sodas, teas, and even Vitamin Water, aren’t good substitutes but I’m sure I’m not the first person to tell you that. If you’re serious about building muscle and improving your performance, stick to zero calorie beverages like water that will keep you hydrated and won’t fill you up with countless grams of sugar.

Not many people drink enough water, but then again not many people see the muscle gains they want either.

One Last Tip
If there’s one thing to remember it’s "Eat, Eat and then eat some more". Eat your traditional three meals and then fill-in the gaps with snacks from the lists above (i.e., an apple, a piece of cheese and slice of turkey, or a cup of yogurt and some nuts). If you follow these simple guidelines your gains in muscle, strength, and energy won’t disappoint you. Eat more, eat better, gain weight, gain muscle. It's that simple!

If you're looking for some additional help in gaining good lean mass, we here at 1R would recommend the following supplements:

  1. Optimum Nutrition 2:1:1 Recovery - The carbs and protein will help you recover and build lean muscle faster after tough workouts
  2. BSN True Mass - A post workout recovery product with 6 different protein sources will ensure that you’re maximizing your workouts
  3. Optimum Nutrition Glyco-Maize - The cleanest carbs around, the Waxy Maize Starch replenished glycogen stores after workouts
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About the Author

Greg Werner became the Head Strength & Conditioning Coach at James Madison University in 1995 after working as an assistant in the program the previous three years. He received his Masters degree in Kinesiology with a concentration in Exercise Science from JMU (’94). In addition to directing JMU's strength & conditioning program Coach Werner is the faculty instructor for the School of Kinesiology's Concepts of Strength & Conditioning. Outside of the collegiate ranks Coach Werner has instructed several NFL, MLB, Pro Basketball and Olympic athletes. In 2006 Coach Werner received the prestigious title of Master Strength & Conditioning Coach from the Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coaches Association and was nominated to be a finalist for the NSCA's College Strength & Conditioning Professional of the Year Award. In 2005 he received the highest honor from the NSCA and earned the Coach Practitioner distinction, and in 1999 was selected the CAA Conference’s Strength & Conditioning Professional of the Year. Coach Werner is certified by the NSCA, Collegiate Strength & Conditioning Coaches Association, American College of Sports Medicine, and International Sports Medicine Association. Additionally, he is the President of AthElite Strength & Conditioning services, a training and consulting business. He and his wife Cyndi have two children, Hans Christian and Heidi Faith.