How much do you really know about the food you are eating? Yes, it is true that most diets that are designed for building a lean and muscular body are generally constructed the same- they are low in calories, high in protein, low in carbohydrates and moderate in good-for-you fats. And with this plan comes few choices- or so we think! You no longer need to limit yourself to choosing only brown rice, broccoli and chicken! There are plenty of whole, nutritionally dense food options out there that offer up an abundant amount of benefits that will support your fitness goals and can be used for your pre-contest diet too!
Consider including the following lean-building super foods as part of your diet plan, and you will be on your way to developing a more diverse nutrition plan guaranteed to keep body fat levels low, energy levels high, and curves tight!
These cholesterol-free and low in saturated fat nuts are an excellent source of vitamin E and a good source of fiber. A one-ounce serving, which is approximately 23 almonds, has 13 grams of unsaturated fat- the good kind of fat. Almonds are also the nut with the highest content of protein, fiber, calcium, vitamin E, riboflavin and niacin. Research has even shown that they can help maintain healthy cholesterol levels. Consider adding this nut to your nutrition plan, but remember nuts also contain carbohydrates, so if you are on an extremely low carbohydrate plan, proceed with caution! Be sure to measure the amount that you are consuming to ensure you do not ingest more carbohydrates than what’s on your plan! Almonds are perfect added to oatmeal, salads or- in their nut butter composition- added to a shake!
Eggs are considered nature’s perfect protein because they offer the highest biological value or BV. This rating is an indication of how well a protein is absorbed by the body, and the amount of essential amino acids they provide. Eggs provide all nine essential amino acids- these are the ones responsible for evoking muscle building. One large egg contains just 70 calories, 6 grams of protein and 5 grams of fat. They are also nutrient dense, loaded in vitamins, minerals and even antioxidants including lutein and zeaxanthin, which are antioxidants that can help maintain eye health. They also contain choline, an essential nutrient that has been shown to play a role in cognitive function.
Most of us are used to eating just the white portion of the egg, and although they are high in fat, whole eggs can be used occasionally in your diet plan, particularly if you are on a high-protein, low-carbohydrate diet. Try using just one whole egg with three egg whites- that’s 15 grams of protein.
3. Lean Red Meat
Beef is an excellent source of the essential muscle building minerals iron and zinc. Iron is necessary for transport of oxygen in the blood, while zinc is involved in developing enzymes needed for metabolic regulation, including hormones. This is also the best food source of the muscle-energizing ingredient creatine, providing ~2 grams for every 16 oz. of meat. Now, for us ladies, a 3 to 4 oz. serving is plenty, and although much less than natural creatine, lean red meat offers up some other great benefits, too. Beef also contains conjugated linoleic acid or CLA. This fat source has been shown to help maintain lean mass, which means this is an excellent option for those of us who have a difficult time building muscle! Since red meat can be high in saturated fat, it is best to only eat a few times per week. Choose lean cuts such as eye of round.
This leafy green is low in calories, high in dietary fiber and is an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin E, beta-carotene and the minerals calcium, manganese and iron! Spinach is also high in antioxidant phytochemicals, including flavonoids and carotenoids, that can provide substantial anti-inflammatory benefits. Better than its antioxidant benefits, it has been suggested that the nitrates found in spinach are also powerful muscle builders! Research has shown that feeding mice nitrate solutions found in spinach resulted in increased muscular development and strength. I guess Popeye was right about the benefits of this product, so be sure to get lots of this super food. Add to salads or egg white omelettes.
Packed with fiber, antioxidants, and vitamins A and C, the phytochemical properties of berries may also help reduce the risks of some diseases. Blueberries and strawberries are great berry options, while acai berry is considered to have the highest antioxidant property of any berry! Although you might want to shy away from fruit due to its sugar content, most berries are high in fiber, and lower in sugar than you think. A half cup of sliced strawberries contains only 27 calories, 2 grams of fiber and only 4 grams of sugar. Used at your discretion, berries should be considered as part of your nutrition plan. Of course if you are weeks out from show time, berries along with all other fruit are still off limits.
Tomatoes are rich in the antioxidant lycopene among other phytonutrients, including carotenoids such as beta-carotene, lutein and zeaxanthin. These powerful antioxidants have been shown to help decrease the risk of certain cancers, as well as reduce the risk of heart disease. Tomatoes are also an excellent source of vitamin C, vitamin A and vitamin K. They are a very good source of enzyme-promoting molybdenum, heart-healthy potassium, vitamin B6, folate and dietary fiber. In addition, tomatoes are a good source of magnesium, niacin, and vitamin E; energy-producing iron, vitamin B1, and phosphorus. Fit tomatoes into your nutrition plan by using tomato salsa as a condiment, or adding cherry tomatoes to your salad.
This super food is usually a stable of most fitness buff’s nutrition plans, simply because it is high in soluble fiber, causing it to be digested slowly and keeping energy and blood glucose levels sustained for hours. Oatmeal has even been recognized for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease when combined with a low-fat diet, primarily due to its content of beta-glucan. Just one half cup of oats can deliver 150 kcal, 25 grams of carbohydrates and 4 grams of fiber!
8. Whey Protein
The ultimate protein, in terms of quality and bioavailability, whey has the highest proportion of branched-chain amino acids, or BCAAs, including isoleucine, leucine and valine, which are critical for driving protein synthesis and building muscle tissue. Whey is an extremely fast digesting protein and highly soluble, making it great for after a workout to restore protein synthesis. Studies have shown that whey protein can stimulate muscle anabolism post-workout. Whey protein can be used as a convenient source of protein for a quick meal throughout the day or pre- or post-workout.
Quinoa is a seed that is high in protein and fiber. In fact, half a cup of quinoa provides 20 grams of complex carbohydrates, 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber! Quinoa is high in riboflavin and magnesium, and provides all nine essential amino acids, making it a source of complete protein. And it’s easy to prepare with only a 15-minute cook time. For a change in your diet lineup, try quinoa instead of oats for breakfast or instead of brown rice for dinner.
You may know Chia from its famous days, as the clay pet you could grow green "hair" on. But actually, chia seed is an ancient super food that was used by the Aztec hunters to keep energy levels sustained. Chia seed, known as Salvia hispanica, is rich in fiber and contains two times the protein of any other seed or grain, five times the calcium of milk, two times the amount of potassium of bananas, three times more iron than spinach, and 10 times the omega-3 content of any other grain! Chia seeds are packed with magnesium, vitamin C, calcium, iron and antioxidants. Chia provides 8 grams of good-for-you fats and 10 grams of fiber in a one ounce serving. Once exposed to water, chia seeds grow to nine times their volume; the expanded seeds are slowly digested, allowing for decreased appetite between meals. Chia seeds, similar to flaxseed, can be used as a fat source in shakes, oatmeal or can even be sprinkled on salads! What’s more, in their oil format, chia seed oil is a great vegetarian replacement to fish oil.
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Almond Board of California http://www.almondboard.com/Consumer/Pages/Default.aspx
Hernandez A, Schiffer TA, Ivarsson N, Cheng AJ, et. al. Dietary nitrate increases tetanic [Ca2+] and contractile force in mouse fast-twitch muscle. J Physiol . Jun 2012.
Poole C , Wilborn C, Taylor L and Kerksick C. (2010). The role of post-exercise nutrient administration on muscle protein synthesis and glycogen synthesis. Journal of Sports Science and Medicine. 9: 354-363.
Sesso HD, Liu S, Gaziano JM, and Buring JE. (2003). Dietary lycopene, tomato-based food products and cardiovascular disease in women. J Nutr. 133(7): 2336-41.
Ulbricht C et al (2009). "Chia (Salvia hispanica): a systematic review by the natural standard research collaboration". Rev Recent Clin Trials 4 (3): 168–74.
USDA Nutrient Data Laboratory http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/list