Losing body fat is the typical resolution sought by most people in the New Year but this is not the same for everybody. Some people may actually want to target increasing muscle mass this year, whether it be sports performance or aesthetically pleasing goals. Hypertrophy (gaining muscle mass) requires a well-structured resistance training programme and nutrition strategy to maximise training adaptations.
Energy demands are very different for individuals whose training goals focus on hypertrophy ahead of fat loss, and in order to achieve these goals your diet plays a vital role. Choosing the right food is essential so here’s a shopping list for what you need to keep your fridge and cupboards stocked to help your muscles grow.
MeatMeats are nutrient dense sources of protein with superior essential amino acid profiles to soy and plant based alternatives. Including meat in your diet may maximally stimulate protein synthesis to promote gains in muscle mass and strength. Apart from vegetarianism another reason for avoiding meat products is their saturated fat content and associated heart disease risk. However research is continuing to demonstrate that is it not saturated fat, but rather simple and refined carbohydrates that pose a greater disease risk. Therefore, any recommendation to reduce red meat intake to prevent cardiovascular risk is weakening.
A variety of meat is always best to benefit from their different nutrient properties. Try not to stick to just chicken like most bodybuilders, but include beef, turkey, lamb, pork and ham throughout the week to your preference. Organ meats (offal) are also excellent choices, especially liver. Liver actually has a much superior range of micronutrients compared to other red meat (see figure 1), so try to have it at least once per week (with bacon obviously!).
Like meat fish can either be a lean or fatty source of protein and both offer excellent nutrient properties, and should be part of your daily diet when building muscle due to its complete amino acid profile. Lean fish include cod, haddock, tuna steak (or tinned not in sunflower oil),sea bass, pollock etc.; and oily fish include salmon, mackerel, trout, sardines and herring. Oily fish are rich in DHA & EPA omega-3 fatty acids that may enhance protein synthesis, so try and have at least 2-3 portions of oily fish per week.
A great source of protein and fats, eggs are also full of many vital nutrients which promote health and protein synthesis. A lot of these nutrients are actually found in the egg yolk, yet people remove this due to its saturated fat and cholesterol content, which is unfounded. This doesn’t mean you should crack 6 raw eggs into a glass and drink them, simply because you’ve watched Rocky do it! Instead enjoy them for breakfast boiled, scrambled, poached or as an omelette filled with fibrous vegetables.
Figure 1.Micronutrient breakdown comparison between liver and red meat.
A much healthier and protein rich alternative to many commercialised yoghurts that are filled with additional sugar. Some products like Fage Total, Skyr & Liberte provide 10g protein per 100g serving, so it is an ideal option for something to snack on between meals to meet your protein requirements. Like other dairy products, yoghurt is a great source of calcium & vitamin B12 which are important nutrients for musculoskeletal health and energy production.
If you’re hungry and need something to eat or drink, especially after training, milk may be the best choice. Research has shown milk to be the best thing to have after training to maximise recovery compared to any energy drink or protein product. The natural sugars, proteins & electrolytes in milk replenish muscle glycogen stores, stimulate protein synthesis & rehydrate better than any sports supplement. Milk proteins are 80% casein and 20% whey, so having a pint of milk before bed may also support protein synthesis whilst you sleep. All you need to do is choose whether to have skimmed, semi-skimmed or whole milk to suit your caloric needs!
Cured meat products like biltong and jerky have increased in popularity over recent years and may be just the thing you need if you struggle for high quality protein snacks. Not only does it retain nutrients in beef like iron, zinc and vitamin B12, it has approx. 20g protein per serving and is low in carbohydrates and fat, making biltong or jerkya great choice for anybody on the go.
Another snacking option or ingredient that can be added to meals is nuts. Although nuts aren’t a complete protein they do contain approx. 7g protein per 30g serving. They are also very calorie dense due to their high unsaturated fat content, but this can be useful to help meet total energy needs. Nut butter is also a very popular product nowadays, and including a generous tsp. of your preferred peanut/cashew/almond butter to a smoothie, bowl of porridge, yoghurt or homemade protein or energy bars is an easy and healthy way to increase your calories.
The answer to a lot of people’s questions for increasing muscle mass and strength, but ultimately this should be a last resort. Supplements are designed to ‘supplement’ a diet if the nutrients it requires cannot be met through food. In particular, protein supplements like Big Whey, Hypnos are for convenience if food is not available at the time, and higher calorie products like Ultimate are designed for individuals or athletes who need the calories but struggle to get it through food.
Creatine is one of the most researched supplements to date and is well-established in its role in promoting strength and muscle mass. Creatine is only found in small amounts of foods like meat and fish, therefore supplementing with Creatine may benefit individuals who undertake high levels of strength training.All of the food products listed above should be prioritised each day to provide sufficient levels of dietary protein to maximise gains in muscle mass and strength.
A food first approach should always be applied to ensure you benefit from all the different nutrients available in each food. If you struggle to meet your energy and nutrient requirements through food alone, then you should look to supplements to correct any deficiencies.
Before you start thinking about using creatine or any other performance related supplements, get your diet sorted first as this is the most important thing to get right!
Get in the gym and start lifting weights – resistance exercise is the most important stimulus for building muscle.
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Article by Danny Webber