Got a little — or a big — paunch since your last trip to the beach? Summer's coming, and you know you've got work to do if you want to lose those extra pounds and add some well-defined muscles. But you can head to the gym as often as you like and cut all the calories possible and still not get the results you desire if you're not eating the right foods.
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Proteins have long been recognized as muscle-building foods, and they are, but a variety of foods are vital if your body is going to get the raw materials it needs to build lean, solid muscles. Be sure and include these foods in your daily diet:
Eggs. Some experts call eggs the perfect food, and even some who had warned against eggs because of their cholesterol content are admitting that eggs have gotten a bad rap. In fact, they contain high-quality protein that's great for building muscles — and maintaining energy — and they are packed with antioxidants and all nine amino acids. A study from Texas A&M found that people who ate three eggs a day while weight training gained twice as much muscle mass as those who only ate no more than one egg a day. But don't fall for the myth that raw eggs are better for you. Your body only absorbs 50 to 65 percent of the protein in raw eggs, as opposed to 91 to 95 percent of the protein in cooked eggs.
Salmon. Salmon is packed with high-quality protein and is rich in omega-3 fatty acids that hundreds of studies show lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes. But those same omega-3s can reduce the breakdown in muscle protein after a hard workout, and the amino acids in salmon help muscles rebuild. Be sure to buy wild-caught salmon since it contains much more omega-3s than farm-grown salmon.
Almonds. Almonds are high in vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps you recover quickly from a vigorous workout by preventing muscle damage and helping muscles grow. Afraid they'll pile on the weight? A study published in the journal Obesity found that people who ate nuts twice a week were 31 percent less likely to gain weight that people who never, or only rarely, ate nuts, and eating a 2.5 ounce snack of almonds daily also lowered bad cholesterol and raised good cholesterol.
Grass-Fed Beef. Grass-fed animals are a good source of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) that regulates body fat. Many studies have shown that CLA builds muscle mass, and one study of a group of people undergoing resistance training found that within nine weeks, those taking CLA showed a remarkable seven-fold increase in lean muscle mass when compared to those who took a placebo. High levels of zinc in beef help maintain testosterone levels, and testosterone promotes muscle growth.
Yogurt. Yogurt is high in protein and carbohydrates which help you recover quickly from a strenuous workout and in addition aid muscle growth. Yogurt also contains CLA, which reduces body fat according to many studies. If you choose Greek yogurt over regular, you can get up to twice the protein.
Coffee. The caffeine jolt from coffee will help you work out longer, probably by stimulating muscles, say experts. A study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that men who drank coffee before exercising were able to train 9 percent longer than those who didn't drink coffee. In another study British and Danish researchers found that caffeine improved exercise efforts by 16 percent.
Water. Yes, water! Although not a food, it's basic to life and about 80 of your muscles are comprised of water. If injured, your body takes longer to repair muscles if they are dehydrated, so drink up. Experts recommend at least a quart of pure, fresh water daily.
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