- Hannah Aylward
Eat Your Way to Stronger Muscles
Eat Your Way to Stronger Muscles
by Hannah Aylward
There are over 600 muscles in the human body. Healthy muscles let us move freely and keep our bodies strong, whether this means dancing, practicing yoga, walking the dog, hiking, breathing, or pumping adequate blood throughout the body. Strong muscles also help us keep our joints in good shape and maintain balance, reducing the likelihood of injury. The coolest part is that the activities that make our skeletal muscles strong, like holding that muscle-quivering plank pose, will also help keep our heart muscle strong.
In addition to increased joint health and stronger bones, gaining muscle can change the shape of our bodies. Working out, however, isn't the only factor in muscle growth: diet also plays a huge role. Proper nutrition is essential for effective improvement of athletic performance, conditioning, recovery from fatigue after exercise, and avoidance of injury.
Here’s everything you need to know about eating to build muscle.
You have to eat enough total calories.
For our bodies to have enough energy to grow our muscles, we need to eat more calories than we burn per day. It is important to eat enough food to both sustain our activity levels and support new muscle growth. In addition to eating enough protein, adding more calories from veggies, fruits, and healthy fats will help increase energy and ensure your muscles are getting the amount of nutrients they need to keep growing.
The amount of calories we need depends on our weight, metabolism, and the intensity of our workouts. Make sure to make these calories the right kind of calories.
Protein is important.
Protein is critical for building muscle mass especially after strength training when muscle fibers are repairing from the damage of a workout, so they can grow back stronger. In addition to supporting tendons, ligaments, and other body tissues, protein is necessary to maintain healthy muscle mass. When our diet lacks amino acids, muscle atrophy (muscle wasting) can take place as your muscle fibers are broken down to support the body’s energy needs.
We can get in plenty of protein by eating foods like chicken, wild-caught seafood, beans, lentils, pasture raised organic eggs, hemp seeds, and high-quality plant-based protein powders. However, quick and important to note: we can overeat protein. Ah, balance. Eating more protein on top of what we can actively use does not build more muscle. In fact, too much protein may be converted to excess blood sugar through a process called gluconeogenesis which can negatively affect muscle visibility.
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. Exactly how much protein each of us needs is determined by multiple different factors including genetics, activity levels, types of exercise, and hormones. Try adjusting your protein intake and monitoring how it makes you feel and look. Readjust as necessary.
Muscles are made up of 79% water, so naturally, water is an important element of muscle building. If we are dehydrated, our bodies cannot focus on building muscle. Instead, they are putting energy toward fighting fatigue and headaches. So, drink up! Drinking more water is one of the simplest things we can do to positively impact our overall health today.
Don't forget micronutrients.
Our bodies need micronutrients in addition to protein, carbs, and extra calories to stay healthy. For example, muscle cells need iron, a mineral micronutrient, to produce energy. Another important mineral, magnesium, helps with energy, muscle strength, flexibility, sleep, and stress management.
Get more sleep.
Getting enough sleep is one of the most important things you can do to help your body build muscle. It is during these hours that the body repairs itself from the day and gets ready for the one ahead, and skimping on even one hour each night means your body won’t have the time it needs to recover properly. While the amount of sleep each person needs varies, aiming for a seven to nine hours a night is a safe bet.
Try this Class » Yoga for Strength with Adi Amar
Take rest days.
Muscle needs time to recover from the damage that occurs when you work them, and not giving your body the time it needs to relax increases the risk of injury. Skipping rest days can also come with a host of other negative consequences like poor sleep, loss of energy, and a weakened immune system.
Let’s talk meal timing.
Many of us think that it is absolutely necessary to eat within 20-60 minutes of working out if we want to gain muscle. However, new research suggests muscle recovery has to do with overall consumption and available nutrients in the bloodstream, even if amino acids and glycogen are coming from a pre-workout meal. Even more, newer studies are contradicting the theory that you need to eat protein within the anabolic window for growth and show that it is equally beneficial to wait a few hours, as this is when human growth hormone and testosterone are increased.
Eating before a workout.
Personally, I am a fan of a fasted workout. A fasted workout, where you have not eaten anything beforehand, can increase human growth hormone, testosterone, and help burn fat and increase lean muscle gains. It is common to think that we “need energy” right before our workout, however, most of us (with the exception of high-performance athletes) walk around with enough glucose in our systems on a regular basis to fuel our workouts. Let me be clear here, everyone’s body is different. So learn how to connect with and listen to yours. Chances are, fasted workouts get easier as the body becomes accustomed to them, but they are not for everyone.
If you do eat post-workout.
If we choose to refuel after a workout, a mix of protein and fiber-rich carbohydrates are our best bet. Amino acids aid in muscle growth and repair, while the slow release of glucose, due to the high fiber content, can refuel muscles for the next workout while keeping blood sugar levels where we want them. A smoothie with a high-quality protein, greens, ¼ cup of fruit, a serving of chia seeds and a tablespoon or two of a healthy fat is a great option. Check out my ultimate smoothie recipe on the blog here.
Remember, before trying a new diet or workout regiment consult with your doctor.
**We recommend that you do not rely solely on the information presented and that you always read labels, warnings, and directions before using or consuming a product. You should consult your health care professional before making any changes to your regular health care routine.
Hannah Aylward is a Certified Health Coach, nutrition consultant, fitness instructor, healthy living expert, and founder of HAN. She helps both men and women around the world lose weight, heal skin disturbances, balance hormones, heal gut imbalances and feel at home in their bodies through healthy eating, movement, mindfulness and positive self-talk. Her goal is to help others “learn the tools that they need to live the lives they deserve”. Get to know her by visiting her website and following her on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.