This fantastic article was written by Joshua Graham, CNP, FRCms, CF-L2, who is a fitness trainer, Holistic Nutritionist, and owner of Cocoon Health & Fitness. You can find out more about Cocoon Health by checking out their website and following them on Facebook and Instagram.
Building muscle isn’t just important for bodybuilders who want to look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime, it is vitally important for everyone to maintain optimal health. For optimal health, we do not need massive amounts of muscle like a bodybuilder, but we do want good quality muscle and a sufficient amount.
In order to build muscle, we need to do resistance training with the use of weights and bodyweight movements, but we also need to be eating the right kinds of foods to support muscle building.
Why is building muscle important?
We can look at why building muscle is important by looking at the opposite end of the spectrum, sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is the involuntary loss of muscle mass and muscle strength and this can contribute to a lot of negative health outcomes, including:
Loss of function
Acute and chronic disease states like increased insulin resistance fall, fatigue, and mortality.
Imagining life through this lens shows how vitally important muscle is. Losing our muscle mass can be extremely hard on our health and the best way to mitigate that is to build muscle today and to preserve what we already have.
How to preserve muscle
Muscle strength seems to be relatively well preserved until we hit 45 years old and then our muscle performance deteriorates by 5% every decade thereafter.
Our body is constantly responding to the forces we put into it whether those forces are coming from sitting, sleeping or exercise. Our bodies adapt to these forces in order to have a better ability to cope with them in the future. Meaning that if we are to sit for long periods of time like most of us do, then our bodies will adapt to that position making us even better at sitting. If we move around and exercise, then our bodies will adapt to that making us better capable at being able to handle excess loads in the future. One of the ways this happens is by building muscle so we can impart more force on external loads.
Without the stimulus to create muscle then we will not build it, therefore having a well thought out exercise program is critical to success when it comes to building muscle.
Nutrition and building muscle
Our muscle is made up of protein and we need protein in order to build lean muscle mass; without protein we are not able to build muscle. There are many great options available for protein including lean meats and vegetarian sources.
That being said, while protein is a major piece of the muscle building puzzle it is the not the whole picture; we need other nutrients in order to help us along our muscle gaining journey.
Below you will see a list of 10 nutrient-dense superfoods that are excellent at helping building muscle alongside protein.
1. Beets – Are high in betalains a type of phytonutrient which has been shown to provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Beets also contain naturally occurring nitrites which are then converted to nitric oxide in the body which can boost muscle performance.
2. Oysters – Are extremely high in zinc which helps to promote testosterone production, which is vital for building muscle. They are also a good source of protein, calcium, magnesium and vitamin B12.
3. Eggs – Are a good source of protein, and the yolk also contains omega-3 fats that lowers inflammation and many nutrients including vitamin A, selenium, choline, vitamin B2, B5, B12 and vitamin D. Egg protein contains a complete range of amino acids and many nutrients helpful in building muscle.
4. Sunflower seeds – Are extremely high in vitamin E and copper along with a gamut of other nutrients. Anti-inflammatory Vitamin E is beneficial for joint health and can thereby aid workouts. Copper helps with proper oxygenation of tissues from red blood cells which is vital to muscle growth. Low levels of copper have been shown to cause growth problems.
5. Sweet Potatoes – Are extremely high in vitamin A which is known to help with testosterone production. Sweet potatoes are also a good carb source which can help replenish muscle energy stores (glycogen) for the next workout.
6. Tahini – Is made from sesame seeds and is very high in copper which is needed for proper muscle growth. It is also a good source of eright other minerals including zinc, manganese, magnesium, and calcium. Tahini is also a great vegetarian source of protein with 17g of protein per 100g.
7. Grass fed beef – The grass-fed is a very important part of this as grass-fed beef is much leaner and nutrient dense than conventionally raised beef. Grass-fed beef has a good amount of omega-3 fatty acids which helps to lower inflammation, it is also a great source of iron which helps to transport oxygen around the body which is critical for energy production. The cherry on top is that grass-fed beef is also a wonderful source of protein.
8. Sardines – Are a great source of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 plays a role in helping protein metabolism. As we know protein plays a major role in muscle growth so we need to be able to metabolize protein fully if we are going to use it effectively.
9. Cacao – Is the raw form of chocolate it is extremely high in iron to help move oxygen around the body. It is also a good source of protein with 20g per every 100g. Cacao also has a good amount of magnesium in it which is vital to muscle growth and performance during exercise. Magnesium is essential to the production of energy in the body as well as helping with contraction process of tissues.
10. Kale – One of the best greens out there and high in vitamin c, copper, magnesium and calcium. Calcium is necessary for the contraction of muscles while magnesium is necessary for the relaxation of them, without sufficient levels of both we will not be able to have proper muscle function and therefore will lead to lower muscle gain. Kale is also a good source of fibre to feed the good bacteria in our guts.
11. Bone Broth – Is incredible at helping to build muscle and preserve health. Bone broth is easy to make and a great use of those bones instead of just throwing them away immediately. Bone broth is high in protein, minerals which are both important for muscle growth. It is also a good source of collagen which is important for building strong connective tissue to help prevent injuries. Bone broth is also an excellent source of the amino acid glutamine which helps with muscle repair and is super amazing for healing the gut. If you can, drink 1 cup of bone broth a day ☺
Building muscle is vital for optimal health, we do this through proper nutrition and a good exercise program. When it comes to proper nutrition adequate protein intake plays a big role but we need other nutrients in order to support our muscle building efforts and the ten superfoods listed above sure can help!