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If you want to bulk up, protein isn’t the only nutrient to pay attention to. Learn what else your body needs with Groupon’s guide to muscle-building diets.
Muscle-Building Diets: Eating for Strength
After an intense workout, your arms and legs might feel like they’re screaming in pain. In fact, the muscle fibers have been minutely injured in thousands of locations, and in response, the body sends satellite cells to repair them. Over time, this leads to bulkier muscles. Like half the body’s dry weight, muscles are largely made of protein, so it makes intuitive sense that protein would be important for muscle growth. Certain proteins do an exceptionally good job of facilitating this: for instance, cottage cheese, eggs, and protein-powder staple whey contain high levels of leucine, an amino acid that sparks muscle protein synthesis.
But the protein you consume in a shake, a steak, or a steak smoothie will never be transformed into muscle tissue on its own—the only way to build muscle is through the aforementioned cycle of muscle stress and repair. And when a workout is underway, you don’t want to force your body to feed on protein to meet its energy needs. For that, you’ll want lots of carbohydrates so that the body has fuel to burn without sapping your developing muscles.
Fat is also necessary, but in moderation: when the body is performing high-intensity, resistance-based exercise such as weightlifting, it bypasses fat in the body’s pantry and reaches for carbohydrates first. It’s also important to note that the body can only process so much protein at once, so multiple servings throughout the day are better than large amounts all at once.
A few other elements of food can aid muscle growth. Potassium-rich fruits and vegetables can counteract the incremental buildup of acids in the body that triggers loss of muscle tissue, especially as we age. Then there’s the simple concept that eating whatever allows you to work out longer and with greater intensity can indirectly allow for more muscle growth. Studies have indicated that fish oil, for one, can reduce the soreness and inflammation that might cut a gym session short or keep you from pushing the last five cars back to their parking spots. Seen in this light, even coffee with its energizing caffeine could be considered a muscle-building food, provided that you’re willing to do the work to use that energy wisely.