Here’s a popular cliche about Southern Californians — they’re fitness freaks and nutrition nuts. Okay, not everyone in SoCal fits that description. But if you’ve ever walked around Santa Monica (remember Muscle Beach), you may feel like stepping it up a notch. Along with working out more, certain foods can help.
The first food that comes to mind is boring old lean chicken, but no that’s not on our list today. Eating lean chicken something-or-other every day has no magic power to make your muscles grow–and neither does all that protein powder–unless you’re getting the right kind of workout.
“A high protein diet does not build muscles. If that were true, then everyone who went on the Atkins diet would all be really buff,” says Nancy Clark, MS, RD, author of Sports Nutrition Guidebook.
It’s the way you exercise that builds muscles, of course. But to have enough energy to fuel that exercise, you need to eat carbs, ideally within an hour before exercising. During the recovery period after your workout, you need lean protein to build and repair your muscles.
And you need a few more carbs to replenish your glycogen stores. The carbs you get before your workout can be as simple and boring as a half a banana. After your workout, chicken is hardly your best or only option.
10 surprising food combinations
to help speed muscle growth after your workout
1. Whole Grain Pasta with Lean Meat Sauce
Pasta is a good source of muscle fuel. But if you eat pasta with meat sauce, you also get the protein you need to build, heal and recover.
“You don’t need to eat chicken every day to build muscle, says Clark. You need a variety of nutrients. “And lean roast beef, for example, has more iron and zinc than chicken,” she says.
2. Chocolate Milk
A lot of people think carbs before a workout, protein after. But after a workout you really need a mix carbs and protein, even from chocolate milk, says Tara Gidus, MS, RD, CSSD, board certified specialist in sports dietetics and team dietitian for the Orlando Magic NBA team.
“Chocolate milk is one of the best things to have after a workout, both for the protein in the milk and to replenish glycogen stores from the carbs in the chocolate.”
A bowl of chili not only tastes great after a winter workout, it has everything you need to support muscle growth. The kidney beans supply complex carbs and protein, so you’re covered even with vegetarian chili.
“The beans are not a complete protein, but they still have several amino acids that are good for muscle recovery; and red beans are the highest antioxidant beans.” says Gidus. The tomatoes, peppers, onions, and other vegetable in the chili are good sources of antioxidants.
4. Shrimp Stir Fry
For a low fat protein source, toss three jumbo shrimp into a wok with broccoli, snow peas, carrots, water chestnuts for the antioxidant protection.
“When you’re exercising, you create free radicals that can attack cells and potentially lead to injury,” says Gidus. “Antioxidants protect them.” Serve over brown rice for the complex carbs, fiber, and a few more antioxidants.
5. Salmon Fajita
Sauté salmon slices with onions and red peppers and then wrap them in a whole-grain tortilla.
You get the same kind of boost as with the shrimp stir fry, says Gidus. But from the salmon you get omega 3s to help process the fat soluble vitamins in the tortilla. And from the red peppers you get antioxidant protection against free radicals from vitamin C.
6. Egg Salad Sandwich
Pack a sandwich along to eat within an hour before and an hour after weight training to get anywhere from 10 to 20 grams of quality protein from the egg combined with 25 grams of carbs from two slices of whole-grain bread.
In fact what you consume before is probably even more important. Monique Ryan, MS, RD, CSSD, author of Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes.
7. Barbeque Tofu
For a vegetarian source of protein with very little fat, try high protein extra firm tofu, says John La Puma, MD, FACP, author of ChefMD’s Big Book of Culinary Medicine.” on Lifetime TV.
“It slices, sautés, grills, and stir fries just like chicken breast, and if you throw it against the wall it may hurt the wall,” says La Puma, who actually prefers the smoky, tangy taste of barbeque tofu better than Barbeque chicken. Brush it with half barbeque sauce and half balsamic vinegar and grill it until it blisters.
8. Cottage Cheese
For a high protein meal that tastes like desert, try low fat cottage cheese with cinnamon and stevia (a natural sweetener with no calories). Or try a baking extract, like vanilla or hazelnut.
“These distilled flavors taste great mixed with cottage cheese, but you only need a drop of two to make a big difference,” says La Puma.
You can also mix cottage cheese with salsa, which has few calories. Add some avocado and you’ll absorb four times as much lycopene and betacarotene from the cooked tomatoes in the salsa because these antioxidants are fat soluable, says La Puma.
9. Whey Smoothie
Supplementing your diet with whey can help speed the growth of leaner, stronger muscles, according to research at the Center for Ageing, Rehabilitation, Exercise and Sport (CARES) in Australia.
Drinking a whey smoothie can help you stay hydrated, which is important when you’re working out hard, says Gidus. Mix a scoop of whey powder with some fresh berries, flaxseed and some juice or milk and mix in a blender.
10. White Fish and Quinoa
For a light and easy to digest alternate to the more popular salmon with brown rice or pasta, try a white fish like tilapia with quinoa.
White fish is naturally high in protein and low in fat. Quinoa is high in both protein and fiber to speed muscle growth before and after your workout.