Food is quite literally our life energy source, think of it like high octane gas that fuels our brain and body. Eating specific foods may help when looking for muscle growth to occur. Our brain needs about 130 grams a day of carbohydrate to function optimally. It’s important for any nutrition plan to include all the major macronutrients and micronutrients. Our body also need amino acid-rich sources of protein for muscle growth to take place. Amino acids are considered the building blocks that eventually help form proteins. Almost all foods contain some source of protein. Amino acids are important because they play a big role in protein synthesis, tissue repair and nutrient absorption.
There are 20 different amino acids that are grouped together making up three separate categories. The body makes 12 of these amino acids and we get the other 8 from food we eat. The cool thing is our body produces thousands of different proteins using just these 20 amino acids. Amazing!
Non-Essential Amino Acids
Non-essential amino acids do not need to be included in the diet. Nine out of the 20 amino acids are essential, but adults only need to obtain eight of them: valine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine and tryptophan. The ninth amino acid, histidine, is only essential for infants. Your body doesn’t store amino acids, so it needs a regular daily supply of these essential building blocks.
Essential Amino Acids
Essential amino acids need to be included in the diet. There are handful of amino acids as you know but the one I’m going to mention here is leucine. “This amino acid directly contributes to muscle protein synthesis. It affects the ability to recover from both stress and exercise. Leucine facilitates cell growth as well as the formation of sterols which are used in the process of forming hormones like estrogen and testosterone.” Make sure the amino acid, leucine, is also in that whey protein shake you drink post workout. This will improve your chances for muscle growth. Research has shown just 1.5 grams of leucine can provide adequate stimulation for muscle protein synthesis. Other research has shown that 3 grams of leucine alone stimulates protein synthesis in young men.
Conditional Essential Amino Acids
You usually hear about essential and non-essential amino acids only. Conditional essential includes 8 amino acids that are specifically needed in the body under certain conditions like stress, exercise, aging, etc.
Some of the Best Protein Sources for Muscle Growth
1. Beef, Pork, Wild Game (especially if it’s grass-fed)
2. Poultry (i.e. chicken, turkey)
3. Eggs (the yolk contains most of the nutrients; also 185 mg cholesterol)
4. Fish & Seafood
5. Dairy (i.e. cottage cheese and plain Greek yogurt)
**Additional food sources like Tempeh, Tofu, Beans, and Nuts.
Did You Know…
Did you know that foods like broccoli (3 grams), baked potato (4 grams), avocado (4 grams), and a cup of quinoa (5 grams) also contain adequate amounts of protein. Add these healthy food options as “sides” with the main course mentioned above. They will also help meet your daily protein requirements to ensure muscle growth.
Great Recipe: Moroccan Lamb Stew (bonus recipe, contains 38 grams of protein)
What you’ll need to turn this into your dinner for tonight:
Canola oil (2 Tbsp)
Cubed lamb stew meat (2 lbs.)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
1 cinnamon stick
One (15 oz) can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/2 cup pimento-stuffed green olives
1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
2 cups beef broth
How to Make It:
1. In a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, heat the oil. Add the lamb, season well with salt and pepper, and cook until well browned, 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, onion, and carrots and saute until the onion softens, about 5 minutes. Add the coriander, cumin, and cinnamon stick. Cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the chickpeas, apricots, green olives, tomatoes (with their juices), reserved lamb, and beef broth. Bring to a boil over high heat, and then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer until the lamb is very tender, 60 to 90 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick. Taste and adjust seasoning, if necessary. Feeds 6
Nutrition per serving: 495 calories, 38g protein, 46g carbs, 10 g fiber, 16g fat (Credit: Paul Kita, Men’s Health Magazine)
How Much Protein Do I Really Need?
The average, healthy adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram per body weight. BUT, if your strength training and want to add muscle mass, that number needs to increase. According to the American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, a more optimal protein intake “is 1.2 – 1.7 grams of protein per kg of body mass.” These recommendations were published by Precision Nutrition, found in The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, 3rd edition pp. 216. They offer a great online nutrition certification course BTW, I actually took it a few years ago. One other organization, the International Society of Sports Nutrition, uses 1.4 – 2.0 grams of protein per kg of body mass as their guideline.
Questions for you. What do you consider the best choice for protein intake? How much protein are you taking in on a daily basis? For muscle growth to actually occur, sufficient protein requirements need to be met. Also important are adequate training stimulus and plenty of recovery (between workouts and sleep). Think of it as a three pronged approach. Enjoy! Eat Well.
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