If you are looking to put on some lean muscle mass and build strength, there are certain foods you’ll want to eat and ones you’ll want to avoid along with exercises you’ll need to do and lifestyle strategies you’ll benefit from taking advantage of.
While staying active and lifting weights can certainly help you build muscle, so can getting enough sleep and eating a healthy, clean diet.
Beyond those tips, however, there are some specific food combinations that help improve lean muscle mass and that can help you build strength more easily than just winging your diet and nutrition program.
How Food Combinations Improve Lean Body Mass and Help Build Strength:
One reason why food combinations are so powerful for improving lean body mass and strength is because of the way certain food pairings provide your body with more nutritional support than just singling out foods for their macronutrient contents (such as eating chicken for protein, for example). The body is much more complex than macronutrient needs alone.
Along with specific carbohydrates and fats, micronutrients and vitamin and mineral combinations can go a long way towards helping you build strength and improving your daily performance in and outside the gym.
So if you’ve eaten a clean diet for awhile and still can’t put on the lean body mass you’ve hoped for, give these 10 food combinations below a try.
They’re not only great for improving lean muscle mass and building strength, but they’re also incredibly beneficial for your heart and brain too.
1. Banana and Peanut Butter
This dynamic duo of nutrients is optimal to eat right before a workout or right after. Banana is rich in minerals such as magnesium and potassium that will fuel your muscles and the sugars and fiber in bananas will give you instant energy that digests slowly during your workout.
The protein in peanut butter and B vitamins help your body use the carbohydrates from bananas to improve how easily you build strength as well as how much you can lift during a workout.
But go easy on the peanut butter and keep it to a tablespoon since peanut butter is high in fat that can stall your digestion and lead to sluggishness during a workout.
It’s also optimal if you can choose a peanut butter without added sugars and hydrogenated oils. A great way to use this combination is to make a quick smoothie with ½ a banana and 1 tablespoon of natural peanut butter paired with some ice and vanilla protein powder. This will provide an optimal balance of nutrients for before or after your workout when glycogen is needed most in the muscle cells.
2. Tomatoes and Spinach
Spinach is high in protein and iron along with many B vitamins, but in order for your body to absorb the non-heme iron in spinach, you’ll need to eat a food high in Vitamin C such as tomatoes.
Both spinach and tomatoes are also high in Vitamin B6 and potassium that improves energy as well as improves blood pressure levels during workouts.
Eat them on a salad or in an entrée with your favorite source of lean protein an hour before a workout or an hour after.
A great example would be a bed of spinach with tomatoes and some baked salmon or some broccoli, spinach, and tomatoes cooked together with an egg and two egg whites.
3. Lentils and Barley
These two foods are truly loaded with muscle-building nutrients you should be taking advantage of ASAP if you want to improve lean body mass and improve strength.
They both digest incredibly slowly and sustain muscle growth just like animal-based proteins that digest slowly such as casein in dairy products. Barley and lentils are also anti-inflammatory sources of protein, B vitamins, and minerals such as magnesium and iron that you need for energy and strength. They’re some of the oldest foods eaten throughout history by warriors from other parts of the world.
You can buy quick-cook barley and red split lentils which both cook up quickly either in a vegetable soup or stew. Or, make them into a pilaf and toss them onto a salad for a quick and healthy, filling lunch. Enjoy this one hour before a workout or right after your workout as a refuel meal.
4. Dates and Almonds
There’s a reason these two foods are regularly included in energy bars and bites both in stores and recipes online; they’re fantastic for your muscles and will definitely improve your energy both in and outside the gym!
Dates are full of quickly digesting sugars and B vitamins plus they’re a great source of potassium and magnesium.
Almonds will help your body digest the dates more slowly since they’re a source of healthy fats and protein. This means your body will have more nutrients over a longer period of time and your blood sugar levels will be more stable than if you just ate fruit alone.
One easy way to take advantage of this food combination for improving lean body mass is to eat 1 or 2 dates with 1 or 2 tablespoons of raw almond butter or make your own energy bites with dates, raw almonds, and a touch of vanilla extract in the food processor.
5. Chia Seeds and Oats
Chia seed overnight oats are by far one of the most popular recipes on the internet today for good reason, but that’s not why you should eat it to improve lean body mass. This combination is nutrient-dense, full of protein, and is one of the most filling and metabolic-friendly food combinations you can eat to fuel your workouts.
Chia seeds are loaded with iron, zinc, magnesium, and they’re a complete source of protein. They have just enough healthy fats to stabilize your blood sugar levels but not so much that they’ll leave you with a tummy ache. Oats are low in fat and high in fiber which makes them easy to digest and great for your weight.
They’re also very high in iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and they even contain protein too.
The specific benefits in oats and chia can help you have more strength in the gym and can help reduce post-workout recovery soreness as well. In fact, chia seeds are one of the best foods you can eat to reduce inflammation in the body and they’re amazing for sustaining your energy levels.
6. Blueberries and Greek Yogurt
This combination is packed with lean protein, fiber, and antioxidants which will first, improve your energy levels, and second, will reduce the inflammation you have after a workout. The sugars and fiber found in blueberries will help deliver the protein found in Greek yogurt directly to your muscle cells before or after a workout.
Protein is necessary for building strength, but specific types of carbs are also needed to help your muscles utilize the protein easier than just eating protein alone. Plus, blueberries are a great source of fiber and Vitamin C so they’re easy on your blood sugar levels and great for fighting inflammation in the body.
7. Oatmeal and Egg Whites
There’s a reason this food combination is a staple among bodybuilders everywhere; it’s fantastic for improving lean body mass and building strength.
Unless you have an egg sensitivity or you’re vegan, give egg whites and oats a try in your morning breakfast routine. You can cook egg whites into oatmeal for a fluffy texture and creamy consistency. Add cinnamon and stevia for a delicious, protein-rich meal in just minutes!
One reason this combination works so well for improving lean body mass is because egg whites are (normally) an easily digested source of all essential amino acids and oats are high in fiber and protein.
These two foods are also free of sugar which makes them easier on your blood sugar levels and better for your weight loss goals.
8. Hemp Protein and Berries
Hemp is a complete source of protein, iron, and all varieties of berries are high in Vitamin C and fiber along with natural sugars. This combination will deliver amino acids to your muscle cells more efficiently and will reduce the inflammation you suffer from post-workout.
It can also improve red blood cell function and improve mental focus due to the way the Vitamin C in berries improves the uptake of iron found in hemp seeds.
If you’re new to using hemp seed protein, don’t be scared! It has a delicious, earthy flavor that goes great in any smoothie with some berries or banana. Add a dash of raw cacao for more iron and natural energy, toss in a cup of your favorite frozen berries, and you’ve got yourself one healthy pre or post-workout shake that is great for building strength and improving lean muscle mass in no time!
9. Salmon and Quinoa
Both salmon and quinoa are high in iron as well as protein, but they are also different in terms of their nutritional benefits that you can take advantage of to improve lean body mass.
Quinoa is one of the most nutrient-dense foods you eat and is a great source of complex carbs that you need to build strength and lean body mass. It’s also incredibly friendly to your blood sugar levels which makes it great for improving your weight loss goals.
Quinoa is also a great source of trace minerals which are absorbed more efficiently by the healthy fats found in salmon. Salmon is also high in anti-inflammatory properties that will benefit your post-workout recovery helping you achieve better gains over time.
A great way to pair salmon and quinoa together is to make a bed of quinoa (about ½ a cup) with a 4-ounce filet of salmon and some spinach or kale. Add your favorite seasonings and you’ve got a great pre or post-workout meal that is great for your muscles, not to mention your brain and heart!
10. Sweet Potatoes and Almond Butter
Here you have healthy, complex carbs along with healthy fats and protein, but that’s not all! The antioxidants found in sweet potatoes, such as Vitamin A and Vitamin C, are more efficiently absorbed by the body due to the healthy fats found in almond butter.
Plus, sweet potatoes and almonds are a natural source of iron that your muscles can better utilize once eaten together. The magnesium and potassium found in sweet potatoes and almond butter are great for improving your energy levels as well as reducing inflammation directly in the muscle cells. These two minerals are also great for your blood pressure levels and can improve blood flow.
Here’s how to eat them together:
Take a pre-cooked sweet potato and slice it in half. Enjoy one-half with a tablespoon of raw or dry roasted almond butter right before or after your workout.
Or, for an alternative to oatmeal, blend up the flesh of one whole baked sweet potato with 1 tablespoon of almond butter and a date to sweeten. Enjoy as a morning porridge, and add some flax for more fiber and healthy fats. This combination will sustain your energy levels and improve lean muscle mass, not to mention it’s delicious too!
For more ways to improve lean body mass, check out these food combinations that improve your metabolism and start eating your way to a healthier body in no time!
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