We rely on muscles for just about everything we do. Most of us already know that muscles attach to our bones to allow us voluntary movement, but muscles also make up the heart, line many other organs like the stomach, and even surround blood vessels. The body is constantly using these muscles to digest our food, move blood, pull in oxygen, transport lymph fluid, supply nutrients, remove waste, and allow us the freedom to walk, run, jump, dance, and climb.
We focus on the muscles we know we can improve, the skeletal muscles we see rippling beneath our skin, the one that show off definition and strength noticeably as we push them harder. We can’t directly work most of the hidden, involuntary muscles, apart from the heart, but these less thought of muscles benefit from exercise too. As our circulatory system improves, less fat builds up to interfere with their function and they are well nourished by a more effective and efficient transport system. Cardiovascular exercise is important to all your many muscles and will improve their ability to recover from stress.
Apart from using different types of exercise, our body needs the right foods to fuel muscle growth, maintenance, and repair. A good supply of protein is essential to strong, healthy muscles, but protein does not stand alone and too much protein can put strains on your liver and kidneys. Your body needs carbohydrates and healthy fats too.
Protein is the source material for muscle, but the body uses carbohydrates and fats to accomplish the work. You cannot build muscle without carbs. Your body wants a balanced mix of these nutrients. Healthy plant foods are a big part of the process of building muscle as they naturally come with plenty of antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins along with the complex carbs, lean protein, and good fats your body craves without getting too much of anything you don’t need.
Quinoa – Quinoa is one of the best foods to eat to build muscle. This grain-like seed doesn’t contain gluten, but offers complete protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates. Quinoa is also rich in antioxidants and minerals. Eat quinoa post workout to repair, rebuild, and protect muscle.
Water – Though water isn’t a food, it’s crucial to health. Drink plenty of water to aid the metabolic processes and speed recovery. Drinking enough water keeps muscles hydrated and floating in the nutrients they need to work, build more, and repair after workouts.
Chia Seeds – These tiny seeds offer a ton of nutrition. They’re another plant-based source of complete protein and are also packed with good fats. These healthy fats improve cardiovascular function, aid in hydration, supply extra energy for any exercise regimen, and speed recovery by reducing inflammation.
Almonds – Almonds are rich in protein, good fats, vitamin E, and magnesium. Vitamin E is an antioxidant that prevents free-radical damage after intense workouts. Magnesium is important in energy metabolism and protein synthesis. Hempseed – Hempseed is another small seed that offers complete protein along with good fats to provide the muscles with building material and energy.
Olive Oil – Extra virgin olive oil is rich in the free-radical fighting vitamin E and monounsaturated fats that prevent muscle breakdown and keep the heart running smoothly.
Coconut Oil – Coconuts are an excellent place to find medium chain triglycerides. These smaller fats are easily burned as energy by the body and not stored by fat cells. The oil offers explosive energy for exercise and weight loss. These healthy fats also reduce inflammation.
Broccoli – Vitamins and minerals are important in keeping muscles running at their peak. Broccoli is one of the richest in many of the vitamins and minerals the body wants. The antioxidants in this vegetable will also speed recovery and prevent free-radical damage.
Barley – This ancient grain is rich in fiber and complex carbohydrates. These carbs burn slowly, supplying long term energy for endurance related workouts. Barley is an excellent boost before any workout.
Pineapple – Pineapple has enzymes that aid in the digestion of protein. This makes them the perfect addition to a meal with any protein rich foods. Pineapple also reduces muscle inflammation for faster recovery. Add this tropical fruit to your pre workout or post workout protein smoothie.
Spinach – Like broccoli, spinach is rich in a multitude of minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins. Spinach also contains a phytonutrient that increases muscle growth.
Wild Rice – Wild rice is richer in fiber and protein than the white variety and even a little better than the brown, which is a very good food itself.
Lentils – Lentils offer protein combined with complex carbohydrates and fiber. Lentils are easier to use and digest than most beans while still offering plenty of energy and building power for those muscles.