As I’ve mentioned many times in this column, your diet plays a humongous role in determining what you look like—we’re talking 80 percent of your overall body composition. So if you’re trying to muscle up, the first thing you should do is overhaul what you’re eating. Here are six outstanding foods for building bigger pecs, biceps and lats. The good news? (Most of) this stuff tastes great!
That’s right, beets. As funny as it may sound, drinking beet juice can increase your stamina by up to 16 percent. Reason being, your body converts the nitrates in beets into nitric oxide, which dilates blood vessels and increases blood flow to your muscles. Beets may also help muscles produce energy more efficiently, making exercise less exhausting. Bottom line: drink a delicious glass of beet juice before your next workout. Or, you know, have some roasted ones in a salad.
Beef is packed with zinc, which helps naturally boost testosterone. And testosterone increases muscle growth like pretty much nothing else on the planet. (It’s literally what separates the men from the boys.) Beef also contains a natural form of creatine, which aids in the production of adenosine-triphosphate or ATP, which is another key to producing lean muscle mass. And as you may have heard, it’s got a bit of protein, too.
Four ounces of chicken contains about 27 grams of protein, which is quite a lot. It’s also full of amino acids. So if you’re trying to gain muscle, chicken should be a staple of your diet. Go with grilled chicken breast. It’s low in fat, and it’s pretty tasty. Bodybuilders swear by it. (At least until they’ve eaten it every day for a decade. At which point they swear at it.)
4. Peanut Butter
PB is a great, inexpensive muscle-builder. It has lots of protein—crucial for muscle growth—and healthy fats. One of the best post-workout snacks you can reach for is a simple PB&J sandwich. It’ll pack on and hold your muscle because you’re getting protein from the peanut butter and carbohydrates from the bread (to replenish the blood flowing to your muscles). Plus, the sugar in the jelly boosts your insulin levels, another good thing.
Salmon is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have all kinds of health benefits. They lower body fat, reduce joint inflammation and increase testosterone levels, among other things. Salmon also contains about 23 grams of protein per four ounces, a pretty good return. Bodybuilders and other pro athletes routinely eat a piece of salmon for dinner—when they’re not eating chicken breasts—and you should, too.
After you work out, there’s an acid imbalance in your body, which can cause muscle loss. But the alkaline in spinach helps neutralize this imbalance, thereby preventing muscle loss. (And you know what they say, a muscle saved is a muscle earned.) So take a cue from Popeye and eat spinach by the canful, post-workout. It’ll help you keep the muscle you’ve got. It may even give you comically large forearms.
Jay Cardiello is Made Man’s fitness and nutrition expert. As a top certified strength and conditioning coach, personal trainer and sports nutritionist, Cardiello has worked with Hollywood A-Listers, Fortune 500 CEOs and NFL stars. His accelerated body transformation program, JCore, is available here, and his new book, Cardio Core 4×4, is available here. Got a question for Jay? Leave a note in the comment section, and he’ll do his best to address it in a future column.