It’s no secret that protein supports muscle-building workouts. Huge canisters of whey protein line the walls of gym shops and supplement stores, and weightlifters may spend hundreds of dollars each month just staying in protein powders. Those powders are highly processed, however, and most of them contain other undesirable ingredients, like artificial flavors, sugars, and colorants. While the protein found in most mainstream powders is easily absorbed into the body, it is rarely 100% natural; nor does it contain other important nutrients to support muscle health, like fatty acids.

muscle building foodsBy eating a carefully-selected range of whole foods along with the right balance of amino acids and natural supplements (as opposed to over-processed powders), you can do much more to support lean muscle strength. Here’s a list of whole foods that will support your fitness goals in a multitude of ways.

Before Your Workout

Before a workout, you need carbohydrates. Yes, carbs. Despite what everyone told you about the evils of carbs, they do convert to energy for your muscles during a workout. Without any carbs in your system, your muscles will fatigue quickly and begin harvesting their own stores of glycogen (energy), undermining your workout. A small amount of easily digestible protein before a workout is also essential to protect muscles from excessive damage and give them building fuel. Stay away from large quantities of fat and fiber right before exercise though, since these can slow down digestion and cause gastrointestinal upset if they are sitting in your stomach.

Here are some muscle-fueling meals to eat about an hour before your workout:

  1. Greek yogurt with natural granola and berries. This power combo has it all – simple, easy-to-digest carbs, protein, and antioxidants.
  2. Homemade citrus juice sweetened with honey and a handful of nuts on the side. Citrus fruits and fresh citrus juice have natural sugars for energy and electrolytes to replenish your cells. The honey is a good source of natural carbs, and nuts provide protein as well as other important nutrients.
  3. Cottage cheese with fruit and honey. Cottage cheese delivers complete proteins and a range of nutrients, while the fruit and honey will give you instant energy.
  4. Apples or bananas with nut butter and raisins. Here we have fruit and raisins to provide essential vitamins and carbs, while the nut butter is full of natural proteins.
  5. Dairy-based oatmeal with chia seeds and blueberries. Using natural oats and fresh fruit will give you long-lasting energy. Make sure to make the oatmeal with milk or Greek yogurt to incorporate the necessary complete proteins.

After Your Workout

As you may have heard, a healthy dose of complete proteins after a workout is pivotal to muscle recovery and synthesis. Complete proteins are those that provide a full spectrum of amino acids; namely, animal proteins. Natural carbohydrates replenish energy stores and blood sugar levels, while healthy fats (like omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids) may improve muscle mass and overall health. Foods high in fiber and processed sugars are not recommended directly before or after exercise, however, due to their effects on digestion and food absorption. These are some ideas for your post-workout meal:

  1. Lean (grass-fed) beef with quinoa and roasted beets. Grass-fed beef is packed with muscle-building nutrients like protein, B-Vitamins, and fatty acids, while quinoa is also a good source of protein and carbohydrates. Along with healthy quantities of nitrates and iron, beets contain trimethylglycine, a molecule that can increase muscle strength and power.
  2. Eggs and avocados on whole grain toast. Eggs are one of the most nutrient-packed foods on the planet, full of muscle-feeding vitamins and amino acids. Avocados are a great source of fatty acids, and whole grain bread has energy-rich carbohydrates.
  3. Hummus with pita bread and fruit. Fruits and whole-grain pita bread both provide healthy energy, while the hummus packs a protein punch.
  4. Salmon, spinach salad, and brown rice. Salmon is an excellent source of healthy fats and protein, while spinach contains phytoecdysteroids – a sort of plant-based steroid that jump-starts muscle growth. Brown rice is another carbohydrate for long-lasting energy.
  5. Tuna salad on crackers. Tuna contains a wide range of vitamins, fatty acids, and lots of protein. Replace the mayo in the salad with Greek yogurt and ensure your crackers are of the all-natural, whole-grain variety, and you have a filling, nutrient-packed post-workout snack.

Choosing the Right Supplements

With work constraints and busy schedules, it can be difficult to fit in daily workouts, much less well-rounded meals to eat before and after. If ever you’re worried that your diet does not fully support your workout goals, there are all-natural supplements that can also help. The key is to forego over-processed protein powders and opt for supplements that provide what your muscles really need – bioavailable amino acids, fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins to help them retain energy, repair damage, and synthesize stronger muscle tissue. Below find some all-natural options:

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