Surely we've all gotten the memo on protein by now, right? At least judging by the insane superhero diets of the Cavill, Pratt, and "The Rock" Johnsons of the world, it's clear that eating a ton of it is now the quintessential dietary factor in getting ripped.
Tubs of casein and whey, half a cow, 30 pounds of boiled chicken; whatever method of madness you choose, protein has become the de facto foodstuff for most major muscle building diets. But despite our newfound obsession with depleting the world's stock of edible animals, the truth is that man cannot get big by protein alone. In fact, without proper nutrition, many of the gains made by lifting and eating protein can actually be cancelled out.
The key, then, is to understand that preventing muscles from breaking down is every bit as important as building them up. Which means that, if you really want to get bigger, you should probably consider branching out from your standard diet of chicken and broccoli six times a day. Here, in the interest of building a better muscle, are 8 foods that – and some may come as a surprise to you – will help get you superhero fit for the summer.
1 | Olive Oil
One major factor in muscle breakdown is a cellular protein called tumor necrosis factor-a. Aside from having a creepy name, it also increases inflammation and breaks down muscle via promoting catabolism (essentially burning muscle for energy) in muscle cells. The good news is that the monounsaturated fat in olive oil acts as an anti-catabolic nutrient, i.e. it helps stop the muscles from breaking down by lowering the levels of tumor necrosis factor-a in them.
2 | Water
Given that your muscles are around 80 percent water, it makes sense that water is an important ingredient when building them up. Several studies have shown that protein synthesis—what builds muscles—occurs at a higher rate in muscle cells that are well hydrated. Basically if you are dehydrated, your body is slower at using protein to generate muscle growth. Not only that, dehydration also impairs anaerobic work, which places an increased demand on your aerobic metabolism. Translation: if you don't stay hydrated, your body will burn muscle to maintain the energy levels it needs.
3 | Beets
If you want to get stronger, you should definitely be eating beets. Beets are high in betaine, a nutrient that has been shown to increase muscle strength, and to enhance liver and joint repair. Betaine itself won't increase muscle mass, but it will help you do more reps and add more weight when strength training, which will ultimately result in the muscle growth you are looking for.
4 | Pineapple
Since you should already be eating carbs after your workout in order to replenish your glycogen stores, may as well eat one that helps your body digest all of that protein you've been eating too. Pineapples are rich in an enzyme called bromelein, which has been shown to increase the rate at which your body absorbs dietary protein. As a bonus, it also helps to reduce inflammation and muscle soreness.
5 | Quinoa
If ever there was a perfect post-workout food, it's quinoa. Not only is it high in protein (24g per cup) and fiber, it's also high in magnesium and iron, which helps to promote protein synthesis. Plus, it contains all nine amino acids essential for building muscle, and it's gluten-free, so it's easy to digest. But since it's a relatively high carbohydrate food, make sure to eat it after your workout so that it will aid in your recovery.
6 | Oysters
If you want to boost your protein consumption without also boosting your fat consumption, oysters are a good way to go. A 6-ounce portion of Pacific oysters contains about 16 grams of protein with just 4 grams of fat. But oysters also come packed with zinc, which, like magnesium, is an essential mineral for protein synthesis.
7 | Coffee
Turns out caffeine does more than just fuel your workday, it can also help fuel your workout. A recent study showed that 2 ½ cups of coffee one hour before a workout helped increase endurance, especially in anaerobic exercises (like weightlifting). More than just giving you energy though, researchers believe that the caffeine in coffee directly stimulates the muscles, which can help improve the overall quality of your workout, and that will lead to better gains.
8 | Chocolate Milk
Although consuming dairy products tends to divide fitness experts, this study from the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism suggests that chocolate milk may well be the perfect post-workout recovery drink. The reason for this is that chocolate milk contains the right ratio of carbs-to-protein that will help to maximize your body's rate of glycogen re-synthesis. Carbs within 30-45 minutes of your workout are necessary in order to replenish your glycogen stores, but protein should be part of your post-workout diet too since it actually helps to maximize that glycogen recovery. So rather than crack a sugary sports drink after your workout, try chocolate milk instead, and give your body a better chance at maintaining those hard won gains.
This article was originally published on Esquire.com