Summer is firmly upon us, which means that all those hours you put in at the gym this winter is about to pay off in a major way. It’s time for you, a dedicated lifter of all manner of heavy objects, to break out your finest thigh-exposing shorts, dust off your favorite guns-revealing tank tops, and, when the moment calls for it, to just straight-up peel off your shirt in public. Live your truth. I’m not here to stop you.
To ensure that these actions result in the responses you want (pleased, impressed) and not those you don’t (deeply uncomfortable), you of course want that hard work to pay off in the form of building lean muscle mass. We asked Pam Nisevich Bede, a sports dietitian with EAS Sports Nutrition, for a quick refresher on the best foods to eat to make that happen. Don’t worry—at least some of her suggestions are very cookout-friendly.
Clear the pantry.
This is the most painful part, but it also might be the most important. When you’re trying to bulk up, eating foods with minimal nutritional value are only going to help contribute to the kind of gains you don’t want to make. Take a break from fried foods and prepared desserts, and get the chips, crackers, and sugary cereals out of the cupboard. It’s for your own good. Promise.
Acquire the meats.
Meat has protein. Protein builds muscle. Building muscle is good. Sure. But not all sources are created equal. Skinless poultry, fish, and eggs are the no-brainers, and when shopping for beef and pork, Pam recommends looking for cuts involving the word “loin,” which usually signals a leaner option. You should be aiming for one gram of protein per pound of body weight, which has been shown to help exercisers to lose weight and body fat while preserving their existing lean muscle mass.
Fill up on filling carbs.
You’ve long heard that nutrient-rich whole grains, fruits, and vegetables are best. Yet another good reason to choose these foods over white bread and processed grains, though, is that they contain generous portions of fiber, which helps your body feel full. Cutting down on those second and third helpings will go a long way in ensuring that the weight you gain is the right kind of it.
Get fats that work.
Fats were vilified for years among dieters for their higher calorie content, but these days, we know that food sources like avocados, nuts, olives, and fatty fish are essential to a balanced diet. While on a strength training program, sources of omega-3 fatty acids are even more important, since they help to fight the inflammation caused by intense activity. Salmon, lake trout, and albacore tuna will do the trick. (Sardines are also high in omega-3, but they are gross.)
Speaking of exercise, Pam estimates that the average guy should be consuming at least 30 grams of protein within 45 minutes of finishing a workout. Make sure when perusing your sports nutrition retail store of choice that you’re getting a high-quality protein source that provides all essential amino acids—milk protein-based supplements are great—to give those tired muscles what they need to repair and rebuild. (And rebuild. And rebuild again.)
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