For women, building muscle can feel like a scary and daunting process. Many women have trained themselves to diet in a calorie deficit and do cardio exercise to burn fat, leaving them lean but not strong. The idea of eating to gain weight and building mass might have, in the past, been deemed masculine or unattractive. Thankfully, in recent years a global shift has taken place with the media promoting strong, fit women in place of the skeletal, emaciated models that had previously been upheld as the beauty ideal.
The ‘Strong, not Skinny’ movement has really helped women with this mental shift, showing that women can be strong, healthy and proud of their natural body shapes. We are also starting to realise the impact that being strong and muscular can have in later life, protecting our bones and keeping us active and upright into our twilight years.
Six packs and biceps are no longer solely coveted by body builders and gym buffs, but by women all over the word who are finally celebrating what their body can do. With this in mind here are the top eight foods you should be eating if you want to effectively build muscle and stay fit and strong.
1. Greek Yogurt
As well as being packed with probiotics and calcium, Greek yogurt is also a good source of casein. Casein is a slow-digesting protein that results in sustained heightened blood amino acids. These amino acids are anti-catabolic, which means they prevent excessive protein breakdown which is critical for the body to build natural, healthy muscle.
Cottage cheese is another low fat dairy product which is high in casein and a great snack to have after a workout.
Eggs are a source of complete protein; they contain all the amino acids that your body needs from food and optimise your muscle build and recovery. They contain 6 grams of high quality protein and valuable minerals such as calcium, zinc and iron.
Whilst many foods including beans and vegetables have protein, eggs have what is known as ‘bioavailable’ protein, which mean they can be absorbed quickly and start building muscle right away.
When women think about gaining mass and building muscle they often envisage a diet high in meat and low in carbohydrates, however there are some great sources of carbohydrate that give you both energy and protein. Quinoa is one of them: one cooked cup of quinoa gives you eight grams of protein and all the essential amino acids that your body needs to build muscle and repair tissue.
Oats are another great carbohydrate which provide an abundance of protein and fibre. They contain 11g of protein per dry cup as well as iron and vitamin B3. This is important in muscle gain as iron helps to transport oxygen to your muscles via the bloodstream while B vitamins convert carbohydrates into energy which can then effectively make use of the protein.
5. Lean Beef
Lean cuts of beef (round or loins) and less than 5% fat beef mince should be included in every diet that aims to build muscle. Not only is lean beef more than 80% protein but it is packed with a bounty of macronutrients (vitamin B3, iron, zinc, phosphorus) as well as muscle proteins (myosin, actin, tropins and collegen) all of which aid in the muscle building process.
6. Chicken Breast
7. Unsalted Nuts
Whether trying to gain muscle or not, nuts should feature in any diet. Many avoid this superfood due to its calorific nature meaning they are missing out on the all-round health benefits such as their abundance of essential fatty acids and antioxidants. They also contain iron, zinc and other key minerals which help promote muscle gain and are high in protein and dietary fibre. Just remember to eat in moderation.