You probably already know putting on muscle can be a challenge as a woman. For one, our female hormones will have a say in the matter. We have too little of the one hormone we need to pack on muscle— testosterone. This hormone controls muscle-building pathways, increases strength so we can lift more weight and helps keep the metabolism burning high. Following a proper muscle-building diet plan is critical, including eating certain types of foods that can help stimulate lean muscle growth, maintenance and repair.

Food #1: Red Meat

Red meat is critical when it comes to packing on muscle. It is packed with protein— 100 grams of tenderloin delivers 26 grams of protein per serving. Red meat is also a good source of fats, both monounsaturated and saturated. Although you might think getting in saturated fat isn’t a good thing when it comes to building muscle, it is critical. Fat is critical when it comes to hormone development. What’s more, eating a high-protein, high-fat diet can help preserve muscle and switch the body to burn off fat. Red meat is also naturally high in essential muscle-building vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, zinc and iron. Lastly, red meat is also high in the muscle-energizing nutrient creatine, which helps the body re-generate ATP or muscle energy. Creatine has been shown in numerous studies to build muscle, increase strength, power and endurance. Eat red meat a few times per week if your goal is to build muscle.

Food #2: Beets

Beets are naturally high in nitrates, which help drive nitric oxide production via the nitrate-nitrite-NO pathway. This pathway doesn’t require oxygen to convert nitrate into NO, which means the body conserves oxygen and has more available for workouts. Supplementing with beet powder that is rich in nitrates has been shown to enhance exercise performance, including improving reaction time, and reducing time to exhaustion. Increased NO also stimulates vasodilation, enhancing blood flow and delivery of vital nutrients to muscles so they can work longer and harder! Beets are low in calories and high in fiber. Eat them on a salad chopped, or puree and add them to a pre- or post-workout smoothie. In a 500-gram serving, you will get about 430 milligrams of nitrates!

Food #3: Whey Protein

You may not be a fan of protein powders, but it’s hard to ignore the benefits in whey protein. For one, it delivers one of the highest biological values when it comes to proteins. A high BV means that all the protein that is being consumed is getting utilized and absorbed by the body. Whey protein also provides all the essential amino acids, including the branched-chain aminos— the ones that are critical to muscle building. Research has shown that whey protein can play a key role in stimulating protein synthesis to a greater extent than plant proteins such as soy protein. Whey protein may promote cellular signaling changes through its ability to elevate leucine— the key branched-chain amino acid needed to turn on protein synthesis. Whey protein is also super convenient when it comes to meeting your daily protein needs; most protein powders offer up 20 to 30 grams per serving.

Food #4: Whole Eggs

Whole eggs are considered a perfect food because they are high in protein, provide a good source of fats and deliver essential vitamins and minerals. They also provide a source of cholesterol, which is important when it comes to your muscle building. Cholesterol is the base fat needed to make and balance hormones including testosterone. In one 12-week study, those who ate a high-protein, high-egg diet including whole eggs experienced greater weight loss and preserved more lean mass versus a lower protein diet. Eggs are versatile; eat them for breakfast or for your last meal of the day, eat them in omelets, protein pancakes or try them on a salad.

Food #5: Avocados

Protein is important, but so are fats when it comes to muscle building, and avocados are full of good-for-you fats. They provide a good source of monounsaturated fats, which can be satiating and satisfying when on a diet. Additionally, eating diets high in fats can help preserve muscle and help increase the use of carbs that are stored in the body. Avocados are also a source of glutathione, which is a powerful antioxidant involved in healing and recovery. They are also a great source of potassium— a mineral that gets zapped during a workout! Eat avocadoes with your breakfast, have them on salads or make a spicy guacamole for a side to your veggies or meat.

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