We're all aware of the saying: "if muscles were made from chips and beer, I'd be huge." For me personally, it's pizza and burgers - but you get the point. Bad food that tastes great is better than good food, that tastes... well, not like the delicious bad food.
If not a double pepperoni, then what? Luckily, Jeff Volek, PhD, registered dietitian and exercise and nutrition researcher at the University of Connecticut has deduced that the essential things your muscles need can be found in these eight foods.
The protein in eggs has the highest biological value of any food, above and beyond even beef. "Calorie for calorie, you need less protein from eggs than you do from other sources to achieve the same muscle-building benefits," says Volek. This is assuming you eat the yolk though. In addition to protein, it also contains vitamin B12, which is necessary for fat breakdown and muscle concentration. Eggs also contain riboflavin, folate, vitamins B6, B12, D, E, iron, phosphorus and zinc.
Almonds are one of the best sources of alpha-tocopherol vitamin E - the form that's best absorbed by your body. That matters to your muscles because "vitamin E is a potent antioxidant that can help prevent free-radical damage after heavy workouts," says Volek. Fewer hits from free radicals translate too faster muscle recovery and growth. Two handfuls a day should do it.
Salmon are swimming with high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids. "Omega-3's can decrease muscle-protein breakdown after your workout, improving recovery," boasts Tom Incledon, another registered dietitian. Salmon will help you store new protein faster than your body breaks down the old stuff because of this. Studies argue eating salmon can help regulate insulin resistance - stopping diabetes - in about 12 weeks.
Doug Kalman - another dietitian - says that "yogurt is an ideal combination of protein and carbohydrates for exercise recovery and muscle growth". You have to buy regular - not sugar-free - with fruit buried at the bottom. The extra carbs from fruit (if you so choose to have some on top) will boost your levels of insulin, one of the keys to reducing post-exercise protein breakdown.
Beef is also a major source of iron and zinc, two crucial muscle-building nutrients. Not only this, but it's the number one food source of creatine - your body's energy supply for pumping iron - coming in at two grams for every 16 ounces. For maximum muscle growth with minimum calories, look for "rounds" or "loins".
6. Olive oil
"The monounsaturated fat in olive oil appears to act as an anticatabolic nutrient," says Kalman. In other words, it prevents muscle breakdown by lowering levels of a sinister cellular protein called cellular tumour necrosis factor-a, which is linked with muscle wasting and weakness. While olive oil is high in monosaturated, extra virgin olive oil goes a step further in helping. It has a higher level of free radical fighting vitamin E than the less chaste stuff.
Water is basically a muscle bath, whether it's your shins or your shoulders, muscle is approximately 80 percent water. "Even a change of as little as one percent in body water can impair exercise performance and adversely affect recovery," says Volek. The more parched you are, the slower your body uses protein to build muscle. A good way to understand how important water is in the body transformation process is to weigh yourself before and after a workout. Drink 24 ounces for every pound lost.
Fueling your workout with caffeine will help you lift, run and jump longer. A recent study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise found that men who drank two and a half cups of coffee a few hours before an exercise test were able to sprint nine percent longer than when they didn't drink any. Bear in mind these coffee drinks were probably lean Americanos; no flouncy, milky drinks here. Since sprinting and weightlifting are both anaerobic activities, coffee should help you pump out more reps (caffeine directly affects the same muscles in an anaerobic workout).
Put these ingredients into your stomach, get to lifting, and you can whip up a batch of biceps in no time.