There’s a lot of information out there about high-protein diets and how to build muscle by including more protein in your diet. However, not all sources of protein are created equal. Some protein sources will also fill you up with excessive calories and saturated fat. Stock your pantry with the foods listed below and make them essential components of your meals and snacks. You will give your muscles what they need without contributing to your fat stores.
Fish, such as salmon, is a great source of protein but also contains essential fatty acids that the body needs but cannot produce on its own. These fats must be provided by the diet, and fish is a great way to get them in, according to Kathy Smith, author of “Feed Muscle, Shrink Fat Diet.” Other sources of these omega-3 and omega-6 fats include avocados, almonds, walnuts and olives.
According to John Henkel, communications manager at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, soy protein is a great substitute for animal protein sources. Soy provides a complete protein, which the body needs to build muscle, but it does so without all the calories and saturated fat so common in animal sources.
Not what you may have been expecting, but water is an essential element of muscle building nonetheless, says Smith. If you’re not hydrated enough, your muscle cells will release the water in them to maintain normal water levels in your blood. Drinking adequate water keeps your muscles fully hydrated and your metabolism working better and gives your body a way to transport fat molecules out of your body.
Lean meat is not only great for building muscles, it’s also convenient and quick to cook. According to Michael Sena, personal trainer and author of “Lean Mom, Fit Family,” lean-meat sources of protein, such as boneless, skinless chicken breast, provide a long-lasting energy source (meaning you feel full longer) and speed up your metabolism.
Cottage cheese is another good source of lean protein, according to Sena. Cottage cheese is a good choice for a muscle-building snack or breakfast food, requires no preparation, and helps promote an increase in lean muscle mass.
Fiber is essential to keep your metabolism working at its peak, says Smith. Oatmeal is easy to prepare and provides fiber for your body, allowing it to slow food digestion enough so that your body feels full longer; it also encourages muscle building and fat reduction. Switch your morning bowl of sugary cereal for a big bowl of oatmeal.
Protein shakes have been a popular choice of body builders for decades, but they’re not just for pumped-up iron men. Kathy Smith recommends substituting a nutritious, high-protein power shake for up to two meals per day. As she says, they provide an optimum mix of protein, healthy fat and complex carbohydrates, so they will give you long-lasting energy and keep you from feeling hungry again in half an hour. Plus, they’re easy to make and transport, which is ideal for moms on the go.
Beans are a great source of protein without the high fat, says Smith, so regularly include lentils, black beans, kidney beans and pinto beans in your diet. Beans also provide complex carbohydrates, which aid in stabilizing blood sugar levels and thus reducing sugar cravings, says Sena.
Though all vegetables are healthy choices, those with a dark green color tend to be on the high-volume end of the vegetable scale. That means, says Smith, that they provide more water and more fiber, which will fill you up, provide vitamins and minerals, and not leave you with excess calories. Look for green vegetables such as lettuces, spinach, bok choy, chard, asparagus, broccoli, green beans, cabbage, zucchini and sugar snap peas.
Fruits are higher in sugar than vegetables, but they are still a great source of fiber and nutrients, says Sena. Eat the whole fruit (except for seed and stem) to get the maximum benefits. Include grapefruits and oranges for a healthy shot of vitamin C; try them for breakfast alongside that bowl of oatmeal. Snack on apples, berries, pineapple and cantaloupe throughout the day.