Not just for bodybuilders, muscle matters for runners of the fairer sex, too. "The benefits of having a healthy amount of lean body mass are enormous for women," says Monica Vazquez, a marathoner and master trainer with New York Sports Clubs. "It reduces injury risk and boosts metabolic rate, which increases fat burning all day long."
Achieving a toned physique requires more than just pumping iron. Proper nutrition plays a key role in a woman's muscle-building efforts. Incorporate these muscle-building foods into your diet to meet your protein quota.
Low-Fat MilkMilk is an excellent recovery fuel. Researchers reported in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise that women who downed two glasses of fat-free milk after lifting weights during a 12-week period gained more muscle, shed more fat mass and had better improvements in strength than those who drank sugary energy drinks.
Drink this: After a hard run, here's a perfect muscle-building smoothie: In a blender, whirl together 1 cup low-fat milk, 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt and 1 cup frozen berries of choice.
Nutritional info per serving: 236 calories, 19 g protein, 3 g fat (2 g saturated), 36 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 104 mg sodium
SpinachLooks like Popeye was onto something. Scientists at Rutgers University discovered treating human muscle cells with a compound found in spinach called phytoecdysteroid increased muscle protein synthesis by 20 percent. The study also discovered animals injected with phytoecdysteroid for a month increased their grip strength. "Though the exact mechanism is unclear, it's possible phytoecdysteroids behave like weak steroids to improve muscle strength, recovery and growth," says study author Jonathan Gorelick-Feldman, Ph.D.
Eat this: Place 2 cups of baby spinach in a food processor or blender along with 1 cup fresh basil leaves, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup walnuts, 3 chopped garlic cloves, juice from ½ lemon, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, and salt to taste. Process until creamy but still somewhat grainy, and use this pesto on sandwiches and whole-grain crackers.
Nutritional info per serving: 134 calories, 3 g protein, 13 g fat (2 g saturated), 2 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 70 mg sodium
This backbone of lasagna is made from the liquidy whey that is removed when making other cheeses such as mozzarella. This means no other cheese has more whey protein, which has been proven in a number of studies to improve muscle recovery and growth when paired with regular exercise. "Whey is considered a fast-acting protein meaning that its amino acids are readily available to your muscles soon after consumption," says Molly Kimball, a sports nutritionist at Ochsner Clinic Elmwood Medical Center in New Orleans.
Eat this: Preheat oven to 425 F. Combine 1/3 cup low-fat ricotta cheese and 1/4 cup of the spinach pesto and spread over two large whole-wheat pitas. Divide 1 can of salmon, 10 chopped asparagus spears, 1/2 cup roasted red pepper, and salt and pepper to taste between pitas. Cook for 10 minutes. Divide 1/3 cup reduced-fat grated Swiss or mozzarella cheese between pitas. Cook for 5 minutes to melt cheese.
Nutritional info per serving: 510 calories, 35 g protein, 21 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 45 g carbohydrate, 7 g fiber, 745 mg sodium
Grass-Fed BeefNext time you're shopping for protein-packed steaks and ground beef you may want to splurge on the pasture-raised kind. After reviewing three decades of research, a 2010 Nutrition Journal study by California State University researchers concluded protein-rich grass-fed beef has higher levels of heart-chummy omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A and E, the cancer-fighting antioxidant glutathione and conjugated-linoleic acid (CLA) than their corn-fattened counterparts. Studies have shown that CLA may help build lean muscle during periods training, stimulate body fat loss and boost endurance capacity by revving up fat oxidation.
Eat this: In a large container, combine 1/4 cup low sodium soy sauce, 1/4 cup sherry wine and 1/4 cup olive oil. Add grass-fed steaks and marinate in the fridge for several hours, â ipping beef once. Remove the steaks from marinade and season with salt and pepper. On the stovetop or outdoor grill, cook 5-7 minutes per side or until an internal temperature of 145 F is reached.
Nutritional info per serving: 327 calories, 36 g protein, 18 g fat (3 g saturated), 2 g carbohydrate, 617 mg sodium
Canned Sockeye SalmonAccording to scientists at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, people who had high levels of vitamin D in their blood were significantly stronger during a strength test than those with lower amounts of the sunshine vitamin. Further, a 2010 study involving 90 young women between the ages of 16 and 22 at the University of Southern California found that almost 60 percent were vitamin D insufficient, and that muscle fat levels were higher in these women, impairing muscle strength.
Eat this: In a bowl, flake two 5 ounce cans of sockeye salmon with a fork. Mix in 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1 large egg, 1 teaspoon cumin, juice of 1/2 lemon and black pepper to taste. Form into four equal-sized patties and cook for 3 to 5 minutes per side, or until lightly browned and heated through. Serve topped with blueberry salsa.
Nutritional info per serving: 348 calories, 39 g protein, 14 g fat (3 g saturated), 15 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 540 mg sodium
EggsNow that we know the link between cholesterol in eggs and heart disease was largely flawed science, it's time to get cracking. The protein found in eggs has a very high "biological value." "This is a measure of how easily a protein in a food can be used for protein synthesis in body such as making muscle cells," Kimball explains. In other words, egg protein can be more effective at repairing and building lean body mass than protein from a number of other food sources.
Eat this: In a large skillet, cook 1 diced red pepper and 2 minced garlic cloves for 4 minutes. In a large bowl, combine 4 eggs, 1/4 cup low-fat milk, 2 sliced green onions, 1 teaspoon curry powder, and salt and pepper to taste. Add egg mixture to skillet and cook for 5 minutes, or until eggs set, stirring often. Add 1 diced avocado and 1/3 cup reduced-fat shredded cheddar cheese, and cook 1 minute more. Place egg mixture in wholegrain wraps, top with salsa, and fold.
Nutritional info per serving: 335 calories, 11 g protein, 16 g fat (3 g saturated), 38 g carbohydrate, 7 g fiber, 587 mg sodium