Nutrition Tips for Strength and Muscle Building

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Winter is the perfect season for indoor physical activities that build strength, such as weight lifting, using resistance bands, doing push-ups, pull-ups, and sit-ups. Strength training is essential for fitness. It slows muscle loss and builds the strength of muscles and connective tissues, increases bone density, and reduces the risk of injury. Physically inactive people can lose as much as 3% to 5% of their muscle mass each decade after age 30. Regular resistance training sessions that work the major muscle groups, at least two times each week, is crucial all year round.

One of the best ways to support strength and muscle building is good nutrition. Protein, carbohydrates and fat play a major role, as does getting enough calories throughout the day.

Protein and Strength Building

When we think of muscle and strength building, we think protein. Reviewing recommendations for protein intake can be confusing, so I have summarized a few in the table below. As you can see, the current dietary reference intake (DRI), which is thought to be adequate to meet the nutrient needs of practically all healthy persons, is easy to ingest. Salmon and asparagusFor example, 56 grams of protein (the amount for a 150-pound person) is typically found in eight ounces of beef, pork, poultry or fish.

But according to my sports nutrition reference from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, resistance athletes who work out more than 5 times per week require considerably more. Additionally, other scientific reviews recommend that healthy older adults who exercise take in more protein than the DRI recommendation to prevent or delay muscle loss.

The amount that is optimal for you depends on your size, activity level and the stage of life you are in.

Protein recommendations Amount per kg (2.2 kg = 1 pound) Grams per day for 150-pound adult Grams per day for 200-pound adult
General DRI for adults .8 grams/kg body weight 54 grams 73 grams
Recommended for resistance athletes 1.6 – 1.7 grams/kg body weight 109 – 117 grams 145 – 155 grams
Recommended for older adults 1 – 1.5 grams/kg body weight 68  – 102 grams 91  – 136 grams
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Most people are able to get enough protein by eating a variety of foods and don’t need special protein bars, supplements or powders. The best protein sources contain little saturated fat, such as in nuts, seeds, lean meat, low-fat dairy, seafood, and beans.

  • 3 ounces skinless, chicken = 28 grams
  • 3 ounces steak = 26 grams
  • 3 ounces salmon = 22 grams
  • 3 ounces pork = 22 grams
  • ½ cup pinto beans = 11 grams
  • ½ cup lentils = 9 grams
  • ½ cup chickpeas = 7 grams
  • ½ cup quinoa = 4 grams
  • 1 oz. peanuts = 7 grams
  • 1 oz. almonds = 6 grams
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter = 7 grams
  • 6 ounces Greek yogurt = 18 grams
  • 4 ounces 1% cottage cheese = 14 grams
  • 1 cup milk = 8 grams
  • 1 ounce cheese = 7 grams
  • 1 large egg = 6 grams

Carbohydrates and Strength Building

Carbohydrates rich foods are often looked down upon, but have many functions in the body, including fueling your muscles. That’s because carbs are partially converted to glycogen, which is stored in muscle to power your workouts. Those who strength train twice a week or more need at least half of their calories from carbohydrates each day. The best choices for carbohydrate-rich foods are whole grain bread, cereals, pasta, low-fat milk and yogurt, and fruits and vegetables. One of my personal favorites is popcorn.

Fat and Strength Building

For overall health and muscle strength, focus on sources of heart-healthy fats, such as olive oil, canola oil, walnuts, pistachios, almonds, peanuts, and peanut butter, avocados and fatty fish such as salmon, halibut, mackerel, sardines, and trout.

Leg extension machinesIn addition to resistance training twice a week or more, keeping your muscles strong requires a balanced diet with adequate protein. A higher, but not extremely high intake of protein is beneficial for those putting more time in at the gym, striving to build muscle.

Written By

Margie Mansure, N.C. Cooperative ExtensionMargie MansureExtension Agent, Family and Consumer Sciences - Nutrition and Foods Call Margie Email Margie N.C. Cooperative Extension, Watauga County Center
Updated on Mar 5, 2019
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