As I sit here, typing away, I’m not overtaxing my muscles. In fact, if I weren’t writing about muscles and food, I probably wouldn’t be thinking much about them.
Consider what would happen if we didn’t have muscles.
Our muscles are primarily responsible for movement. Muscle is the only tissue in the body that can contract and thus move the other parts of the body. Muscles are necessary to maintain posture and body position, move food or blood from one part of the body to another, and generate body heat.
In other words, we need them. So it’s a good idea to take care of them. We know how exercise affect muscles, but what do we need to eat to keep them happy and functioning well?
Adequate protein intake is critical for preserving and restoring muscle mass. Carbohydrates and fats are important as energy sources, but when it comes to muscle, protein does the heavy lifting. Pun intended.
Here are some foods that provide us with protein, along with other delicious nutrients.
Salmon, tuna, shrimp, and scallops are good choices for adequate protein intake. Salmon and tuna offer omega-3 fatty acids, which support muscle health and may even improve muscle gain during exercise programs. Research has shown that omega-3 fatty acids can help slow the loss of muscle mass and strength that typically occurs with aging.
Plain Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, and milk are available with varying fat content. The higher the fat, the creamier and richer-tasting the product and the higher the calorie count. Before you head straight for no and low-fat, keep in mind that our bodies need healthy fats. Greek yogurt is preferable to regular yogurt varieties, since many of those contain more sugar and less protein. If dairy does not agree with you, give easier-to-digest goat milk products a try.
Eggs contain high-quality protein and a vast array of essential nutrients. They provide healthy fats, are satisfying, can be made into a variety of recipes, and are inexpensive. Eggs are good for our brains, and contrary to what we’ve heard, research now shows that they have little effect on LDL cholesterol and may actually improve HDL (good) cholesterol levels.
Poultry and lean meat
Chicken and turkey breast, lean beef, pork tenderloin, and bison all provide high-quality protein.
A handful of nuts make a great replacement for chips, cookies, and other foods high in sugar or non-nutritious calories. Nuts contain protein, fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and other beneficial substances. Beware of nuts covered in chocolate, salt, and sugar. Nut butters are another good source of protein.
Legumes and other higher carbohydrate foods
Peanuts, technically a legume, offer similar benefits as nuts. Beans, such as pinto, black, kidney, chickpeas, etc., are a good source of plant-based protein, contain fiber, B vitamins, and some essential minerals. Quinoa, buckwheat, and brown rice offer protein and carbohydrates necessary to fuel your workouts.
Though whole foods are preferable, there are times when a protein shake can help. These vary in protein source, quality, taste, and added ingredients, such as sugar. Experiment to learn which type is best for you.
As we age, we may require a bit more protein to do the same job. Healthy older people should aim to get at least 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Those who are ill should try to get 1.2 to 1.5 grams. For a person who weighs 150 pounds, that equals about 70-100 grams of protein, or about 4-5 palm-sized servings of protein per day. Protein intake can vary depending on your activity level, size, appetite, and other health factors.
Vitamin D is also essential for muscle health. It’s tough to get what we need from sunlight, so it’s important to eat foods that contain or are fortified with vitamin D, and perhaps take a supplement. Enjoy eggs, salmon, tuna, sardines, milk, and mackerel.
Carol Slager is a licensed pharmacist, author, blogger and health coach in Northwest Indiana. Follow her monthly in Get Healthy and at inkwellcoaching.com.