6 Incredible Clean Carbs Sources That Build Muscle and Improve Performance


Carbohydrates are the primary fuel source for your brain, body, and overall athletic performance, but not all carbs are created equal. Clean carbohydrate sources, aka complex carbohydrates, provide the long-lasting, sustained energy you need for prolonged workouts, such as running, cycling, and high-intensity functional training. They also help you build more muscle and optimize workout recovery. The question is, what carbohydrates are best for building mass, optimizing body composition, and improving performance?

The Problem with Simple Carbs

Chances are you’ve had a snack or chugged a sugary carb drink before a workout or run and found yourself gassed-out midway through your training. Simple carbohydrates and supplements such as maltodextrin, dextrose, and cyclic dextrin spike your insulin, which can lead to low blood sugar, leaving you feeling fatigued and lethargic.

Most people, athletes included, will have some kind of simple carbs an hour or two before their training session to get that midday pick-me-up. This stokes a vicious cycle that we call the blood sugar roller coaster.

After you finish your pre-workout snack, your body is flooded with carbohydrates, resulting in a short boost of energy, followed by a devastating crash and burn. Your body releases the hormone insulin to regulate the amount of sugar, or glucose, in your bloodstream. Insulin sends the sugar out of your blood into the liver and muscle and stores it as body fat, resulting in low blood sugar, which translates to low energy.

As a result, you have mood swings, feel hungry all the time, and/or become fatigued and have low energy. Maintaining steady insulin and blood sugar levels depends on the type of carbohydrates you consume. When you hear that certain carbs are “high on the glycemic index,” it means that they will spike blood sugar and insulin more quickly than other types of carbohydrates.

You Need Complex Carbs

Complex carbs digest much more slowly than simple carbs, due to their longer-chain molecular structure. Complex carbs are also made of sugars, but they do not spike blood insulin; they keep your blood glucose stable and provide a sustained energy release. These types of carbohydrates work best for prolonged training, improving endurance, building more muscle, and optimizing body composition. Complex carbs slow the absorption of sugar, slowing digestion, which keeps you feeling fuller for longer. There’s no blood sugar roller coaster with complex carbs.

Sweet potatoes, white potatoes, bread, and oats.

What are the best clean carbs for building more muscle and performance?

1. Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes have naturally occurring sugars and are full of dietary fiber and micronutrients. They are chock-full of vitamin B6, which can help maintain brain health, improving mood and energy levels. Sweet potatoes are also a great source of beta-carotene. Your body converts beta-carotene into vitamin A, which can help with immune health and eye health.

2. Yams

Nutritionally, yams resemble sweet potatoes. Both are low on the glycemic index, making them good choices for long-lasting, sustained energy without spiking blood sugar. Yams, however, have a higher vitamin C content than sweet potatoes but not nearly as much vitamin A.

3. Oats

Oats are an amazing source of complex carbohydrates and protein that can help build more muscle and optimize body composition. Oats are classified as a soluble fiber, which can help suppress appetite and slow digestion. Several studies have shown that oats can also protect against heart disease, reduce chronic inflammation, improve gut flora, help with inflammatory bowel disease, and provide sustained energy.[1-4]

4. Clean Carbs

Swolverine’s Clean Carbs is different from other carbohydrate supplements. Other products use maltodextrin, dextrose, and simple carbohydrates that spike blood sugar, creating more body fat and giving you an energy crash.[5] Clean Carbs is made with 100 percent natural whole foods from pure complex carbohydrates, including sweet potatoes, yams, and oats. Research indicates that your body burns rapidly through glycogen stores during high-intensity functional training, resistance training, and endurance workouts. Replacing glycogen after strenuous exercise is vital for optimal performance and faster recovery.[5]

5. Brown Rice

Brown rice is another great clean carb for mass building and weight management. Whether you’re shredding down or looking to increase size, brown rice is a great source of complex carbohydrates and will sustain a low insulin release for longer-lasting energy. Although similar, white rice is stripped of most of its nutrients and will trigger a blood sugar spike, as opposed to stable glucose levels.

Brown Rice

6. Quinoa

Quinoa is one of the only plant-based carbs that is considered a complete protein. With all the essential amino acids present, in addition to micronutrients such as manganese, magnesium, and iron, quinoa is a great clean carb source for athletes.

  1. Chappell, A. J., Simper, T., & Barker, M. E. (2018). Nutritional strategies of high level natural bodybuilders during competition preparation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(1), 4.
  2. Rebello, C.J., Johnson, W.D., Martin, C.K., Xie, W., O’Shea, M., Kurilich, A., Bordenave, N., Andler, S., Klinken, B.J.W.V., Chu, Y.F. and Greenway, F.L. (2013). Acute effect of oatmeal on subjective measures of appetite and satiety compared to a ready-to-eat breakfast cereal: a randomized crossover trial. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 32(4), 272-9.
  3. Valeur, J., Puaschitz, N. G., Midtvedt, T., & Berstad, A. (2016). Oatmeal porridge: impact on microflora-associated characteristics in healthy subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, 115(1), 62-67.
  4. Rasane, P., Jha, A., Sabikhi, L., Kumar, A., & Unnikrishnan, V. S. (2015). Nutritional advantages of oats and opportunities for its processing as value added foods-a review. Journal of Food Science and Technology, 52(2), 662-675.
  5. Alghannam, A. F., Gonzalez, J. T., & Betts, J. A., (2018). Restoration of muscle glycogen and functional capacity: role of post-exercise carbohydrate and protein co-ingestion. Nutrients, 10(2), 253.


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Help Prevent Muscle Loss with Protein, Even When You Can’t Train


You may think that if you’re training less, doing less cardio, or even being inactive altogether, you don’t need as much protein in your diet as when you’re going full bore in the gym.

Totally wrong!

Granted, those who train and stay active have great protein demands, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore your protein intake if you get injured and can’t train, get tied up with other life obligations and start slacking on your workouts, or are training with less volume or intensity for some other reason (like, say, the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders).

Multiple studies have shown that protein intake is absolutely critical for inactive people to prevent muscle loss. I’ll break down those studies right here, and, I hope, save you some hard-earned muscle.

Prevent Muscle Atrophy with High Protein

A 2013 study published in the journal Nutrition Reviews confirmed the well-known fact that muscle disuse, aka inactivity, leads to atrophy, or muscle loss.[1] The researchers found that “maintaining protein intake during a period of disuse attenuates disuse atrophy.” Basically, keeping protein intake high prevents muscle loss when you’re not training or are training less frequently or less intensely. This is important, because the last thing you want is to lose muscle.

The researchers concluded that supplementing with dietary protein, like protein powder or essential amino acids (like BCAAs), is a good strategy for preserving muscle during periods of inactivity.*

Jim Stoppani drinking a protein shake

That’s in line with what I’ve been saying for years: Whether you’re training hard or hardly training, you should shoot for at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily and even up to 1.5 grams per pound. That’s a hell of a lot of chicken breasts and eggs! You can’t get there with whole foods alone. The most convenient way to do it is to get some of it through protein powder. Plus, my Pro JYM protein contains a perfect blend of whey, casein, and egg to maximize protein synthesis to build and maintain muscle.*

For a more in-depth understanding of the importance of protein powder and how muscle synthesis works, read my article “3 Ways to Grow the Most Muscle with Protein Powder.

As for amino acids, both Pre JYM and Post JYM contain the critical aminos leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Be More Anabolic with Protein and Leucine

A 2014 study looked at older adults and found that dietary protein and amino acid supplementation—at least 30 grams of protein and 3 grams of the branched-chain amino acid leucine per serving—triggered anabolism (muscle building) and muscle maintenance in sedentary individuals.[2] Leucine supplementation was also highlighted in a 2016 study that looked at preserving muscle during disuse.[3]*

The researchers mentioned that creatine and fish-oil-derived omega-3 fatty acids can further help prevent muscle loss during periods of inactivity. Creatine is present in Pre JYM and Post JYM, and my Omega JYM fish oil provides adequate amounts of all the most critical omega-3 fats.

Fish oil supplements

Greater Protein Synthesis in Injured Athletes Through Dietary Protein

The last study, published in 2015, looked at injured athletes.[4] So, we’re not talking about the elderly anymore. These were young people who were highly active and highly trained and got injured and couldn’t train as much as usual, if at all.

“Dietary consumption [of protein] is of critical importance for stimulating muscle protein synthesis rates throughout the day,” the researchers note, concluding that “maintaining or increasing daily protein intake by focusing upon the amount, type, and timing of dietary protein ingestion…can restrict the loss of muscle mass and strength during recovery from injury.”

Yes, during recovery from injury. Or, when you’re not injured but you’re sitting on your ass more and training less!

Jim’s Take-Home Message

By keeping your protein intake high, you’ll lose less muscle during times of inactivity. Get that protein from lean meats (lean steak, chicken breasts), eggs, dairy (for example, cottage cheese), and protein powder. I also recommend taking BCAAs—either through Pre JYM, Post JYM, or a stand-alone BCAA product—when you’re not getting at least 30 grams of protein (including 3 grams of leucine) in a meal, to make sure you’re spiking muscle protein synthesis.*

For more information on taking BCAAs between meals, read my article “The Best Ways to Use BCAAs.

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

Want unlimited access to all of my programs and an endless supply of content like this? Visit and become a member.

  1. Wall, B. T., & van Loon L. J. C. (2013). Nutritional strategies to attenuate muscle disuse atrophy. Nutrition Reviews, 71(4), 195-208.
  2. Thalacker-Mercer, A. & Drummond, M. (2014). The importance of dietary protein for muscle health in inactive, hospitalized older adults. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1328(1), 1-9.
  3. Galvan, E., Arentson-Lantz, E., Lamon, S., & Paddon-Jones, D. (2016). Protecting skeletal muscle with protein and amino acid during periods of disuse. Nutrients, 8, 404.
  4. Wall, B. T., Morton, J. P., & van Loon, L. J. C. (2015) Strategies to maintain skeletal muscle mass in the injured athlete: nutritional considerations and exercise mimeticsEuropean Journal of Sport Science, 15(1), 53-62.


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Eating to Grow: The Top 10 Foods for Building Muscle


If you’re trying to gain size, you can spend two hours in the weight room, hammering out set after set, but it won’t mean much if you aren’t eating a muscle-focused diet.Size gains come from two foundational actions: tearing the muscle down with training, and building it back up with nutrition. And nutrition means protein.

Below are the top 10 protein-packed foods you can eat to support muscle growth. But before you dig in, take a minute to figure out how much you need to eat.

Eat More Than You Burn

To build muscle and gain size, you must eat more calories than you burn—the opposite of a fat-burning diet. An easy way to calculate your daily caloric needs is with an online calorie calculator.

Based on your goals and current physical activity level, you’ll get a calorie range to achieve each day, usually 200-300 calories more than your maintenance level, meaning the number of calories you must eat to maintain your current weight.

If you find yourself struggling to get enough calories and protein just from whole foods, supplements such as whey protein can help you to reach your daily caloric needs.

Top 10 Muscle-Building Foods

Now that you know how much you need to eat, here are the best animal- and plant-based foods you can enjoy after your workout to help you achieve your muscle-building goals. Since protein-rich foods contain the most amino acids, the building blocks of muscle tissue, we’ll focus on the healthiest foods with the highest protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving. Many of them also contain heart-healthy fatty acids, digestion-supporting complex carbohydrates, and micronutrients such as zinc and magnesium.

1. Chicken Breast

Chicken breast

Is there any food more associated with bodybuilding and muscle growth than the chicken breast? Cost effective, easy to prepare, and packed with protein, chicken breasts are the ideal muscle-building food. We recommend buying a large pack, cooking them in bulk, and dividing them up for lunch and dinner meals throughout the week.

  • 32 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

2. Hemp Seeds

Many plant foods must be mixed to form a complete protein; for example, eating brown rice with peas. Hemp seeds are an exception, giving you 32 grams of completely bioavailable protein per 100-gram serving. Take note of the fat content: The same serving has almost 50 grams of healthy fats.

  • 32 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

3. Lean Pork Chops

Back to animal sources. Use lean pork chops as you would chicken breasts. You can cook them in bulk and interchange them throughout the week for lunches or dinners.

  • 31 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

4. Pumpkin Seeds

Pumpkin seeds

Like hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds are a complete protein source and are high in fatty acids, making them excellent to snack on throughout the day.

  • 30 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

5. Canned Albacore Tuna

Another bodybuilding staple, canned albacore tuna is also a convenient, cost-effective option for supporting your muscle-building goals. We highly recommend buying only brands associated with responsible and sustainable fishing practices to avoid dangerous levels of heavy metals. Examples include Safe Catch, Wild Planet, and Trader Joe’s.

  • 27 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

6. Wild Salmon

Famously high in omega-3 fatty acids, wild salmon also contains 25 grams of protein per 3.5-ounce serving. Wild salmon is recommended, but farmed salmon is OK, too. Just be sure to limit your consumption of farmed salmon.

  • 25 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

7. Eggs

One egg contains around 6 grams of protein along with zinc and healthy fats. If you’re like most people, you eat more than one egg at a time, so the protein count adds up quickly. Opt for brown eggs over white.

  • 13 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

8. Soybeans

Soybeans have been shown to support cardiovascular health. We highly recommend eating only fermented or sprouted soybeans; avoid the processed stuff.

  • 13 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

9. Greek Yogurt

Carbohydrate free and packed with protein, Greek yogurt will quickly become a favorite muscle-building snack.

  • 10 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

10. Chickpeas


Chickpeas are great on their own, as a side dish, or blended to make hummus.

  • 10 grams of protein per 100-gram (3.5 ounce) serving

Do You Have a Favorite Muscle-Building Meal?

What does your bodybuilding meal plan look like? Is there a favorite lean-mass food that we missed? Need more ideas for what to eat in order to gain size? Let us know in the comments!


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Does Swimming Build Muscle? | POPSUGAR Fitness UK


If you want to build muscle, you need to strength train — but swimming is one form of cardio that can help inch you closer to your goals. “Muscle is built by repetitive motions, using the same muscles over and over again,” Cindy Dallow, PhD, a sports dietitian and triathlon coach, told POPSUGAR. Plus, unlike the air you pass through when running or walking, water provides a bit of resistance, mounting an even greater challenge to your muscles. “This activity stimulates muscle protein synthesis, which is what increases strength, assuming adequate protein is consumed,” she explained.

So, whether you’re breast stroking or back stroking, as the laps add up, so will your muscle gains — at least in your upper body. “Swimming increases strength in some of the shoulder and back muscles,” Dr. Dallow said. Perhaps more importantly, “it improves aerobic capacity and cardiorespiratory fitness.” In one study, women who swam for 60 minutes three times a week for 12 weeks showed significant improvements in flexibility and cardiovascular endurance, in addition to losing body fat.

Still, to better tone your body, you should keep up with your strength-training routine. If the gains weren’t motivation enough, it could help prevent injuries in the pool. “Many swimmers develop shoulder injuries, so having a strong upper body helps prevent that from happening, in addition to making them a strong swimmer,” Dr. Dallow said.


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Do You Burn Muscle When Fasting?


Portrait of beautiful African sportswoman standing outdoors.
When your body is in a fasted state, it shifts from burning glucose/carbohydrates for energy to burning fat as its main source of energy, which is one of the reasons why intermittent fasting has become so popular. Yes, intermittent fasting can help you burn fat, but there’s a caveat: it can also cause muscle catabolism (this occurs when your body begins to burn your muscle).

“From a baseline perspective, the way to maximise muscle protein synthesis (a natural process that allows your body to produce protein to repair skeletal muscle damage from exercise and promote skeletal muscle growth) is to technically have some protein every three to five hours. So, if you’re not eating for 12 hours, you know you’re entering into some state of muscle catabolism,” Jason Machowsky, RD, CSSD, CSCS, a board-certified sports dietitian and exercise physiologist at the Hospital For Special Surgery’s Tisch Sports Performance Centre, told POPSUGAR.

There’s a possibility that you can lose muscle if you fast, but according to Jason, “There are so many other factors to consider as far as whether that brief period of catabolism is really going to be detrimental to your long-term lean body mass.”

In Jason’s opinion, the potential for muscle catabolism “depends on how many calories and how much protein you’re getting in during the period that you’re eating. If you’re getting in adequate calories, if you’re getting in adequate protein during that period of time, I don’t think it’s going to be a tremendous loss,” he said. To find out your daily caloric needs, you can use this equation or you can consult a registered dietitian for a more exact number.

Along with consuming enough calories, specifically protein (here’s how much you need in a day), you’ve got to strength train in order to preserve your muscle mass, Jason explained. Here’s a four-week muscle-building program we like.

“The primary thing I tell people is if you’re intermittent fasting, you’re really restricting your ability to eat an adequate amount of calories and protein to a narrow window of the day, so you need to be more mindful and make sure that you are getting those things in during that period,” he said. Bottom line: to prevent burning muscle when fasting, you’ve got to eat enough calories, eat enough protein, and strength train. As a reminder, everyone’s caloric intake will vary based on activity level, age, goals, and other factors. To find out how much you should eat in a day to function at your best and meet your goals, please speak to a registered dietitian.

According to Jason, intermittent fasting is a good option for the average gymgoer who wants to get lean as long as you’re able to consume enough calories and protein during your eating window. Most importantly, Jason said if you do choose to fast to burn fat and get lean, you should make sure it’s something you can and want to sustain for the long-term.

If you’re interested in intermittent fasting, be sure to consult your doctor before making any changes to your current way of eating.


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Can CBD Oil Help With Muscle Pain?


Muscle soreness has been part of my daily life for years and, as a result, I’m constantly on a mission to find ways to ease the pain. Some of my muscle pain can be attributed to lupus, but with those symptoms mostly under control for the past year, I experience aches at the times you’d expect, like after a workout, a long flight, or hours spent at my desk. A number of friends have told me they swear by CBD for pain relief — so I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a try.

What Happened When I Took CBD For 2 Weeks

I purchased CBD pills and tinctures that are specifically aimed at treating body pain and began taking CBD each day to see if I noticed a difference. Because I’m a night owl who typically works out in the evenings, I decided to stick to a consistent schedule — I planned to exercise at around the same time each day and take my CBD dose after I’d showered and settled in to read or watch TV.

I’m accustomed to waking up sore and, although this certainly didn’t go away entirely, I did notice that my body ached less when I woke up the morning after a vigorous workout. That result was enough for me — as long as it doesn’t interfere with my ability to go about my day, a tolerable level of soreness is to be expected after a workout.

About a week after I started taking CBD, my routine changed as I travelled from Seattle to New York City to surprise my best friend, whose boyfriend wanted her closest friends there to celebrate when he popped the question. I’m a travel writer who spends a great deal of time on planes, so I knew to expect muscle and body pain after my flight. At that point, I diverged from my routine and took one dose of CBD before boarding my redeye flight and another when I arrived in New York. When I flew home two days later, I did the same thing. Perhaps uncomfortable plane seats are to blame, but in this case, I really didn’t think that CBD helped ease my muscle pain. It was fairly comparable to the pain I experienced a month prior when I flew home to Connecticut to visit my parents.

Less than 36 hours after returning from my friend’s engagement party, it was time for a two-hour flight to California for work. During my four days in California, I didn’t stick to my typical workout routine, but I was active — I took a six-hour bike tour of Sonoma and squeezed in a few brief workouts at my hotel’s gym. The last time I rode a bike, my muscles were pretty sore afterwards. This time, I was significantly less sore and I suspected the CBD had something to do with it.

Is There Evidence That CBD Works For Muscle Pain?

After two weeks of using CBD to treat my sore muscles, I reached my own verdict: it’s not a miracle worker, but it did ease some of the pain. Still, I sought the insight of a doctor to find out why CBD may have helped my sore muscles and if there’s anything I should be aware of before I make it a permanent part of my routine. It turns out that most evidence is anecdotal — and although the doctor didn’t advise against taking CBD, she did tell me to be mindful of exactly what I’m ingesting.

Claudia William, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician who specialises in cannabis, explained that studies are limited. “In my practice, I’ve heard anecdotal evidence from patients that CBD topical creams help for musculoskeletal pain, such as muscle strains, muscle tightness, or soreness,” Dr. William told POPSUGAR. “In some instances where it doesn’t completely relieve pain, it has helped decrease the amount of NSAIDs or oral pills people have had to take.”

However, Dr. William noted that consumers should be cautious when purchasing CBD. She recommends carefully reading the ingredient list and only choosing products where third party testing information is available. One concern, for example: residual pesticides limits are set by the state, rather than at the federal level. So, while there’s a seemingly endless supply of CBD products on the market, they’re not all created equal.

And, although Dr. William said benefits have certainly been observed, she added that there’s a grey area when it comes to available data — and patients and consumers who use CBD products should be conscious of this. “We may not be aware of possible long-term adverse effects due to limited research on the substance,” she explained. So, when people like me use CBD products, there’s a level of self-experimentation involved. Until policy changes in the United States, “research on [cannabis] will be limited or stalled,” Dr. William said.

I’ll probably continue to use CBD, but Dr. William’s insight definitely made me realise that I need to closely examine the ingredient list and third party testing information of any product I use in the future. And, because so many people are using CBD to help with everything from body aches to anxiety, I hope the path for more research is cleared sooner rather than later.


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Does Running Burn Muscle? | POPSUGAR Fitness UK


We know running as an excellent form of cardio — and therefore a great way to burn fat and lose weight! — but its role in building vs. burning muscle is a little less clear-cut. The hope, of course, is that when you run, you’re getting energy from either your body’s supply of glycogen (aka glucose), which you typically source from carbohydrates, or from your fat stores. It’s often desirable to burn glycogen and fat. Muscle? Not so much.

Does Running Burn Muscle?

Losing muscle mass from running is a possibility, but good news: with the right diet and strength training regimen, it’s avoidable. “If you’re only running and not doing strength work, then it is possible that you’re going to definitely lose some muscle mass,” said Michael Fredericson, MD, professor and director of physical medicine and sports medicine at Stanford University in California. The trick, he told POPSUGAR, is to mix up your workout schedule so that you’re running on some days and doing strength training, whether that’s bodyweight or weightlifting work, on the other days. That ensures that you’re continuing to strengthen and build your muscles on the days you’re not doing your straight cardio. (Try this weekly workout plan that incorporates both strength training and running.)

Diet also comes into play. Basically, “Make sure you’re getting in adequate calories,” Dr. Fredericson said, because while creating a slight calorie deficit can help you lose weight (if that’s a goal you’re after), dipping too far into that deficit can lead to muscle loss. Make sure you’re eating enough protein, which repairs and rebuilds your muscles to prevent them from wasting. You also want to eat healthy amounts of good fats, like avocado and nuts, which are good sources of calories to keep you full and give you a longer-lasting form of energy than carbs.

Far from losing muscle through running, said Sander Rubin, MD, sports medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine, running can actually help you work and build your muscles, as long as you’re incorporating strength training and eating enough. “Your core muscles, your leg muscles, your shoulder muscles are all going to be aspirated during running,” he told POPSUGAR. If you’re trying to build muscle, running can “absolutely” be part of your routine, he said, and you definitely shouldn’t avoid it just because you’re worried about losing muscle. You can take steps to avoid that potential downside, and the benefits of running, like improving endurance and overall body strength, are valuable for any fitness routine.

Image Source: Getty / supersizer


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How Much Protein Do I Need to Build Muscle and Lose Fat?


Smiling woman carrying kettlebells during workout in gym

If you want to lose fat while building or maintaining muscle mass, you’ll need to do more than cut calories. Eating enough protein is key, because protein — or more specifically, a type of protein called amino acids — serves as the building block of muscle, Torey Armul, MS, RD, LD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in America, told POPSUGAR.

Still, you probably don’t need as much protein as you think. “Women who want to build muscle and lose weight should aim for 1.1 to 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day,” Torey said. It’s important to stay in this range because too much protein can lead to weight gain. So, let’s say you weigh 65 kilograms — you’d need between 158 and 255 grams of protein per day.

To make sure you’re hitting that goal, reach for healthy, whole foods rather than supplements. “Real food contains quality proteins and other important nutrients (like vitamins, minerals, and fibre) that also keep muscles healthy and help control your weight,” Torey explained. The best sources of protein are foods like nuts, beans, and eggs. Dairy, poultry, fish, and legumes are also solid options for packing in your protein, but remember that you don’t have to rely on meat or animal-based products to meet your quota. “Most of us are eating enough protein, but fewer are eating enough plant-based proteins, which play a major role in weight management and heart health,” she said.

Remember too that protein alone won’t help you build more muscle or lose fat. To accomplish this, you also need to work out regularly and make strength training an essential part of your routine. “By working your muscles and eating protein to rebuild them you can then add to and maintain muscle mass,” Torey said.


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Does Muscle Soreness Mean Growth?


There’s a kind of pride in feeling sore from a hard workout. It’s a reminder that your body accomplished something impressive, whether that was a hard strength training workout or a long run. There’s also the idea that the workout that leaves you sore is also the one that’s helping you get stronger. “No pain, no gain” is a saying for a reason — but is there any truth to it? Does muscle soreness really correlate to muscle growth? POPSUGAR talked to Sander Rubin, MD, sports medicine specialist at Northwestern Medicine, to get to the bottom of it.

“Muscle soreness can absolutely indicate that our muscles are growing,” Dr. Rubin said. Some inflammation is required in order for your muscles to get bigger and stronger, he explained. Your body sends out pain signals as a part of that response, which cause the feeling of soreness and even discomfort after intense exercise.

Dr. Rubin pointed out, though, that if you don’t feel sore after a workout, it doesn’t mean the exercise “didn’t work.” He explained that “post-workout soreness is caused by a variety of factors.” In fact, the actual cause of common muscle soreness — also known as delayed-onset muscle soreness or DOMS — isn’t yet known, though it’s thought to be related to inflammation caused by microscopic tears in your muscles. Some studies have shown that muscle soreness isn’t the best indicator of muscle growth, Dr. Rubin explained; “the lack of soreness does not mean your workout wasn’t successful in building muscle.”

To recap: being sore can indicate muscle growth, but you can still be making gains even if you’re not feeling achy. A little confusing? If you’re tracking muscle growth, try looking at other factors than just soreness. Mirror checks and before-and-after pictures can obviously show that your muscles are getting bigger, but Dr. Rubin cautioned that it can take weeks to notice those kinds of physical changes. To pick up on growth even earlier, pay attention during your workouts. Notice when you’re able to increase your reps, go up in weight, or finish a workout faster.

And while it’s typically OK to exercise through DOMS-related soreness (choosing a lighter workout if the discomfort is more intense), keep your eye out for signs of a more serious injury. These could include pain that doesn’t improve with rest, Dr. Rubin told POPSUGAR, or that’s worse on one side. If you’re unsure, see a doctor to check for a pulled or strained muscle.

Image Source: Getty / Masego Morulane


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What Should I Eat to Gain Muscle After a Workout?


A cooking pan with chicken stew on wooden cutting board on grey background

When it comes to building muscle, workouts are definitely a priority. You’re not going to get stronger unless you work your muscles, and doing strength training with progressive overload (gradually increasing your weight amounts) is the best way to do it, but diet is a key component as well. Fuelling up properly, both before and after a workout, can support and spur on your muscle growth, while failing to do so can stand in the way of it.

You’ve probably heard that the few hours after your workout are a crucial time to refuel, and it’s true — that’s when your muscles are actively trying to repair themselves, and protein gives your body the amino acids it needs to make those repairs and rebuild the muscles bigger and stronger. You have lots of choices when it comes to getting that necessary protein — protein bars, shakes, full meals, and more — that figuring out the best option can feel like a workout in and of itself.

According to dietitian Michele Fumagalli, RD, LDN, of the Northwestern Medicine Running Medicine Clinic, made it simple: to build muscle, you need both protein and carbs after your workouts. While protein helps to rebuild and grow your muscles, carbs do the work of replenishing your glycogen stores — the stored glucose that your body uses for energy, which gets drained during workouts. If you’re doing strength training, you’ll want slightly more protein; if you’ve finished a cardio workout, like jogging, swimming, or cycling, carbs will take more of a priority; but you definitely need both for both types of workouts if you want to build muscles.

So what’s the best thing to eat after a workout? A full, balanced meal, if you can. A healthy meal will replenish your protein and carbs but also give you fibre and vitamins — things that post-workout shakes or snacks might not provide. If you can eat a meal following a workout, Michele recommended dividing your plate into fourths. One fourth should be a healthy carb, like brown rice; one fourth should be a lean protein source, like salmon, chicken, pork tenderloin, or a flank steak; and the rest, approximately half of your plate, should be vegetables.

Not everyone can — or wants to — eat a full meal right after a workout. In that case, Michele recommended:

  • Toast with two eggs
  • A half cup of oats with berries
  • Greek yoghurt with muesli and berries

A nationally-ranked CrossFitter herself, Michele said she also loves eating a white or sweet potato after a hard workout. “They’re a great carbohydrate energy source and good for glycogen storage,” she said.

Love your protein shakes or bars? You can make that work, too. Michele said those quick, pre-made options are great for convenience, if you’re running errands after hitting the gym. “If you’re going to eat a meal, maybe an hour after your work out, then you don’t worry about the protein shake,” she said; you don’t need the extra protein if you’re already planning on eating a protein-rich meal within a couple hours. If you do need to hit that shake, Michele recommended drinking it with a healthy source of carbs on the side, like an apple or banana, since many pre-made protein shakes don’t contain carbs.

Last but not least: don’t forget to hydrate. “The biggest thing for me in post-workout is making sure that you’re drinking a lot of fluids, especially water,” Michele said. She recommended water with electrolytes as well, especially if you’re recovering from a hard, sweat-inducing cardio workout. Electrolytes are important for keeping your body hydrated and balanced, and you lose a lot of them when you sweat.

As important as your post-workout meal is for making muscle gains, Michele reminded us that it’s just one tool and just one meal out of many. “Look at the bigger picture,” she said. “There are specific things we can do after a workout that can help us get stronger. But the bigger idea is that we want to make sure we’re eating well throughout the day, too.”


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