When you think of building muscles, vegetables are probably the last food group that comes to mind. A thick grass-fed steak, a couple of free-range eggs or even a whey protein shake … these are the types of foods that truly build muscles, right?
Yes, they certainly do … but they’re not the only ones. And if you’re overlooking veggies as part of your muscle-building arsenal, you could be missing out. Your muscles need vitamins, don’t they? And minerals? And antioxidants? Yes, yes, and yes … and where do you find such treasures?
You could take a multivitamin … but this wouldn’t even come close to the bounty that a plate of fresh vegetables provides. Do your muscles a favor and eat yours up with every meal, especially these proven winners when it comes to building muscle health and more.
Remember Popeye? Eating about one cup of spinach a day is beneficial for your fast-twitch muscles, according to research from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. The natural nitrates in spinach promote higher levels of certain proteins in your body that may boost muscle contraction and strength.[i]
Beets, like spinach, also supply your body with natural dietary nitrates that may support muscle weakness and allow your muscles to remain active.[ii] This is because the nitrates get converted into nitric oxide, which promotes vascular function and allows you to keep working your muscles, harder.[iii]
3. Sweet Potatoes
Diets high in potassium-rich produce have an alkalizing effect that may help preserve muscle mass.[iv] As you age, metabolic acidosis tends to occur that triggers a muscle-wasting response. But those who ate the most potassium-rich diets maintained 3.6 more pounds of lean tissue compared to those with half the potassium intake. Sweet potatoes topped the list of potassium-rich veggies, but there are many others as well, like spinach, broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
Peas, and pea protein supplements, are rich in branched-chain amino acids (BCAA; leucine, isoleucine and valine) known to play an important role in muscle protein synthesis. Consume pea protein has been found to cause a greater increase in muscle thickness than a placebo, and a comparable increase to whey protein, when consumed along with a strength-training program.[v]
Not quite a vegetable, chlorella is a green algae that’s available in powdered form, making it easy to add to smoothies. It’s widely known for its detoxifying properties, but it’s also a complete protein with cellular regenerating properties. Further, due to its unique content of antioxidants, it helps lower oxidative stress, which is involved in age-related muscle atrophy, such as sarcopenia. According to one study:[vi]
“ … long-term consumption of Chlorella has the potential to prevent age-related muscle atrophy.”
What else works to build your muscles? Exercise, of course! Think you don’t have time? Think again. Here’s a phenomenal workout you can complete in just four minutes … it’s high-intensity, too, which means it recruits your fast-twitch muscle fibers. These are the ones that tend to atrophy the most as you get older (especially if you’re inactive), making them especially important to challenge to keep your muscles strong.