By great I mean that these foods and supplements give a ton of bang for buck, are easy to prepare and eat, won’t negatively impact hormones, and aren’t JUNK. These are pretty much the STAPLES for muscle and strength gain.
Without further ado, let’s get right into them, shall we?
1. Poultry (Chicken and Turkey)
We need a good amount of protein for our bodies to actually build the muscles up bigger and stronger after each bout of training.
Now, since we need lots of protein, and we also need to watch our calories, this really means we need lean and clean sources of protein (that sounded damn right poetic, didn’t it?).
Chicken and turkey are the best, whole food protein sources for fitness athletes bar none. Both are very high in (very high quality) protein and very low in carbohydrate and fat, which is why they’ve been staples for decades.
You can also get them quite cheaply at grocery stores.
One hang up is that you have to cook it yourself, which is kind of a pain. Cooking up lots at one time and storing it can help remedy this. You can also look for the more convenient (but more expensive) deli meat (plain, low sodium!) as an alternative if you don’t want to cook.
Another issue is that eating chicken or turkey every day gets boring as hell as they’re both quite bland. You can remedy this by using salt-free spices (covered more in #9 below).
Poultry also goes good with brown rice and cruciferous veggies, two other excellent food choices.
There are lots of great clean carb sources, but oatmeal is probably the cheapest, easiest to prepare, and most versatile carb source on the planet.
This makes it a GREAT choice.
You can buy a big container of quick oats for around $3 that will last you at least a week.
Quick oats not your thing? Then try the Irish, Scottish, or the Steel-Cut varieties… there’s a enough different kinds to please all.
Just pour the oats into a bowl, throw in about a half cup of milk, and microwave for 1 minute. EASY.
If you really want to get wild with it, try throwing in a pinch of brown sugar, a sliver of grass-fed butter, and/or some fruit.
Note: You really should stay away from those oatmeal packets that come in the box. These are usually more expensive and are oftentimes loaded with sugar.
3. Eggs (and Egg Whites)
Eggs are an excellent form of protein, beneficial fats, cholesterol, and vitamins and minerals. The often demonized cholesterol in particular is vitally important and is needed to synthesize important hormones (including Testosterone).
If you’re just looking for a source of pure, quality protein, you can go with Egg whites (although you don’t get the beneficial fats and vitamins and minerals). In fact, egg whites are pretty much the gold standard that other proteins are compared to, so they’re a great choice.
Looking price-wise, eggs are CHEAP. You can get a carton of eggs for around 99 cents (although I usually go for the more expensive cage-free and organic myself).
They’re also quick to cook up. You can hard-boil a batch in ten minutes, and store them for future use.
If you want easy pure egg whites, you could go with the carton variety. These will be a little more expensive, but they’re super convenient. I sometimes get these and pour a serving or two into home-made fruit smoothies to get a nice protein punch.
4. Brown Rice
Brown rice is another very versatile whole grain carb source, and it goes well with poultry and beef.
Brown rice is also dirt cheap if you buy it dry, and just a little more expensive if you buy the instant variety (you really pay for the convenience).
I like to cook up some steaks, cut ‘em up, throw it in with some brown rice, add some broccoli and cauliflower, and add a dash of salt and MSG free spice.
Brown rice also has some good health benefits, too.
It’s high in certain minerals (most notably Manganese, Magnesium, and Selenium), and as mentioned earlier, it’s whole grain for a sustained energy release.
The fact that it’s whole grain also means you get the beneficial fiber that comes along with it, as well.
5. Fish and/or Fish Oil
Fish, and fish oil are excellent sources of Omega 3 Fatty Acids, and Omega 3 Fatty Acids are absolutely STELLAR for health and performance.
Here’s a short list of the performance benefits of Omega 3 Fatty Acids:
- Omega 3’s can help ward off inflammation. Yes, building your body creates all kind of (sometimes good) inflammation.
- They may be able to improve sleep. Sleep is incredibly important for muscle growth and fat loss.
- Omega 3’s can help keep bones and joints healthy. Your muscles are nothing without the bones and joints.
- They can help Increase blood flow. Blood flow brings essential nutrients to your muscles and other tissues.
- They can help with fat loss. Who doesn’t want to be lean and mean?
You can get your daily dose of Omega 3’s by eating fatty fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc.) or taking a good fish oil supplement (like Cod Liver Oil or a fish oil pill).
A little trick when looking at Omega 3 supplements, and in particular fish oil, is to ignore the TOTAL Omega 3 content listed on the label (which is often misleading), and look at the DHA and EPA content separately.
Make sure the supplement has a good amount of BOTH DHA and EPA (200-300 mg or above, of each). A lot of supplement companies like to skimp on one or both of these, creating the illusion that you’re getting a bigger dose than you really are. Don’t get fooled.
6. Broccoli and Cauliflower
Getting a wide variety of vegetables and fruits is imperative to optimal health, but two worth noting are broccoli and cauliflower.
Well, first of all broccoli and cauliflower are absolutely loaded with vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and phytochemicals. One phytochemical in particular that’s found in broccoli, called Sulforaphane, has even been shown to exhibit insane anti-cancer properties.
Another reason is that these phytochemicals can absolutely crush excess Estrogen (by inhibiting Estrogen from aromatizing). Estrogen is a hormone that men definitely need to keep lowered (and balanced, not totally eliminated).
Listen, natural muscle and strength building starts with a healthy body, PERIOD. This means that we really need to focus on and eat foods that promote overall health, well-being, and hormone balance. This usually STARTS WITH our veggies.
When you were a kid, you were probably told to eat your veggies to grow big and strong. Well, nothing has changed as an adult, eat your veggies.
7. Protein Powders
Here’s the deal: despite all the mystery that still surrounds protein powders, they’re nothing more than just protein. Hell, some would even say that they’re not even supplements, just amplified foods. Indeed, protein powders are not magical. They don’t have special powers. And they won’t get you jacked and lean all by themselves.
BUT, we can all agree that they’re convenient and economical when we’re talking about price per gram of protein.
The best ones are whey, casein, and egg. Whey in particular is great post-training because of its fast digestibility and its abundance of Essential Amino Acids, including good amounts of Leucine, all of which seem to help spark protein synthesis better than other forms of protein. Casein would be great before bed or before prolonged periods of fasting, as it’s a slow digesting protein that helps spare muscle.
The convenience factor is probably #1 when looking at powdered protein. You can really just mix it up with water or milk, throw it into a shaker cup, and GO! How easy is that?
All of this withstanding, be sure to get protein powders from reputable companies, as the supplement industry is not regulated. Also make sure the company you buy from gets their product independently third-party tested to prove that what they say is in the product, is actually in the product!
Protein powders can be easy and convenient sources of quality protein.
Caffeine can help you focus, and as a small bonus, speeds up your metabolism a bit.
Now, is this speed up going to get you cut like diamonds while eating junk?
You shouldn’t count on anything but discipline in your dieting phase to lose fat.
Therefore we take caffeine for its MAIN benefit, FOCUS.
Focus is so incredibly important for EVERY training session it’s not even funny.
Listen, if you’ve been at it long enough, training is a grind. Regardless of what you see on the perfectly cut and edited Youtube videos and Instagram feeds, there’s nothing really sexy or glamorous about grinding out sets and reps. It’s actually quite monotonous, but there’s really no other way.
This is where caffeine comes in. It will help you concentrate, keep your mind from wandering, and help you become more mindful in the gym.
It will also help you get that mind-muscle connection you need to blast a muscle into submission safely and effectively.
When looking to get in Caffeine, we have several sources at our disposal. These include coffee, tea, Yerba Mate, cacao, and also caffeine pills.
My advice is to take what form you like and that can give you an optimal dose. I choose coffee. You may like tea. Joe down the street may take caffeine pills. It doesn’t really matter as long as you use it effectively and get an optimal dose (50 – 200 mg).
Note: It’s important not to overdo caffeine. Too much can cause anxiety and jitters. You also build up a tolerance pretty quickly, so use it smartly (the lowest effective dose) and don’t go overboard.
9. Salt-Free Spices and Natural Sweeteners
It’s very important that we eat mostly clean. Unfortunately, clean eating does mean pretty bland.
This is because the foods we need and should be eating usually aren’t packed with anything that makes it taste all that good (salt, sugar, or artificial flavors, etc.).
Enter salt-free spices and natural sweeteners.
These can effectively used to add flavor or sweetness to any dish without providing excess calories.
You can get salt-free spices at any grocery store for dirt cheap, and they can help spice up any dish. Also make sure the one you do get is MSG free as well.
Natural, calorie-free sweeteners (like Stevia and monk fruit extract) and their calorie containing counterparts (like turbinado cane sugar and coconut palm sugar) can be added in sparingly if you need a little extra sweetness in your life.
Note: use sugar sparingly, as it is just pure sugar. I usually put one packet (or serving) in my oatmeal and coffee when I want to get a little wild. Don’t go dumping sugar all over everything.
10. Sources of Probiotics (Fermented Foods)
Fermented foods such as yogurt, kombucha, kimchi, and sauerkraut contain live and active cultures (beneficial bacteria) that populate the gut and boost gut health, which in-turn boosts plenty of other things.
A lot of gymrats overlook probiotics because they’re not sexy like say, protein or Creatine… BIG MISTAKE!
Taking care of gut health can also boost immunity, improve anxiety and depression, increase Serotonin (and also Melatonin) levels, improve energy levels, and boost nutrient absorption.
Remember when I said health comes first? Well gut health is imperative to overall health, and you can’t build muscle, lose fat, or perform your best when you’re unhealthy. It’s time to get serious about gut health.
Another option, if you’re just not into fermented foods, are probiotic supplements. These are taken in pill form and contain the beneficial live and active cultures.
11. A GOOD Multivitamin
As NATURALS we eat clean, (mostly) avoid garbage, eat just the right amount of foods for muscle growth without fat deposition, while sticking to our staple foods and eating at regular intervals.
Even with all this, we may still not get all the nutrients we need from foods.
This is where a GOOD multivitamin comes in. A good multivitamin can help you touch all of your micronutrient bases with zero to very little calories
Now, I will say that you shouldn’t rely on a multivitamin for ALL your micronutrient needs. Mixing up your diet every once and a while by switching your staple foods in and out of rotation and having regular cheat foods (or meals) is imperative to make sure your eating a wide variety of foods, and in-turn micronutrients. But a multivitamin can help, and it’s really a good insurance policy just to be safe.
Tips for choosing a multivitamin:
- Choose a multivitamin with optimal amounts of each vitamin and mineral. Look at the serving size, alot of labels will list the amounts for two servings.
- Make sure you buy a multivitamin from a reputable company. The supplement industry is not regulated, so you really have no idea what’s actually in the product. This is why you should always buy from a company with a reputation to keep.
- Make sure the product is independently third-party tested. We want the product to have what the label says is in it, actually in it!
- Stay away from icky things like artificial colors, artificial flavors, preservatives, or dyes.
- Always take a multivitamin with food. This enhances absorption.
What multivitamin do I use?
I use Garden of Life’s Vitamin Code for Men (they also have a multi for women). Why?
- It has a good micronutrient profile.
- It’s the highest scored multivitamin for purity on LabDoor.com. I don’t compromise when it comes to purity and quality.
- The serving size is 4 pills. This means I can control the dose and not get one big bolus of micronutrients. If I’m killin’ it with my diet, I can scale back to 1-2 a day. If I’m in a deep calorie deficit or having an off-day diet-wise, I can take the full dose.
- The pill capsules open, which means they can be thrown into shakes and smoothies. Excellent for busy people like me.
- I got them on Amazon for a reasonable price and fast shipping. I paid under $30 and the product arrived in 5 days. Nice.
BONUS: Cheat Foods
Don’t forget to reward yourself for your clean eating with cheat foods and cheat meals every once and while.
As long as you have your diet up to par and you train hard, a cheat here and there won’t kill your gains, make you fat, or destroy your health. As a matter of fact, it could even be beneficial, providing your body with with excess calories and nutrients for a change.
How often should you cheat?
As much as you want, within reason.
You could do a cheat food once or twice a day, or a cheat meal once or twice a week. Also note that If you train really hard or more frequently, you can get away with cheating a little more. If you go less intense, keep it a little cleaner. Figure out what works best for you and roll with it!
Another important thing to remember is that you will need to exercise discipline in going back to eating clean. The last thing you want is a cheat meal or cheat day to turn into a cheat week, or even a cheat month! Make it a brief treat and quickly get back to reality.
And there they are my friends, the foods the natural should to pay attention to if they want to get those gains!
In all seriousness though, your diet is a huge part of the equation when looking to build muscle and strength.
I really can’t say this enough.
If you haven’t started taking it seriously…
The time is now.
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I heart you. Let’s work together.