Fuel Your Muscles
Muscle doesn’t grow on trees—but a muscle-building compound just might.
A natural substance found in apple peels increased the amount of muscle and brown fat (which, unlike the inert white kind of fat, actually burns calories) in mice, according to new research published in PLoS One.
In the study, mice were fed high-fat diets. The rodents that took the apple substance known as ursolic acid increased muscle strength, weighed less, and reduced their risk of pre-diabetes and fatty liver disease compared to their cage mates that didn’t take the compound. Researchers think it’s because ursolic acid changes levels of hormones related to metabolism, including insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1, which can help boost muscle mass in adults.
More research is needed to recommend an apple a day for muscle growth in people, but researchers are working on it. “Our major goal is to take ursolic acid back to humans and understand if it can help our patients with skeletal muscle atrophy, obesity, diabetes, and fatty liver disease,” says study author Christopher M. Adams, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Iowa.
In the meantime, try adding these three foods to your grocery cart, recommends Minh-Hai Tran, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., a board certified specialist in sports dietetics at Mindful Nutrition in Seattle. They won’t make you sprout muscle, but they will aid in muscle growth and repair. The result: Faster gains. So go ahead and chow down.
Cherries: Prepare your muscles for a tough workout with a handful of this fruit. Polyphenols in cherries help buffer the oxidative stress—damage to your cells caused by harmful compounds such as free radicals—that occurs during intense exercise, Tran says. Blend them frozen into your morning smoothie, eat dried ones with almonds for an easy snack, or add a cup of fresh cherries to a salad, she suggests.
Kefir: This fermented milk beverage provides protein from whey and casein, which both contain essential amino acids your body needs to rebuild muscle tissue post-workout. Once relegated to health food stores, kefir is now appearing in many supermarkets. Have two cups right before or immediately after your strength-training session, Tran recommends. Try topping it with fruit or low-fat granola. (Shape your body with The 100 Best Fitness Tips of All Time.)
Chia seeds: Forget flax and other plant sources of essentially fatty acids. Chia seeds contain a unique omega-3 called stearidonic acid, which converts easily to the anti-inflammatory, essential omega-3 EPA to aid muscle recovery. One tablespoon provides 100 percent of your daily omega-3 needs. Plus, they don’t have to be ground like flaxseeds, so you can mix them whole into yogurt, smoothies, and salads, says Tran.
—Cindy Kuzma, Men's Health
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