A killer body isn’t built on gym time alone. Of course you know nutrition matters, but what might you not know?
Certain foods help you train harder, burn fat faster and sculpt muscle more easily. So stop panicking, toss that one-size-fits-all kaftan and stock up on these foods instead…
Spice things up
Start incorporating cinnamon, cayenne pepper and ginger into your daily recipes and you’ll reap the benefits. “They have a thermogenic effect, which increases energy expenditure and fat oxidation and reduces your body’s propensity to store fat by regulating insulin levels,” says nutritionist Matt Lovell. A teaspoon of cinnamon or 14g cayenne pepper is enough to rev up your system.
Go, go coco
Not only is coconut oil three times more effective than other oils at revving your metabolism, according to the Journal of Endocrinology, it also elevates muscle-strengthening growth hormones for four hours. Add a spoonful to your smoothie before you hit the gym and load those guns.
Innocuous-looking enough, but quinoa has a secret – it’s packed with a naturally occurring steroid called ecdysterone. Think steroids are just for meatheads? Think again. The more lean mass (read: muscle) you have, the more of a calorie-burning powerhouse you become – even when you’re just sitting around watching series. A diet high in both ecdysterone and protein can increase muscle mass by seven percent. Pair your quinoa with chicken or lean red meat three times a week for a lean – but not bulky – physique.
Reacquaint yourself with cottage cheese. Not only is it a great low-fat, high-protein diet food, it’s also a rich source of calcium, which your muscles need a constant supply of to be able to contract (more cheese = more burpees). Yes, it will feel like you’re in Eighties diet nirvana (put on some leg warmers to complete the picture), but a serving of this retro dairy product contains 1 833mg of tyrosine. Research carried out by the US Army showed that tyrosine can improve cognitive performance in stressful situations. You may not be going to war, but mountain climbers can be stressful, no?
Tune in to turmeric
“Turmeric is a wonder spice that helps burn fat and reduce muscle soreness, but it can also have beneficial effects on your mood,” says sports scientist Tim Lawson. A study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, Nutrition and Metabolism revealed that the curcumin found in the spice revved alertness within 60 minutes, so you can hit that HIIT class in storming form. #Beastmode
Get hot, not heavy
Capsaicin, the compound that gives chillies their kick, spikes metabolism, which can help you melt additional kilojoules. You can get it by eating raw, cooked, dried or powdered chillies. Add to soup, eggs and meat.
Spoon a lotta ricotta
Booked into an evening kettlebell class? Eat a dollop of ricotta before you leave the office. The creamy cheese contains the amino acid glutamine, which can raise levels of human growth hormone (HGH) within 90 minutes, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. This means that you’ll get more effective lean muscle gains from that class. In short – why, hello abs!
Peanut butter up
Yes, ol’ PB may have a drawback – it’s high in calories – but it’s packed with heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and protein that can increase your body’s production of testosterone, which can help your muscles grow and melt fat. Practically speaking, it also works as a versatile snack when hunger strikes. Limit yourself to just a couple of tablespoons a day and look out for an all-natural and sugar-free variety.
Celery for energy
There are 250mg of nitrates in 100g of celery. Nitrates widen your blood vessels, sending oxygen to your muscles, increasing time to exhaustion by 17 percent. Studies show you need to consume 300 to 500mg of nitrates pre-workout. Can’t stomach celery? There are more than 400mg of nitrates in 100g spinach, while 500ml beetroot juice boasts 500mg. Boom!
We scream for goats
Stressed? If you find yourself skipping the gym for a glass of nerve-calming wine far too often, start splashing goat’s milk into your smoothies. The amino acid tryptophan is an essential precursor for mood-boosting serotonin and goat’s milk boasts more of the stuff than the bovine alternative. It also helps you unwind if a workout has left you wired.
Olive it up
Kalamata olives are a top source of the polyphenol hydroxytyrosol, which helps convert fuel into energy, according to Lawson. Add 10 olives to your salad at lunch. It’ll also give you 2.7g monounsaturated fats to feed your evening workouts.
Three cheers for chia
Chia seeds are a weight-loss superhero. “High-fibre chia seeds up your satiety and slow carb absorption,” Lovell says. Ideal, since an excess of carbs ( like that cheeky pizza, perhaps) is stored as fat. Whizz some with watermelon for a pre-gym smoothie. The seeds also help guard against dehydration, while watermelon has been shown to increase performance. Winning at life.
This article was first published in Women's Health SA.
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