Consistency is the most important factor in achieving your ideal physique. In the gym, it's about finding a program that delivers the results you want, then having the discipline to stick with it to the end. In your diet, it's all about getting enough protein, controlling the amount and type of carbs you consume, and avoiding things like refined sugars and artificial ingredients.
Here are 15 of the most unlikely muscle-building foods: Get your grocery list handy and prepare to add some variety to your diet en route to bigger gains.
Mackerel comes from the same family as tuna but has a higher omega-3 content, which helps limit the chronic inflammation generated by intense hypertrophy-based training. Mackerel contains a variety of other nutrients, including large amounts of zinc, which is essential for maintaining testosterone levels.
A 2011 study found that adding zinc to the diet of hard-training athletes increased testosterone levels following exhaustive exercise. And a 2007 study on the hormonal effects of extra zinc found that it can also prevent the decrease of thyroid hormones that results from intense resistance training.
The nitrates found naturally in beets increase vasodilation and improve performance. A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that eating two medium-sized beets an hour and fifteen minutes prior to exercise improved performance, reduced the perceived level of exertion, and decreased the amount of oxygen that subjects' bodies needed to complete a workout.
This "rewiring" of the muscular mitochondria opens the door for you to force your body to do more work than it would normally be able to, allowing you to elicit a greater growth stimulus from intense, hypertrophy-based resistance training.
3 Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is produced in part by straining excess liquid and carbohydrates from regular yogurt; the resulting concentrated product has twice the protein. Just check the ingredient list before you buy, though, as some companies like to cut corners by adding thickeners and gelling agents, such as pectin, in an effort to give inferior products that classic Greek yogurt taste and texture. The straining process used to create Greek yogurt results in a higher concentration of casein, a slower-digesting milk protein that provides the body with a steady increase in blood amino-acid levels.
A 2012 study published in Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise showed that consuming casein before going to sleep provided an increase in blood amino-acid levels that was sustained throughout the night and yielded a 22% increase in protein synthesis. Depending on your calorie needs, you can use full- or reduced-fat Greek yogurt as part of your muscle-building efforts—but always reach for the plain version and avoid those with added fruit and sugar.
Tuna is popular for good reason, but when it comes to raw, muscle-building power, sardines are even better. Like tuna, sardines come canned and ready to eat; however, unlike tuna, which is most often packed in water or the less-than-appealing vegetable oil, sardines can be easily found in high-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
Sardines also have 27 times less mercury than you'd find in canned albacore tuna. Moreover, four ounces of sardines pack 1.8 grams of omega-3 fats, while the same amount of canned tuna contains just 0.3 grams. Omega-3 fats, mostly known for their beneficial effects on heart health, also have anti-inflammatory properties and can help fight inflammation and joint pain associated with heavy, high-volume training.
More important is their function in making leucine, an amino acid, more effective in its role as the catalyst for protein synthesis. Some research also suggests that omega-3 fats can actually help older people overcome agerelated deficits in anabolism, making omega-3s especially important for older lifters.
The ability of kimchi, a traditional Korean dish consisting most commonly of fermented napa cabbage, onions, garlic, and spices, to improve your body composition has less to do with its scant calories than the way in which it affects other food you consume. Because kimchi is fermented, it contains beneficial bacteria that help with digestion and nutrient absorption.
A 2011 study published in Nutrition Research found that adding kimchi to subjects' diets for four weeks decreased waist size and body fat percentage while improving blood-sugar control. This makes kimchi a potential ally in warding off excessive fat gain during your mass-building cycles.