August 2014


If you want healthier and stronger muscles, then you need more than a good workout program.

There is an important connection between muscle mass, strength and good health. Robert Wolfe, the Director of  Translational Research in Aging and Longevity Center at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville says, “As we age, we tend to lose muscle, especially if we are not using it. These losses eventually affect quality of life, our balance, strength and ability to recover from an illness or accident.”

In our society we tend to think  muscles of muscles as things that make us look good if they are big. We rarely thing of the hundreds of ways that our muscles are important to us. In fact they do many things to make our life work for us.  They help us move and they help us digest our food, our heart is also a muscle which not only keeps us alive by pumping blood and oxygen to our body but also pumps nutrients throughout our body. Nancy Rodriguez, a Registered Dietitian and Director of Sports Nutrition Programs at the University of Connecticut in Storrs says,  “Our heart, brain, skin and other organs are in a constant state of remodeling with tissue being built and broken down. Muscles offer a significant supply of amino acids to ensure these vital parts stay strong.” Without blood circulating to our organs our body would start breaking down and become unusable within hours. Healing could not occur, injures could not be repaired and we could not only not move but our heart would stop pumping, and we would stop breathing.

Active and healthy muscles significantly reduce our risk of developing diabetes and osteoporosis, and the more muscle mass we have, the more calories your body can burn.

In order to keep our muscles strong and healthy we need to eat the right kind of foods. We need to eat foods that not only support our muscles in being healthy but also promote them in being healthy. In the next paragraphs we will five groups of foods that are well known for their ability to promote healthier and stronger muscles.

Fish

In this group we are specifically looking for fish that are rich in omega-3 fats, this group includes salmon, tuna, halibut, rainbow trout, and canned sardines. These specific fish are also lean and contain all of the essential amino acids our body needs to make muscles and provide the building materials for creating and repairing other tissues.

Muscles are built based on the amount of protein (amino acids) we consume. Americans typically get more than enough protein to feed their muscles, yet many older adults may not. It has been estimated that one in every three people over the age of 60 lose a significant amount of muscle, this is partly because they don’t get enough protein to prevent the breakdown of their muscle tissues and partly because they stop using their muscles. These two factors can significantly affect their ability to function, to walk, maintain balance, to bend and lift and hence they stiffen up and become sedimentary often ending up having to use a cane to walk, or end in a wheelchair or bed ridden. According to a number of studies the omega-3 fats found in fish may help slow the breakdown of muscle mass in older people. It’s generally recommended that eating at least 2-3 meals of fish high in omega-3 fats per week will help protect muscle degeneration as well as protect your heart.

Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are a terrific source of potassium and antioxidants both of which are helpful, even essential for building muscle mass.

“Anyone who is exercising and working their muscles will be creating free radicals,” says Tara Gidus, a sports dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. “Antioxidants can help disarm free radicals and help repair muscle tissue as it breaks down and rebuilds.”

Potassium-rich foods such as sweet potatoes can also help counteract the effects of eating too many acid-producing foods, such as meats, dairy products, and highly-processed items and this is essential as acid-producing foods can speed up the loss of muscle mass.

There are a number of other foods which are high in potassium and antioxidants and can help prevent loss of  muscle mass, these include most lettuces and peppers, also kiwi, melon and oranges. Ideally, you should eat 5-9 servings of vegetables and produce a day with at least3 servings of potassium-rich foods each day.

Low-fat yogurt

Low-fat yogurt is an excellent source of protein, potassium, calcium and vitamin D. All of these nutrients can work together to keep your muscles functioning properly.

Studies suggest that Vitamin D binds to receptors in muscle which then promote growth and strength. Too little vitamin D is linked with muscle weakness.

It can help to select a yogurt brands that are fortified with vitamin D. These can give you as much as  twenty-five percent of your daily requirement of vitamin D in just one serving. If you eat 6-8 ounces of fortified yogurt as day it will help keep your muscles healthy and working more effectively.

Quinoa

Quinoa (keen-wah) is an ancient grain from South America. It is full of good carbohydrates, your body’s preferred source of energy, as well as high-quality protein, potassium and iron.

Carbs are critical to help you pack on muscle. Too few carbs means the proteins in your body will be used for energy, instead of creating new tissue.

While eating protein-rich foods is important for gaining muscle, don’t load up at the expense of wholesome carbohydrates. Quinoa contain all the essential amino acids your body needs for building muscle proteins and other tissues.

Quinoa is also a good source of potassium and contains several minerals including iron, which, is necessary for helping you stay strong.

By enjoying a half-cup of quinoa for breakfast with dried fruits and nuts stirred in, as a side dish mixed with beans and other vegetables, or by adding the mild, light flavor of quinoa to soups, casseroles or salads, you will be doing your self a great favor. Quinoa may also be found in some ready-to-eat cereals and prepared breads, but avoid processed flour products even if they have some quinoa added as processed flours are generally devoid of nutrients and usually high unnecessary calories.

Pumpkin seeds

Pumpkin seeds are loaded with magnesium, manganese, iron and copper.

These minerals work together to build muscle and other essential organ tissues. They are often needed as part of enzymes that streamline bodily functions and support communication between cells. They help maximize muscle mass. Magnesium helps build protein for muscle function. It also helps relax muscles after they’ve contracted. Manganese is needed to form protein and is a component of several enzymes that act as antioxidants which help repair damaged muscle tissue. Iron is good for building endurance.

One ounce of pumpkin seeds (a small handful) contains nearly half the manganese you need in a day.

Summary:

The prevention of  muscle degeneration and the ability to build and repair muscles requires the nutrients we have discussed above. But eating all of these foods and nutrients are not enough if you are a couch potato and do not use your muscles. It helps to exercise a minimum of 15 minutes three times a week or more and to use your muscles as often as is possible. Drinking plenty of water also helps. Doing all of these can slow down muscle wasting, and promote strengthening and enlivening of your muscles. This can keep you from requiring a cane for balance and weakness and ending up in a wheelchair or bed ridden.
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