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15 Best Foods for Better Workout Results, According to Science
Published on August 31, 2022 and last updated for accuracy on September 9, 2022
Not all foods are created equal. Not to say that some foods are better than others. Some have a higher nutritional value than others, some are just better at achieving specific goals.
All of the food in this list are delicious and flexible to be used in many recipes so that you won’t get tired or uninterested in eating them. They can be part of a healthy eating plan to promote weight loss and bodybuilding. But some of this food is going to be better at providing your body with certain nutrients that your body needs for specific goals.
Let’s discuss how you can use these foods pre and post workout to maximize exercise metabolism and improve muscle gain while controlling muscle protein breakdown.
The most generic and basic one so far is water! The short and quick of it is that your body is 60% water and over the course of a day, you will use or lose some of that water by sweating and urinating, and therefore there is a need for you to drink water every day. When you are working out, you will lose some of that through sweat even more.
Now everyone has heard of the 8 glasses of water a day requirement by this time. This is not an unreasonable requirement for how much your body needs in a day. It is good generic advice, though most would likely construe it as “drink many water, every day.” The truth is that your water needs vary from person to person, it depends on many biological and lifestyle factors: your gender, your level of physical activity, your environment, how much you exercise, your overall diet and health, these are all things that factor in to determine how much water you should drink.
Everyone is different, pay attention to your body and what it tells you. Do you feel thirsty? That’s your body telling you you need water. Drink water before, during, and after working out. Drink water with your meals. Drink water between meals. These are all simple rules, easy to remember, and would yield benefits to your health.
So, instead of focusing on drinking sports drinks only, take as much water as you can too! It’s cheaper yet healthy.
We’re leading in with the drinks here because they are beneficial in almost every single application. We need to drink liquids. Coffee is famously one of the most consumed beverages in the world. Many people can’t start their day without it. I know I can’t. But not only does it serve to wake you up, but it also has many other benefits as well, in keeping awake, keeping focused, alerted, and sharp. Not only that but Caffeine is an ingredient in many pre-workouts and energy drinks. Yes, you read that right, that rush you get from a sports drink comes from Caffeine. It also affects athletic performance (1)
The problem is that since most of us drink coffee on a daily basis, we have built a tolerance for caffeine over time and that means that every time we drink coffee, the caffeine isn’t as effective as before.
So while coffee would be good for athletic performance, try abstaining from it for a short period of time to reset your tolerance and maintain its effectiveness. Drink it before training sessions and when you really need that caffeine boost, but otherwise reduce your consumption so that when you take that Coffee, it really works. Occasionally abstaining from coffee may help ensure you don’t build up a tolerance which makes it more difficult for you to get the benefits from a quick cup.
Cottage cheese is wildly underrated, if you’re not lactose intolerant and are either trying to lose weight or gain some muscle, cottage cheese is great for you.
Cottage cheese is very high in protein which makes it beneficial for those who are aiming for muscle growth and for those who are trying to lose and maintain a healthy weight because it takes more time to digest it, leaving you feeling fuller for a longer period of time. (2)
It has many nutrients that your body needs and it is a versatile kitchen ingredient that can be used for breakfast, lunch, dinner, desserts or can be consumed on its own, in fact, there is a “Cottage Cheese” diet going around that focuses mainly on consuming cottage cheese to loose weight.
Also, it’s one of the best foods that can help with muscle soreness and recovery.
Lean Chicken Breast
“Chicken taste like everything” is one of the popular movie lines from The Matrix. And while that action movie is no longer as popular as it once was, the chicken still is as popular as it ever was, if not more.
If you are trying to lose weight, lean chicken parts are a good way to still get your fill but without the fat and extra calories. Eat lean chicken if you want to build some muscle or supply your body with enough protein to repair itself. It’s great for weight loss because it is such an effective protein delivery system without many excess calories.
The benefits of chicken depend largely on its preparation, if you fry it in batter in the oil, then, expect that there be extra calories from fat and the breading, but if you steam it, grill it, or shallow fry it in minimal healthy oil, then it would be just as healthy and beneficial for your to eat as it is delicious.
Bodybuilders and celebrities who have attained admirable physiques both have repeated some form of “chicken and rice” or “chicken and broccoli” combination that they tout as the reason for their muscle gain. But it doesn’t have to be completely boring.
Chicken is one of those meats that are just easy to meal prep, you can cook it a week in advance and have it for several meals, put some spices and sauces so that it isn’t as boring. You can keep your chicken juicy by brining it in salt before cooking or by flattening it out with a mallet so it doesn’t get dried in the pan or in the oven. You can also boil chicken and slice them to add extra protein to your salads and other vegetables.
Fatty Fish (Tuna, Mackarel, Salmon)
Don’t confuse the term fatty with bad. Fatty Fish like tuna, mackerel, and salmon are very good sources of good fats. They are also rich in two of the three most important omega-3s (EPA and DHA). They’re rich in protein and in immunoglobins which help your immune system. (3)
We all know Salmon is delicious and everybody has had a tuna sandwich or two in their lifetime, mackerel is just great grilled with just a little bit of lemon and salt. Not only are these fatty fish healthy but they are delicious and can be cooked into several different dishes.
There’s enough variety in these foods and how to cook them that you will never tire of them, and though many settle for steaming, grilling, and frying them with just a touch of salt, or a few herbs here and there, there can be other cooking applications for them as well, you can bake them or mix them in sour soups or use different herbs and spices. They taste great and are good for your heart. People don’t eat as much of it as they should. (4)
To help build muscle tissue and muscle mass, combine this fish with fruits and vegetables!
Green Leafy Vegetables (Spinach, Kale, Collard Greens)
Dark Green Leafy Vegetables like spinach, kale, and collard greens are all well-known for being healthy. They contain anti-inflammatory compounds which help not just with inflammation but also with certain kinds of cancer. (5) They are rich in fiber folate, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, and vitamin C. Cooked properly they can make excellent dishes and can serve as a side dish for grilled fish like tuna, mackerel, salmon, or lean chicken.
Your body needs the nutrients that these vegetables have in abundance and food like this can make relatively boring food such as chicken and rice more palatable by having a variation in flavor and texture.
Before we move away from the proteins, we have eggs. Eggs are perfect, they’re already encased in a shell. They are easy to cook, and they will keep for a significant amount of time. They can be used in almost any kind of food. For breakfast, fry them or scramble them in an omelet. If you want to use them in a salad, boil some and slice it over your favorite salad or vegetable dish. Top your ramen or congee with some boiled or over-easy eggs. They can be eaten on their own, with some hot sauce or Worcestershire sauce. Rocky even drinks them raw in the morning before his runs. Make an egg sandwich or egg salad. Eggs are amazing for getting protein in and are delicious.
Eggs are high in protein and have many nutrients our body needs. It helps with brain development and with your eyesight. (6) They’re great for developing muscle fibers too! It’s certainly a good snack that can make you feel satiated and satisfied.
Now, on to the carbohydrates. Oats can supply your body with the energy it needs during longer workout sessions because it is a slow-digesting carbohydrate which means you’ll be getting the energy from digested oats over the course of your workout or your day. It has been touted as the ideal pre-workout meal because it is full of fiber, has protein, and has slow digesting carbohydrates which makes it perfect for longer exercise or training sessions. (7)
They are also easy to prepare and very versatile. Personally, I take my oatmeal with just a banana and a bit of honey. Others add more like chia seeds, fruits, berries, and milk. These are all healthy additions and you can add your own. The great thing about it is that you can customize your oatmeal and make it your own. It serves as a good healthy base on which you can add other healthy ingredients to.
Chicken and rice have usually been prepared with white rice but if you substitute that with brown rice, you are adding more fiber and more nutrients as well as a slow-digesting carbohydrate that can give you sustained energy throughout your entire workout.
It is an excellent source of protein, including essential amino acids!
Brown rice is rich in antioxidants which help repair cell damage. It also has many vitamins and minerals like calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium. (8)
Due to its higher fiber content compared to white rice, it contains takes longer to digest, so you will feel more full, and longer, which helps with overeaters or those trying to lose weight. Replace your main carbohydrates or simply add one or two cups of cooked brown rice to your plate.
Brown rice is perfect for those trying to lose weight, and it serves as a good complementary carbohydrate for those trying to bulk and gain weight. So on your next workout, try chicken, brown rice, and Broccoli. This combination is not iconic for no reason!
Greek Yogurt has become more and more popular recently. It is a protein-rich alternative to plain yogurt While greek yogurt and plain yogurt are the results of the same ingredients and the same process, they are different in taste, texture, and nutritional content. For those engaged in building muscle, Greek yogurt has more protein and has less sugar. If you are watching your sugar consumption, Greek Yogurt would be objectively better for you.
A study done on university-aged males found that Greek Yogurt would be a good viable post-workout meal because of its nutritional profile. Combined with a 12-week workout program, lifters who ate it had significantly more strength improvements, muscle thickness, and body composition with the greek yogurt as a post-workout meal compared to those given a carbohydrate placebo. (9)
Greek yogurt can be used in dips like tzatziki or can be consumed on its own. Many prefer its thicker texture to more watery plain and sugary yogurts.
Aside from promoting muscle protein synthesis, almonds, together with peanuts and walnuts, are great for supporting healthy cholesterol and testosterone levels.
Almonds boost good cholesterol in your body and have many vitamin E. (10) But they’re also rich in minerals like copper, zinc, calcium, magnesium as well as phytonutrients. Studies have shown that eating almonds helps people with metabolic syndromes and type 2 diabetes. (11)
They’re a fantastic snack to have around, are loaded with key minerals, and are filling and delicious. You can eat them on their own as a snack or add them to salads, you can grind them up and use them as a crust for that pan-fried salmon. Healthy food doesn’t have to taste boring or bland, mix-and-match ingredients.
Eat almonds before your workout to give you energy and supply your body with the nutrients it needs immediately.
This is also good as a post workout nutrition as it is a good source of omega 3. Many professionals recommend this in sports nutrition. Omega 3 fatty acid can help decrease muscle soreness because it controls inflammation and muscle cramps or contraction and relaxation.
Bananas are great for giving you- energy in the form of carbohydrates as well as fiber, micronutrients, and antioxidants. Though they have little protein, they also have zero fat. (12) They are rich in potassium which is good for your heart, your kidney, and blood pressure regulation. Bananas also help with avoiding dehydration. If you are exercising, and want to get the most out of your workout, eat a banana before you work out, it helps with energy. The Potassium and Magnesium it contains act as electrolytes, which helps with your performance, cramping, and exercise recovery. Runners famously favor eating a banana, and with good reason, they are a quick and easy snack that helps with maintaining your body in long exercise sessions.
In addition to that, they are a fruit that’s easy to insert into any diet, they keep really well and are easy to eat, you don’t need to cut anything, just peel with your hands and it’s ready. Frozen bananas can be blended into a nice shake, even overripe bananas are useful and can be baked into pies. They are great flexible fruits to always keep in stock.
Keep them on the dinner table or office pantry so you can have a healthy alternative to chips, cookies, or other processed snacks.
The food you eat is just as impactful as how hard and how long you train. Eat right to maximize your health and get better workout results.