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Muscle Part 1: Nutrition for a Fit and Strong Body

Muscle Part 1: Nutrition for a Fit and Strong Body

Muscles 101: There are three types of muscles that make up the muscular system: cardiac, smooth, and skeletal. Your muscles make up around 40 percent of your total body weight.

Muscle Nutrition: Balance is the best approach when it comes to eating for healthy muscles.

Protein: Recent research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal medicine indicates that “more protein” does not build muscle better.

Fats: Eating the right fats helps you to burn the fat on your body.

Carbohydrates: Carbs are partially converted to glycogen in your body, which helps fuel

The muscular system is an organ that includes three types of muscle tissue, cardiac, smooth, and skeletal. These tissues are composed of specialized cells (muscle fibers) that perform specialized functions and are responsible for nearly all movement that happens in the human body. Altogether, your muscles make up around 40 percent of your total body weight. How many muscle fibers you have is likely determined by inheritance and varies from person to person.

There are obvious dynamic actions that happen when muscles contract (think walking, carrying groceries, or lifting a child) and the more subtle actions that are the result of facial expressions, eye movements, and breathing. There are also muscles at work in your body that happen automatically that we all take for granted because we don’t often notice them. The most obvious of these unobvious muscles is your heart that pumps along unbidden by you, but there are many other muscle fibers that are involved in helping you to maintain different body positions such as sitting or standing, and then others that help your body to produce heat. Let’s take a closer look at the three types of muscle tissue.

  • Cardiac Muscle: These are the muscles that are only found in your heart. Cardiac muscle is responsible for the contraction of the heart, and these contractions happen automatically and unconsciously (thank goodness). However, poor nutrition, lack of physical activity, lack of sleep, and anxiety or chronic stress can influence your heart and its muscle contractions.
  • Smooth Muscle: These fibers are found in the hollow organs of the body, including your blood vessels and intestines. These muscles are shorter than skeletal muscle, they have tapered ends, and they have a smooth appearance compared to skeletal muscle. These muscle fibers are also involuntary but can be influenced by nutrition, emotional health, sleep habits, and sedentary behavior.
  • Skeletal Muscle: These are long, striated muscles that are attached to bones and other structures in the body that allow us to move. You can voluntarily and consciously move skeletal muscles. There are more than 600 of these moveable muscles in the human body, with the majority of them coming in pairs, which provides you with working parts on both sides of your body. As mentioned above, similar to the other muscle fibers, skeletal muscle is also influenced by eating, moving, sleep, and stress.

One thing that can be said for all types of muscle tissues is that they are largely influenced by what and how you eat. Lousy nutrition equals an increased risk of muscle deterioration and disease. Thankfully, there are simple nutritional strategies you can integrate that will improve muscle health.

Nutrition for Healthy Muscles: 

The right nutritional habits and behaviors can vastly improve not only muscles but your overall health as well. A lot has been made recently of eating a mostly fat, moderate protein and little or no carbohydrate diet. Before the nearly no-carb trend were the diets that promoted high protein, moderate fats, and low carbs, and before that, we had the high carb, low-fat diet. All of these strategies focus on the macronutrients our bodies need for proper nutrition, but they don’t highlight the types of protein, fats, and carbs that best nourish your body. The Mediterranean diet does. This style of eating is a broad term that can encompass many different regions of the world, but what is shared is a priority on eating the most natural, unprocessed, whole and nourishing sources of each of the macronutrients, followed by eating done in moderation and balance. This, it turns out, is effective when it comes to eating for healthy muscles. Let’s take a look at each.


Since muscles are made from protein, many people assume that the more protein, the better for your muscles, right? While it’s fair to say that protein an essential nutrient when it comes to building muscle, it’s a lot more complicated than the “more is better” approach. You can eat too much protein, which can adversely affect your health. In fact, in recent research published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Internal medicine found that eating more protein doesn’t significantly make a difference in the amount of muscle or physical strength and function. Eating the right amount of protein to nourish your individual needs is what is essential. So, how much protein do you need? The rule of thumb is that your daily protein intake should be around .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight. A person who weighs approximately 150 pounds would want to eat 54 grams of protein, or about two ounces of protein per day. Alternatively, protein recommendations for a person weighing 190 would be around 68 grams or roughly two and a half ounces per day (not a whole lot more). How much is that? This is lower than what you’ll see on government websites, but it is in line with a Mediterranean style of eating. Why the discrepancy? A Mediterranean way of eating includes whole grains and lots of veggies and fruit. These foods also contain protein but are packed with many other nutrients your muscles and body can use. An easy way to remember portion sizes when it comes to proteins is that one ounce is about the size of a deck of cards. Excessive protein, more than 1 gram per pound of body weight per day, over an extended period stresses your metabolic system, which is hard on your kidneys. That would come to around five ounces for the person weighing 150 pounds and approximately seven ounces per day for someone weighing 190 pounds.

A vast number of Americans consume too much protein, and the protein they choose is of poorer quality, such as fatty red meat or pork. It’s best to select from fish a couple of times a week with poultry and vegetarian proteins such as black beans. Enjoy lean cuts of red meat and pork once a week or less. Eggs, dairy, and soy can also offer some good protein options.


You need good sources of healthy fats in your diet for brain development and to keep skin and hair nourished. Remember, the fat on your body is different than the fat you eat. An important point, because as some research shows eating the right fats will actually help you to burn the fat on your body. When it comes to your muscles, there’s also some scientific evidence that omega-3 fatty acids from fish can help your muscles recover better and more quickly after a workout than without these fats. Omega-3 fats are pivotal to good health because they have the ability to increase blood flow, which helps stimulate metabolism (and your repair process).

It may seem strange, but when you tear muscles by doing strength training, it actually “tells” your body, “Hey, we need these muscles because this guy (or woman) is working them.” The reaction is that your body starts to repair and reinforce your muscles because you are giving the message through exercise that you’ll be needing your muscles in the future. The rebuilding of muscle is where healthy fats come in.

You’ll find the best dietary fats in whole foods such as the fish mentioned above, avocados, egg yolks, raw nuts, and seeds. The second best source comes from cold-pressed organic extra-virgin olive oil, avocado oil, and almond oil. Just be sure that the oil you include is not saturated fat, partially hydrogenated, or a trans fat.


The right type of carbohydrates in the correct amounts for you are essential for building and maintaining muscles. Carbs are partially converted to glycogen in your body, which helps to fuel your muscles. However, glycogen is a limited store of energy. If you eat too many carbs of the wrong sort, your body will convert them to the fat you see on your body. So, how do you tell the bad from the good?

The bad: Probably the most important rule about carbohydrates is to cut out any and all processed starches and sugars. This includes eliminating soda (diet or regular), prepackaged fruit or vegetables juices (even if they say 100 percent real juice), breakfast cereals other than old-fashioned oatmeal (or other unprocessed grains used as cereals), any food containing corn syrup, fructose, or sucrose (these can be in pasta sauces and salad dressings, always read nutrition and ingredient labels). Also, if you buy nut-butters, whether they are almond, cashew, or peanut, look for those that have one ingredient: nuts.

The good: The healthiest carbohydrates are found in non-starchy, leafy green vegetables, whole fresh or frozen fruit (with no added sugars), and whole grains such as oats, brown rice, barley, quinoa, and so on.

Now you know how to eat for healthy muscles. Stay tuned for Muscle Matters Part 2, where we’ll discuss exercise and its role in maintaining healthy muscles.