If you're serious about changing your body, you're probably already eating pretty well, getting plenty of protein for muscle growth and laying off the sugary carbs to preserve your abs. Just the same, we bet you could do even better. If your eating habits aren't quite up to speed, we're here to help you get started. These seven easy nutritional upgrades will build muscle, trim fat, and help to keep your body in peak condition.
1.) YOU'RE EATING: FAT-FREE FLAVORED YOGURT
MUSCLE MOVE: FAT-FREE GREEK YOGURT
When companies remove the fat from yogurt, they usually add sugar to make up for loss of flavor. Greek yogurt is naturally much creamier than plain yogurt, so you can't really tell it's fat free, and it has more than twice the protein and only half the carbs. For more flavor, add your own fruit such as berries or banana.
2.) YOU'RE EATING: CHUNK WHITE TUNA
MUSCLE MOVE: CANNED SALMON
Chunk white tuna, though a great source of protein, contains almost three times more mercury than other types of tuna and has low levels of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Canned salmon offers virtually the same amount of protein, but it's more flavorful, with much less mercury and lots more omega-3s. For quick salmon burgers, mix one can of salmon with one whole egg, one chopped scallion, two crushed whole-wheat crackers, and a splash of low-sodium soy sauce. Shape into patties and cook in a nonstick skillet for five minutes on each side over medium heat.
3.) YOU'RE DRINKING: SKIM MILK
MUSCLE MOVE: CALORIE COUNTDOWN
Milk has vitamins, minerals, and some of the best protein on the planet, but the sugar in it can inflate your waistline. Calorie Countdown is just like regular milk, but with some of the sugar removed. The chocolate version has 90% less sugar than regular chocolate milk (for a list of retailers and additional info on Calorie Countdown's availability nationwide, check out hphood.com).
4.) YOU'RE EATING: WHOLE-WHEAT PASTA
MUSCLE MOVE: SPAGHETTI SQUASH
Even though whole-wheat pasta contains more fiber than the conventional kind, a serving can still pack as many as 40 grams of carbs. Spaghetti squash, once cooked, can be shredded to replicate spaghetti. The result is a tasty bowl of "pasta" without a lot of fattening carbs (about 10 per serving). Spaghetti squash is also a great way to sneak another couple servings of veggies into your diet. Preparation: Cut it in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Microwave both halves for seven minutes, flip them over, and microwave for another seven minutes. When they are done cooking, rake a fork down the inside of the meat of the squash. Strands of "spaghetti" will magically appear.
5.) YOU'RE DRINKING: A SHAKE WITH A MIXTURE OF PROTEIN & CARBS
MUSCLE MOVE: A CARB/PROTEIN SHAKE PLUS A DOSE OF BCAAS
A carb- and protein-rich shake will jump-start your recovery after a weight workout, but by adding a shot of branched-chain amino acid powder to the mix, you can further boost your muscle growth. BCAAs like leucine help stimulate the production of insulin—the body's most muscle-building hormone—and trigger the genes responsible for muscle growth. Add five to 10 grams of powder to your shake (or if you buy them in capsule form, simply unscrew the cap and pour them in).
6.) YOU'RE DRINKING: COFFEE
MUSCLE MOVE: GREEN TEA
Aside from improving overall health and fighting cancer, green tea has been shown to help reduce stomach fat by increasing fat oxidation directly in your abdomen. Shoot for at least three cups a day. If you can't do that, grab a green tea-extract supplement.
7.) YOU'RE EATING: SKINLESS CHICKEN BREAST
MUSCLE MOVE: LEAN BEEF
If you're having trouble gaining muscle weight, you may want to switch to lean beef. Red meat has plenty of protein, but also creatine, and more vitamins, minerals, and calories than chicken. It could be the change you need to get your muscles growing again.