All the training in the world won’t help you reach your peak if you don’t have the right fuel in your tank. Simply put, what you eat—and when you eat—matters. One key ingredient: protein, which helps build and repair muscles. But don’t protein-load in one meal. Instead, Roberta Anding, R.D., nutritionist for the Houston Texans, suggests spreading out your protein intake over the course of the day, shooting for about 30 grams of protein (about three or four ounces of meat) per meal.
But this lesson isn’t all about protein. The trick is to eat foods that also have high levels of the amino acid leucine. “Leucine acts like a light switch,” Anding says. “It turns on the processes in your body that build and repair muscles.”
For her clients, including pro-level athletes, Anding recommends these five protein- and leucine-packed foods.
About 50 percent of milk’s protein is whey protein, which is digested quickly and leads to greater muscle protein synthesis response.
Make it interesting: Use milk instead of water to make oatmeal, or stir some chocolate syrup in milk for dessert.
A single serving of chicken has 26 grams of protein and more than 500 mg of leucine. Pair with a serving of brown rice and you’re easily at your 30 grams of protein per meal.
Make it interesting: Cut up cooked chicken breast into small chunks, then mix into pre-made salsa for a protein-packed and hearty dip.
Eggs deliver the most nutrients for the fewest calories, and two large eggs contain about 12 grams of protein and 670 mg of leucine.
Make it interesting: Cut up one-quarter cup each bell peppers, onions, ham mix with four eggs, pour in greased cupcake pans and bake to make egg muffins.
4. Sockeye Salmon
An excellent source of high-quality protein that helps rebuild muscles, the omega-3 fatty acids in salmon also help reduce inflammation from strenuous workouts. A half a fillet also contains a whopping 3,440 mg of leucine.
Make it interesting: Blend salmon in a food processor, make patties, and cook in a skillet like a burger.
A brightly colored powerhouse of a food, beets contain high levels of vitamin C, iron, potassium, and manganese in addition to muscle-boosting leucine.
Make it interesting: Mix beets with chickpeas to make red hummus.