Power Foods to Build Lean Muscle Mass

What is a Power Food

It’s the new marketing term du jour that’s spreading across the internet like wildfire. However, don’t let the fact that it smacks of marketing hype fool you. Call them what you like, but some foods are better than others when it comes to building lean muscle mass. If you want to call them power foods instead of sensible choices, so be it.

Image Credit: Bucklava

Image Credit: Bucklava

What does it mean to build lean muscle mass?

Building muscle mass means doing whatever it takes to develop muscular hypertrophy. That’s simple. But for a lot of people, the “lean” is the hard part.

Building lean muscle means that you want to encourage hypertrophy and simultaneously avoid excess body fat. This is like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time: harder than it sounds.

Since both fat and muscle cells will grow when you eat enough food to gain weight, you want to choose a diet scheme that builds muscle and starves fat.

One: Choose your carbs wisely

  • High-GI carbs are a power food just before and after working out
  • Low-GI carbs the rest of the time

To build lean muscle mass, always remember that your rate of protein synthesis is greatest in the hour after working out. During this anabolic window, you need to elevate your serum amino acid levels and your blood sugar. This puts amino acids – the building blocks of protein – and blood sugar – energy for rapidly-metabolizing muscle cells – right where they will do the most good.

Image Credit: Mangpages

Image Credit: Mangpages


Choose High-GI carbohydrates right after a workout. If you don’t know whether your carb source(s) is slow or fast, familiarize yourself with the glycemic index.

A glass of sugary chocolate milk is the perfect post-workout snack. It gives you a hit of sugar to fuel protein synthesis, and some whey and casein that’ll keep your amino acid levels up where they should be.

Don’t fall into the trap of taking massive amounts of post-workout protein without any sugar. The protein won’t digest fast enough to be available during the short-lived anabolic window, and your fatigued muscles will use it for energy instead of for protein synthesis.

Eat low GI carbs the rest of the time. Your body will build fat cells before it builds muscle. This is just a fact of life. If you eat fast carbs at any time other than immediately after a workout, you feed your greedy fat cells. Slow carbs will prevent the blood sugar spikes that result in fat deposition.

Two: Get the right sort of protein

  • Fast protein is a power food before and after working out
  • Slow protein is best at other times

All protein sources are not created equal.

Regular old food is the best protein source, especially if it was once a part of an animal. This is the stuff that your body handles best, and it comes with nutrients that will keep you healthy and fit.

Protein supplements are a crutch that shouldn’t be necessary unless you can’t fix proper meals. Of course, if you want power foods to build lean muscle mass but you’re not able or willing to fix healthy meals, your priorities are out of order. Without a suitable bulking diet, you won’t succeed.

Fast proteins like whey are rapidly digested. After eating whey, your amino acid levels peak, then fall off rapidly. This is fine when you are in an anabolic state – just after working out – but at other times of the day it just drives energy into your fat cells.

If you take whey supplements, do so a short period of time before working out. Since exercise slows or ceases digestion and slows stomach emptying, the pre-workout snack will have time to digest. Taking it post-workout is fine, but because of the time required for digestion, you’ll miss most (but hopefully not all) of the anabolic window that is so important when the goal is to build lean muscle mass.

Casein protein supplements are useful at other times of the day. Casein doesn’t peak your serum amino acid levels like whey. Therefore, it keeps your cells supplied with steady levels of the building blocks that are useful for protein synthesis. Your muscles won’t break down to fuel gene expression in other cells. In short, casein is protein sparing while whey promotes protein synthesis.

Image Credit: Roadsidepictures

Image Credit: Roadsidepictures

Three: Get the right sort of fat

  • Monounsaturated fats are power foods to build lean muscle mass that are compatible with your goals
  • Other fats should be restricted
  • Low-fat diets are counter-productive for skinny guys who want to build mass

Don’t skimp on dietary fat.

Some fats are essential nutrients, which is more than you can say for carbohydrates. Without these essential fats, you are malnourished. Again, a healthy diet is the sensible way to make sure you eat good fat and avoid bad fat. There’s nothing wrong with some olive oil or peanut butter.

Low-fat diets put you at risk of the insulin spikes which ironically cause you to get fat. Keep your dietary fat levels at around 30% of your daily energy intake and you should be fine.

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Chandra March 9, 2011 at 3:31 pm

Can I drink organic apple juice (I am a vegan) after working out as a high GI carb? If not, what types of suggestions in high GI carbs, specifically.
Also, before I work out I drink Muscle Milk light 100 calorie drink. Is that ok?

Reply

dave May 2, 2011 at 9:01 pm

Organic Apple Juice is ok post workout as long as your having protein post as well.

Scrape the musle milk and just stick to the normal whey protein

Reply

ben May 19, 2011 at 9:33 am

hi, i weigh 230lbs. and i am 5ft 5 inches i as wanting to know if you had a good diet for getting cut. i have a body fat of 25%

Reply

David May 27, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Great advice on getting your protein before your workout to hit the anabolic window. Elsewhere on the site you suggest to leave an hour after eating before working out, is an hour prior to your workout then the optimum time to consume your protein and hit the anabolic window? Many thanks, David

Reply

Pomojack August 22, 2011 at 11:04 pm

30% of calories from healthy fat is tough to achieve. I have taken to spiking my weight gainer shakes with olive oil and I still rarely reach 20% for the day. I also eat fish most days Protein is never an issue. Would you suggest a fat supplement?

Reply

Tom October 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm

Hey my name is Tom im 16 years i weight 57 kg. im 185 cm.
i’ve got 4 % body fat.
and i wanna grow some more muscles how can i eat to grow muscles?
ps. i’ve heard peanutbody is powerfood and it will help the muscles is that true? :)
and is it healthy to eat chips if im excersicing? :-)

Reply

Zia March 7, 2012 at 11:38 am

Hello, Im Zia & I Use To Take Two Bananas Before Exercising For Muscle Mass. However I Do Not Have Them At The Moment And The Supermarket Is Quite Far. So Is There Any Alternate For Bananas ?

Reply

Jon November 22, 2012 at 1:29 am

I like the way you end about ensuring you get enough of the right fats. This did wonders for me. It may seem like you should go on a low-fat diet to gain lean muscle, but that’s not right. If you’re lifting hard, you need the right fats. The best fats are from flax, almonds (nuts and seeds generally), olive oil, sesame seed, avocado, and fish. Eat it up. You probably need more than you think.

Reply

stephen June 2, 2014 at 2:36 pm

Hi my height is about 5 ft 6 and I weigh around 57kg I’ve started working out in the gym but I find it hard to put on Weight protein shakes are no good for me as they mess up my stomach I’m aiming for around 65kg as my target any advice for a good diet plan would be appreciated

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