Best Protein Sources
Different types of food contain different combinations of amino acids—the building blocks of protein. Leucine is by far the most important of the 20 amino acids for creating muscle. It takes an estimated 2 to 3 grams of leucine to get the maximum anabolic effect from a meal.
Just about any normal-size serving of meat or poultry will contain at least 2 grams of leucine. (A serving size is roughly the size of your palm.) Three eggs, two glasses of milk, a piece of fish, or a cup of yogurt will give you about 1.5 grams. A cup of cottage cheese or scoop of whey protein (25 grams) will give you close to 3 grams.
Among plant foods, soy has the most leucine. A cup of soybeans has 2.3 grams. Beans and lentils are the next-best sources, with 1.2 to 1.4 grams per cup. A quarter-cup serving of nuts or flaxseeds will have about 0.5 grams.
Carbs and Fat
If you were reading this article 10 years ago, it would tell you to eat carbs but avoid fat in your pre- and post-workout meals. The idea is that carbs before training will provide an easily accessible source of energy, while carbs afterwards will not only help replenish that energy, but also help generate insulin, a hormone that pushes nutrients into storage—in this case, escorting protein to your muscle cells. Fat, on the other hand, would be slower to digest, and blunt the responses of key hormones.
This was all based on the assumption that your body is a remedial student who needs you to keep things as simple as possible. Your body thinks it’s cute that you’re so concerned. Here’s what we now know:
- Those of us with desk jobs, who sit for long hours before and/or after training, don’t need pre-workout carbs for energy. We have more than enough in reserve.
- Unless you’re doing more than one exhausting workout a day, you have plenty of time to rebuild your energy supply. Your regularly scheduled meals should work just fine.
- That said, there does seem to be a benefit to combining protein with carbs in a post-workout meal or supplement. It should result in slightly higher protein synthesis, according to Dietary Protein and Resistance Exercise.
- As for fat, there doesn’t seem to be a cause for concern either way.
When you’re eating and training with the goal of looking better than you do now, total calories matter more than the specific composition of those calories, or the specific way you eat them. You can be lean and muscular with a low-carb or low-fat diet, and with different combinations of meals and snacks.