Add muscle to your meals
Naini Setalvad explains that there is more to muscle building than consuming proteins and highlights the importance of other nutrients too
When one thinks of muscle building, one only thinks of adding proteins. However, this approach is rather lopsided. If you read below, you will see how many things are needed for keeping your muscles in good shape. Muscles play an important function for various organs, including your heart.
A common misconception we have about protein content is that non-vegetarian food is our main source of protein. This is absolutely not true as there is an abundance of vegetarian proteins, and they are safer for overall health. Another very important point to note is not to overdose on protein as it can create problems. Excess protein leeches the calcium from the body, can damage your kidneys, and increases your chances of elevated uric acid levels which can lead to gout, leaving you in severe pain. Including a small amount of protein can help to rebuild muscle, stop muscle inflammation, and may even prevent injuries such as muscle tears and cramps.
Let me take you through the good sources of vegetarian protein. You will be happy to know that there are quite a few. They are foods that we can easily eat daily and range from legumes, peas, and pulses, to nuts like almonds, pistachios, walnuts, and seeds. These are commonly used in an Indian diet. Occasionally, you could add tofu and dairy products. Eating these will help build muscle mass. However, it is necessary to be vigilant when eating protein-rich foods as how you eat them throughout the day matters the most. I would suggest spreading your protein over your meals of the day equally as that will promote positive muscle building in the body as compared to a one-time high- protein meal. Protein foods need Vitamin C to be absorbed, so you need to add it to keep your muscles in good physical shape.
Add Vitamin C
Vitamin C-rich foods also help in building up the muscle content in the body. Your body contains collagen, a substance which is an integral part of your bones, muscles, skin, and tendons. Collagen is formed in the presence of Vitamin C. Therefore, it is necessary for us to include enough Vitamin C in our diet if we want to develop resilient muscles. I have observed that protein foods in India have some form of Vitamin C always included in the form of tomatoes, lemon juice, kokum (garcinia indica), or imli (tamarind). Dals, sambar, sprouts, and paneer will usually have any of these in it. Some other sources are awala (Indian gooseberry) which can be added to your vegetable juices or chopped and added to your sprouts. Vitamin C is also known for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties which help with the swift recovery of muscles subject to daily wear and tear.
You must have heard of the importance of Omega-3 for the body, but did you know it plays a vital role in muscle building too? Post exercise, when the muscle is under recovery, rebuilding itself, there tends to be some inflammation which could slow down recovery. Here, Omega-3 works excellently for healing inflammations. The best source of Omega-3 in foods is flaxseeds and walnuts. I need to share with you what I learnt when I gave my clients walnuts and flaxseeds. It provided an increase in the creation of muscle protein and reduction in the loss of muscle. Please let’s not forget the maintenance of your smooth muscles (involuntary muscles). Your arteries fall under this category; they need to be squeaky clean and not clogged with cholesterol. Omega-3 works wonders in keeping these clean by providing support to antioxidants.
Your cardiac muscle, that is the heart, is your biggest and main muscle of the body whose optimum function is vital. A balanced diet containing vegetables, whole grains, small amounts of vegetarian protein, and healthy fats will keep this muscle strong and functioning right.
Most of us forget that fibre is also needed for muscle building and fibre is found in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. So, see that you do not skip any of these foods.
Muscle cramps are very common when you are exercising, whether you walk, swim, play a game, or are at a gym. I would suggest you include coconut water in your daily diet to prevent and reverse any cramping. Coconut water is an excellent natural source of electrolytes; it is especially high in potassium which is needed for muscle contraction.
Often, during muscle building, when there is an excess of wear and tear, the muscle can swell. I always recommend (and it really works wonders) chewing on a small piece of ginger. Its anti-inflammatory properties can reduce swelling. Another thing that works is application of turmeric with salt on the swollen area. I love making and eating a pickle with freshly chopped ginger and turmeric root, marinated with lemon and salt or making a chutney with fresh ginger and turmeric root with awala. You can also follow the treatment that is commonly known as RICE—Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation.
Calcium is not only an important component for bones but is also used for muscle contractions and nerve signalling. This is why I don’t ignore the importance of calcium in muscle building. Dry figs, leafy greens, almonds, and sesame seeds can be made part of your daily routine very easily as they are good sources of calcium.
Now, to absorb calcium, you need to understand that Vitamin D3 is very important. So please get ample sunlight daily. Vitamin D3 cannot be absorbed without fat; that’s why I emphasize eating fat daily. Just see that it is good quality fat from cold pressed oils, cow’s ghee, or freshly grated coconut, nuts, and seeds. These can be tossed into your foods.
A synergy of all of the above keeps my clients’ muscles in great shape, and these are easy to include in your diet. Simply try them and reap the benefits.
1. Awala (Indian gooseberry) Haldi (turmeric) Chutney
250 gms fresh haldi
250 gms awala
25 gms of ginger
Salt and lemon to taste
Wash haldi, ginger and awala.
Grind the awala, ginger, haldi, salt, and lemon in a grinder, and make a paste.
Serve as a condiment.
2. Fresh Green Peas Salad
100 gm green peas
2 tbsp spring onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomatoes, finely chopped
2 green chillies, finely chopped
1 tsp green garlic, finely chopped
¼ tsp jeera (cumin) powder
2 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
sendha salt and lemon juice to taste
Boil the peas, strain water, and keep it aside.
Mix green chillies, onions, tomatoes, green garlic, jeera powder, salt, and coriander with the boiled peas.
Add the lemon juice to it.
Serve at room temperature or chilled.
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