Not just for bodybuilders, muscle matters for runners of the fairer sex, too. "The benefits of having a healthy amount of lean body mass are enormous for women," says Monica Vazquez, a marathoner and master trainer with New York Sports Clubs. "It reduces injury risk and boosts metabolic rate, which increases fat burning all day long."
Achieving a toned physique requires more than just pumping iron. Proper nutrition plays a key role in a woman's muscle-building efforts. Incorporate these muscle-building foods into your diet to meet your protein quota.
Low-Fat MilkMilk is an excellent recovery fuel. Researchers reported in the journal Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise that women who downed two glasses of fat-free milk after lifting weights during a 12-week period gained more muscle, shed more fat mass and had better improvements in strength than those who drank sugary energy drinks.
Drink this: After a hard run, here's a perfect muscle-building smoothie: In a blender, whirl together 1 cup low-fat milk, 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt and 1 cup frozen berries of choice.
Nutritional info per serving: 236 calories, 19 g protein, 3 g fat (2 g saturated), 36 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 104 mg sodium
SpinachLooks like Popeye was onto something. Scientists at Rutgers University discovered treating human muscle cells with a compound found in spinach called phytoecdysteroid increased muscle protein synthesis by 20 percent. The study also discovered animals injected with phytoecdysteroid for a month increased their grip strength. "Though the exact mechanism is unclear, it's possible phytoecdysteroids behave like weak steroids to improve muscle strength, recovery and growth," says study author Jonathan Gorelick-Feldman, Ph.D.
Eat this: Place 2 cups of baby spinach in a food processor or blender along with 1 cup fresh basil leaves, 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/3 cup walnuts, 3 chopped garlic cloves, juice from ? lemon, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, and salt to taste. Process until creamy but still somewhat grainy, and use this pesto on sandwiches and whole-grain crackers.
Nutritional info per serving: 134 calories, 3 g protein, 13 g fat (2 g saturated), 2 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 70 mg sodium
Ricotta CheeseThis backbone of lasagna is made from the liquidy whey that is removed when making other cheeses such as mozzarella. This means no other cheese has more whey protein, which has been proven in a number of studies to improve muscle recovery and growth when paired with regular exercise. "Whey is considered a fast-acting protein meaning that its amino acids are readily available to your muscles soon after consumption," says Molly Kimball, a sports nutritionist at Ochsner Clinic Elmwood Medical Center in New Orleans.