A term that is often used to denote the special health benefits of certain foods, superfood is also considered to be a controversial label in that its use is too often used simply as a marketing tool.
While the golden rule for building lean muscle mass will always be to follow a balanced diet, this is not to suggest that certain superfoods do not exist. While many commonly consumed foods do promote optimal health and well-being, there are others that are particularly advantageous from a health perspective. These foods may provide the following benefits:
- Help prevent or reduce inflammation
- Lower total cholesterol and/or blood pressure
- Protect against heart disease, cancer and/or liver toxicity
- Promote superior digestive health
- Regulate metabolism to keep bodyfat at bay
- Support muscle protein synthesis
I now introduce six of my personal favourite superfoods, which we would all be wise to include in our diets on a regular basis.
Containing 10g of the heart-healthy fat, monounsaturated oleic acid, per 100g serving, avocados help to block the absorption of the bad LDL cholesterol to keep our arteries clear and fully functional. Also high in potassium and folate, avocados may boost brain and nerve function and may also offset depression and the risk of stroke respectively. Though high in fat (comprising around 85% of its calories), the type found in avocadoes contains beneficial steroidal compounds called phytosterols, which drive down inflammation to improve the healing of muscle tissue.
Highly versatile, avocados can be included in many dishes, or on their own, making them a go-to snack for fitness minded folk. Many bodybuilders are unsure of what kinds of fat to include in their diet; they cannot go wrong in placing avocados at the top of their list.
One of the tastiest foods to feature the essential omega-3 fatty acids to support heart and brain heath and reduce inflammation, salmon is also an excellent protein source, providing 40g per 200g serving. High in vitamins B6, B12 and magnesium, the inclusion of salmon in our diets may enhance cell metabolism and help our body to convert the nutrients we eat into energy to fuel our daily activities. By consuming fresh salmon at least 2 – 3 times a week we receive a strong compliment of omega 3s while upping our high-grade protein intake to build more muscle.
Often referred to as the king of all superfoods, blueberries may support our health in a variety of ways. A superior source of flavonoids (natural compounds found in plants which function as chemical messengers and physiological regulators to protect against the damaging effects of oxidation), blueberries, with their unique anthocyanin flavonoids, have been shown to boost the production of adiponectin, a hormone housed in white adipose tissue which prevents the liver from becoming insulin resistant; thus, blueberries may also help to prevent the onset of type 2 diabetes.
Blueberries also have a high water-content and are known for their cellular hydrating benefits (resulting in smooth skin and enhanced performance of all bodily tissues). Providing only 14g of sugar and 57 calories per 100g serving (a little over half a cup) and packed with vitamin C and fiber, blueberries are a perfect sweet snack to reach for when those hunger pangs strike.
Eggs are often considered to be one of nature’s ‘perfect foods’, and for good reason. When eaten whole a large egg will provide around 6g of the highest grade protein of any whole-food source (scoring 100 in their biological value) and contains all nine of the essential amino acids to support the growth of lean muscle tissue.
Although over half of an egg’s protein is contained in the white, the yolk (aside from also being protein-rich) provides the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K and is a good source of both saturated and unsaturated fats (of a total fat content of 5g, our large egg provides 1.6g of saturated fat with the remainder coming from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated types). While saturated fat is required for testosterone production the additional fats found in egg yolks may help to improve our absorption of the vitamins contained in eggs, and are heart and brain healthy.
A cautionary note: while the link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol is the subject of much speculation, to be safe it may be best to include 1-2 yolks with every six egg whites eaten.
A staple for many hard training gym-dwellers, oats have also gained recognition among a broader population of health-conscious folk as a superior carbohydrate source. Containing a complete array of macronutrients (21g of slow digesting carbs, 5g of protein, and 2g of fat – with only 126 calories per 200g cooked serving), and high in insoluble fiber (which passes through the digestive system without being absorbed), oats can fill us up without fleshing out our fat reserves. By lowering the re-absorption of the harmful LDL cholesterol through its inclusion of beta glucan (a polysaccharide found in the bran of cereal grains), oats also help to balance out our cholesterol levels to protect against heart disease.
Providing a generous serving of phytonutrients to promote heart and eye health, improve immunity, and beta carotene (a precursor to vitamin A), a powerful antioxidant which may lower our risk of many diseases, sweet potatoes are one carbohydrate source that packs a serious nutritional punch. High in low-glycemic complex carbs, sweet potatoes promote sustained energy and keep us well satiated, and working harder in the gym for longer – a key energy food for both the bodybuilding off-season and pre-contest periods.
The health-boosting qualities of the foods listed above are too numerous to outline in an article of this size, so further investigating is required to gain a full appreciation of the many benefits they provide. However, before excessively consuming certain much-hyped superfoods, spare a thought for all available nutrient options. Include a full array of nutritionally beneficial foods (those listed here and others not outlined above) to ensure balance above all else.
While over consuming some foods and neglecting others may deprive us of the correct ratio of nutrients we need for excellent health and vitality, such a practice may also prove not only wasteful but also potentially damaging (if certain nutrients consumed in excess cannot be sufficiently excreted, cellular damage may occur). So, when designing your diet choose widely and wisely, and aim for nutritional variability.