If you want stronger muscles, lifting weights is a good place to start—but your diet makes a huge impact on your gains, too. That's where protein comes in: the essential macronutrient helps repair the tiny tears strength training creates in your muscles, helping them grow faster.
But while loading up on eggs at breakfast and chowing down on hunks of chicken at lunch and dinner can definitely help, spacing out your protein is equally important. That's where snacking comes in.
“Since our body can only use about 25 to 30 grams of protein at a time, dosing it throughout the day into several meals and snacks paired with fiber-containing carbs and healthy fats is your best bet towards optimally utilizing nutrients,” says certified exercise physiologist Jim White, R.D..
Snacking also helps you feel fuller for longer, explains Marie Spano, M.S., R.D., C.S.C.S., sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Hawks. This will prevent you from overindulging during your bigger meals, she adds. That doesn’t necessarily mean you can snack on whatever you want, whenever you want. Aim for 200 to 300 calories and 10 to 20 grams of protein per snack.
Both Spano and White agree that two to three snacks a day hits the sweet spot without overdoing it. “Try a snack between breakfast and lunch, and between lunch and dinner,” Spano suggests.
So what the heck should you munch on? There are plenty of options that don't include protein bars (even though we love them). Here are seven smart snacks that help you build muscle. Say hello to the gainz.
THE ULTIMATE TRIO
Pack together 1 oz raw almonds (roughly 22 almonds), one hard-boiled egg, and one small apple for when you're on the go, suggests White. In addition to your protein fix, this combo includes a good dose of filling fiber, thanks to the apple, and healthy fats, courtesy of the almonds.
EGGS IN A MUG
Simplify your egg game, suggests Spano. Spray a mug with cooking spray, add 2 eggs, a dash of salt and pepper, 1/4 cup chopped bell peppers and 1 Tbsp light shredded cheese. Scramble mix with a fork. Microwave for 30 seconds. Stir. Microwave for another 60 seconds.
White's take on toast is anything but bland. Top sliced whole wheat toast with 1/4 of an avocado (sliced or mashed) and 3 oz low-sodium deli meat, like turkey, or approximately 2 slices.
White's protein shake recipe is about as easy as it gets. Drink it as is, or add in your favorite flavors with extra fruit, cocoa powder, or peanut butter. You can also use one of these 20 healthy, protein-packed smoothies as inspiration when you want to mix things up.
- 8 oz cow's milk*
- 1 scoop whey protein powder (try our Bone Broth Protein offered at the gym)
- 1/2 small banana, frozen
*You can use a sugar-free dairy alternative if necessary, but keep in that most nut milks typically contain less protein. Soy milk is a good, higher-protein dairy-free option.
A great option for that snack between breakfast and lunch is a yogurt parfait. White advises plain yogurt, but if that's too tart, look for a flavored yogurt with less than 12 grams of sugar. (We recommend Siggi's Skyr Vanilla Icelandic Style Yogurt.) Don't forget that the addition of fiber-packed berries might help sweeten it up, too.
- Top 1 cup of Greek or Icelandic yogurt with 1/2 cup berries and 1 Tbsp of ground flaxseed or chia seeds.
COTTAGE CHEESE + FRUIT
"If you haven’t loved cottage cheese in the past, buy a whipped version," says Spano.
- Top 1 cup cottage cheese with 1/4 cup fresh nutrient-packed pineapple or pineapple canned in its own juice.
Spano's simple salad is just what you need to get over that mid-afternoon slump. Mix 1-1/2 cup cucumber salad (chopped cucumbers and tomatoes), 3 slices natural turkey, and a drizzle of olive oil.