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Meals that build muscle

By William Leigh
Meals that build muscle
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We can't promise to turn you into Arnie overnight, but if you're looking to turn yourself into something similar, then your diet will play a key role in your exercise plan.

If you're avoiding the potentially dangerous short cut routes like steroids, focusing on your nutritional intake will give you more solid, healthier results that you can maintain.

The problem you'll come across is that most of the muscle-building diets are, well, pretty unexciting in terms of what you can eat and what to do with it — so here are some ideas to get you pumping iron.

Beef
Lean proteins have always been a key part of the bodybuilders diet and beef also contains zinc and iron, essential for muscle growth. Beef is also high in creatine which supplies energy to your muscles.

Stir-frying is a great low-fat method of cooking — try frying diced beef fillet with purple sprouting broccoli, spring onion, garlic and chilli in a wok then adding soy sauce, oyster sauce and a splash of stock. Pop a lid on and cook till the broccoli is tender.

Oysters
Like all molluscs, oysters are very high in protein and low in fat as well as being a good source of essential minerals. They are rich in copper, vitamin B12 and iron, all of which are useful for keeping the blood in good order which in turn helps carry oxygen to the muscles.

The classic serving of oysters is with sauce mignotte — diced shallots in vinegar. Try them instead with a Thai-inspired dressing — mix finely shredded ginger and lemongrass with lime juice and some finely chopped coriander. Add a few chilli flakes and spoon into the oysters before adding a final sprinkling of crispy shallots.

Eggs
Aside from their richness in choline which is great for your brain, eggs are also very high in protein that the body can use easily and rapidly.

Soft-boiled eggs are a great addition to a salad — try them halved on a salad of blanched griddled asparagus, torn parma ham, mixed leaves, finely sliced red onion and French dressing with a scattering of toasted flaked almonds. If you can, buy eggs enriched with Omega-3 fatty acids.

Lentils
Lentils are part of the legume family and are a great source of soluble fibre that helps keep blood sugar and energy levels stable. Outside of the animal kingdom, lentils contain a good amount of protein and complex carbohydrate that releases energy slowly — great for extended periods of exercise.

The undisputed king of lentils is the Puy, the French variety, prized for its flavour and texture. They work well both hot and cold; try them cool tossed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil, crumbled feta cheese, walnuts, diced cucumber and finely shredded mint as a fresh side salad to accompany pork or chicken.

Mackerel
This oily fish along with sardines and a host of other fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help boost insulin levels in the body. The insulin, in turn, helps transport nutrition to the cells in the body and by increasing the function of insulin you increase your body's metabolism.

If you fillet the mackerel and grill it, it'll pair well with earthy flavours of beetroot (high in anti-oxidants). So make up a salad with diced cooked beetroot, sliced celery, toasted pumpkin seeds, finely chopped parsley and a dressing made with orange juice, balsamic vinegar and olive oil and serve alongside your grilled mackerel.

Cashew nuts
All nuts are high in nutrients, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin E, fibre, potassium, folate, magnesium...the list goes on and on. The fat in nuts is considered to be 'good' fat, ie beneficial to the body.

You could choose from a whole host of different nuts to include in your diet such as brazils, almonds, walnuts, macadamias, hazelnuts and peanuts. Try frying chicken pieces in a little groundnut oil till cooked. Add sliced onion, peppers and cook for a minute or two. Add soy sauce, coriander leaves and cashew nuts before serving with rice.

Tomatoes
Tomatoes are rich in lycopene which helps protect muscles from oxidative stress. This is what causes post-workout aches and pains. Lycopene actually becomes more potent through the cooking process — hence the health benefits of ketchup.

A great alternative to a cooked breakfast is to simply roast halved tomatoes with olive oil and sea salt in the oven and then to crush them on grilled sourdough before sprinkling liberally with pepper.

Spelt
This ancient grain is a source of slow-release energy (like most wholegrains such as barley and oatmeal). Spelt flakes are now sold as breakfast cereal in health food shops but you can also buy rolled spelt, which looks very similar to pearl barley.

It can be used to make risotto as a healthier alternative to Arborio rice. Sweat leeks and onion in olive oil before adding the rolled spelt. Let it cook off for a minute before adding vegetable or chicken stock. Stir occasionally and cook for 20 minutes or so till the spelt is done. Add raw shelled prawns, finely grated lemon zest and peas, stirring through, then pop a lid on and leave off the heat for a few minutes before serving.

Related: Quick and easy low fat recipes

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