Power Foods

Power Foods
Including certain foods in your diet can help you make faster gains in muscle size and strength while also making fat loss easier.

Updated October 31, 2018

You know the cliche, "You are what you eat"? Well, it's more or less true. If you're serious about gaining lean muscle and dropping fat, it's not all about the number of calories you eat or hitting every last recommended gram (no more, no less) of protein, carbs and fat. It's often much simpler than that. Look at the individual foods you're eating. Are they helping you reach your goals or are they holding you back?

I'm a big believer in the power of supplements for helping to build muscle, drop body fat, increase strength and performance, boost energy and enhance your overall health. But supplements only work well when your diet is complete, with proper whole-food choices, such as lean proteins from poultry, fish, beef, eggs and dairy, whole grains, vegetables and fruit. In addition to macronutrients like protein, carbs and fats, as well as micronutrients like vitamins and minerals, many foods also contain significant amounts of other micronutrients that are often sold in supplemental form.

Here’s my list of foods you should strongly consider adding to your daily diet. I call them "power foods" because they provide a very powerful boost to the physique, gym performance, and overall health. Eat up!

Eggs: My Favorite Superfood

What is a superfood? Good question! A superfood is a food that provides so many benefits that you simply can not afford to skip on them in your diet. Sure, we all know that eggs are a good source of high-quality protein—like the egg protein I use in my Pro JYM blended protein powder—but did you know that research shows that eggs boost muscle growth, increase muscle strength, and enhance fat loss? And I'm not talking about egg whites—I'm talking about the whole egg, yolk and all. The good news is that research has found that the cholesterol in egg yolks does not contribute to cardiovascular disease.

The average large whole egg contains:

While the average large egg white contains:

Eggs Enhance Strength and Muscle Gains

I recommend that you eat least 3 whole eggs per day. A study from Texas A&M found that subjects consuming 3 whole eggs per day while following a weight-lifting program for 12 weeks gained twice as much muscle mass and twice as much muscle strength as subjects eating no eggs or just one whole egg per day. Yes, 3 whole eggs do provide about 15 grams of fat and over 600 mg of cholesterol, but the fat and cholesterol in egg yolks may be critical factors in why the subjects in the A&M study made such dramatic gains in muscle mass and strength. Research shows that athletes getting in higher fat intake, particularly from monounsaturatedand saturated fat have higher testosterone levels than those getting in low amounts of fat. And 80% of the fat in egg yolks comes from monounsaturated and saturated fat.

When it comes to cholesterol, you need to remember that testosterone is created in the body from—you guessed it—cholesterol. Plus, cholesterol is important for maintaining the integrity of cell membranes, such as those of muscle cells. This is important for muscle strength and growth.

In fact, one study from Kent State University found that subjects eating a higher cholesterol diet while following a 12-week weight lifting program gained 5 more pounds of muscle than those eating a low cholesterol diet. The higher cholesterol diet also led to double the strength gains as compared to the lower cholesterol diet.

In addition, University of Connecticut researchers found that men and women eating an additional 640 mg of cholesterol from eggs had no increase in the LDL cholesterol particles that are associated with cardiovascular disease.

Eggs Promote Fat Loss

Interested in dropping body fat? Research from Saint Louis University has shown that subjects eating eggs for breakfast not only eat fewer calories throughout the day, but also lose significantly more body fat than those not eating eggs for breakfast.

With all these benefits, you'd have to either be a fool, or someone who is not interested in gaining muscle, losing body fat and getting stronger; in which caseyou'd still be a fool to not add eggs to your diet.

My Simple Egg Recipe

I typically scramble 3 whole eggs and 3 egg whites together and cook them in a panwith about 1 table spoon of olive oil. This will net you about 270 calories, 30 grams of protein, 1 gram of carbs and 30 grams of fat. (Remember: This fat comes primarily from healthy fats in the yolks and the olive oil, which will support testosterone production.)

But if plain scrambled eggs sound boring to you, you can add some flavor to your eggs by trying some of the recipes in my Muscle Meals and Macro-Friendly Meals articles.

Avocado

Avocados not only provide healthy monounsaturated fats, but they have multiple benefits for fat loss as well. Avocados have the ability to enhance the production of thyroid hormones. This helps you to maintain your metabolic rate, which can be critical when you're trying to drop calories. Avocados also contain a sugar called mannoheptulose. But don't let the word "sugar" scare you; mannoheptulose has actually been shown to inhibit insulin secretion, which helps to prevent fat storage.

Power Play: Shoot for 1/2 to 1 full avocado per day for a healthy food choice that will help you drop body fat. One caveat: Don't forget to cut calories from simple and starchy carbs to stay in a calorie deficit when trying to strip off body fat.

Beer

Beer may not seem like much of a power food, but it can indeed boost your health and even aid fat loss, as well as help prevent cancer and heart disease. Research has found that 1 or 2 drinks of alcohol per day raise leptin levels, which helps to control hunger and keep metabolism up. A component of the hops known as isohumulones decreases body fat and helps prevent inflammation, which can aid muscle and joint recovery.

Research suggests even more benefits: In a study published in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, scientists measured silicon levels in a variety of beers. They found that most beer varieties are rich sources of silicon, likely a result of both the hops and the grain that was used in brewing (with barley-based beers being significantly higher in silicon). Silicon is a mineral that's important for bone and joint health, making beer a potential player in keeping your body strong and able to lift hard for the long haul.

Another benefit of beer comes with grilling meats. Research shows that meats marinated in beer-based marinade actually form 90% less heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are carcinogenic chemicals that form when the amino acids and creatine in meats react at high cooking temperatures, such as during when grilling.

Power Play: Try to keep your beer drinking to a few per week. And I advise drinking no more than one or two beers at a time. Dark beer (Guinness, for example) is best, as it contains significantly more antioxidants than light beer.

Blueberries

Blueberries pack a mighty antioxidant wallop. Research from Tufts University shows that the blueberry ranked the highest of the 60 fruits and vegetables analyzed in the ability to destroy free radicals. The reason blueberries are superior is because they have the highest anthocyanin content of all fruits, giving them their dark color. These powerful antioxidant phytochemicals not only zap free radicals but they also act like smart pills for your brain. Blueberries have been shown to enhance memory, help rejuvenate brain cells and prevent dementia.

In a study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition & Food Research, scientists took muscle tissue that had suffered oxidative stress (similar to what happens to muscles during workouts) and added various fruit extracts. They found that the blueberry extract worked the best to alleviate damage to muscle tissue.

Power Play: A cup of blueberries has about 150 mg of anthocyanins, 80 calories and 20 grams of total carbs. Eat blueberries about 1-2 hours before training—but not with whey, casein, milk or other dairy products, which have been shown to blunt the uptake of the fruit's antioxidants—for better energy during your workout and better muscle recovery afterward.

Broccoli

Broccoli is known for its ability to fight cancer, thanks to a chemical called sulforaphane. This is an antioxidant that forms from the inactive compound glucoraphanin when you chew your broccoli. But broccoli also contains a phytochemical known as indole-3-carbinol (I3C) that gets converted in the body to 3,3'-diindolylmethane (DIM). DIM reduces the strength of estrogens by converting them to weaker varieties in the liver. This diminishes estrogen's effects on fat gain and water retention and strengthens testosterone's anabolic effects.

Power Play: Shoot for 1 cup or more of raw or steamed broccoli per day to deliver over 100 mg of I3C, 1,200—4,000 mcg of sulforaphane, more than 80 mg of vitamin C and over 40 mg of calcium.

Cherries

Cherries have been used to fight inflammatory conditions (arthritis and gout, for example) for many years. The inflammation-fighting ingredients in cherries are antioxidant phytochemicals called anthocyanins. Inflammation can be a problem after workouts because it can actually work against the process of muscle recovery. Research shows that cherry juice can dampen delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and expedite muscle recovery following intense weight lifting. Use whole cherries or cherry juice to help reduce inflammation and promote muscle recovery following workouts.

Power Play: One to two cups of whole cherries are a good energy source before workouts and two to three ounces of concentrated cherry juice is a good carb source after workouts.

Coffee

Coffee, of course, contains the central nervous stimulant caffeine, which is the primary reason most people drink it. But a cup of joe also offers numerous health benefits. Research shows that moderate coffee drinking (about 3 cups a day) may decrease the risk of diabetes, liver disease and even gallstones. Coffee is also a source of antioxidants. In fact, one study reported that many Americans get about 1,300 mg of antioxidants per day from coffee.

The caffeine in coffee can help you use more fat for energy when you exercise and research shows that it helps to blunt muscle pain during exercise, allowing you to train harder for longer. One study even found that caffeine helped boost muscle strength. All of these performance-boosting reasons are precisely why caffeine is present in Pre JYM.

Power Play: A regular (8 oz.) cup of brewed coffee has about 100-200 mg of caffeine and about 250-500 mg of antioxidants, depending on the bean and the roasting time. Go with about 1-4 cups per day.

Garlic

Garlic, a cousin to the onion, is rich in allicin, diallyl disulphide, diallyl trisulfide and other sulfur-containing compounds that provide numerous health benefits, such as fighting cancer, heart disease and even the common cold. Less known is garlic's ability to stimulate testosterone production and inhibit cortisol production. Before workouts, garlic can help boost testosterone when you need it most and blunt the cortisol response that normally accompanies exercise and limits testosterone's anabolic effects. But that's not all: Garlic can also help increase fat burning and even enhance muscle recovery.

Power Play: Try a few cloves (raw) of garlic each day added to meals or eaten plain.

Grass-Fed Beef

Beef in general is important for building lean muscle due to its protein, cholesterol, zinc, B vitamins and iron content. But spending extra cash on beef from grass-fed cattle can give you extra benefits. The grass-fed variety has much higher levels of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) than conventionally raised cattle. The healthy fat CLA has been proven in numerous clinical trials to help shed body fat while promoting muscle mass and strength gains at the same time. Grass also has higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which it imparts to the cattle that eat it.

Power Play: Choose leaner cuts of grass-fed beef like top sirloin or flank.

Brown Rice

Brown rice, unlike white rice, is a whole grain. That means it contains the bran layer on the grain, which provides the fiber, thus helping to slow down its digestion. This keeps your insulin levels steady, providing you longer-lasting energy throughout the day, such as during workouts.

But brown rice provides you more than energy; it can help boost your growth hormone (GH) levels as well. Growth hormone is critical for encouraging muscle growth and strength gains. This is especially true for women since their testosterone levels are so low. Plus, GH is important for encouraging fat loss. This is due to the fact that brown rice contains higher levels of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) than white rice, especially when it's prepared properly (see below). GABA is an amino acid that works as a neurotransmitter in the body and has been shown to boost GH levels by up to 400%. Yes, 400% is a lot.

Power Play: To prepare your brown rice for even higher GABA levels, soak it in warm water for two hours before cooking to induce slight germination. This has been shown by Japanese researchers to boost GABA levels by 15 times. Another way to boost GABA in brown rice is to use the Zojirushi Induction Heating System Rice Cooker & Warmer (zojirushi.com), which has a special setting that gives brown rice a two-hour hot bath before it cooks it for the specific purpose of boosting GABA levels.

Cantaloupe

This melon is one of the few fruits that's actually a fast-digesting carb, which is due to its relatively low fructose content. While most fruits like apples and oranges have a high fructose content (about 70%), cantaloupe comes it at around 50% fructose, much like table sugar. That makes cantaloupe a good carb to have first thing in the morning after a long night of fasting. These rapidly digesting carbs will quickly get to your liver and signal your body to stop breaking down muscle for fuel. It also makes the cantaloupe one of the few good fruits to eat after workouts.

Power Play: Looking for convenience after a workout? Stop by the nearest grocery store and get the packaged fresh cantaloupe that's already been "de-gutted" and cut up into pieces. Eat that alongside your Pro JYM and Post JYM.

Ezekiel 4:9 Bread

You likely think of bread as just a carb source, but if you choose the right kind—and that being Ezekiel bread—you'll also be thinking of your bread as a complete protein source. Ezekiel bread is made from organic sprouted whole grains like wheat, millet, spelt and barley and legumes like lentils and soybeans. Because it contains grains and legumes (and soybeans), it's a complete protein, which means it contains all nine of the amino acids your body can't produce on its own and that are needed for muscle growth. Ezekiel's grains and legumes are very slow-digesting, which also makes it acceptable to eat while following a get-lean diet; in fact, research shows that when athletes eat slow-digesting carbs they burn more fat during the day as well as during exercise and have more energy during workouts.

Power Play: The sandwiches most people have for lunch are diet pitfalls due in part to nutrient-sparse bread. Don't let that be your lunch. Get your deli meat served on Ezekiel.

Flaxseeds

Flaxseeds contain the essential omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid, which gets converted in the body to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—the essential fats our bodies use to produce a class of chemicals known as prostaglandins. The type of prostaglandins that these omega-3s make are the beneficial type that provide a host of positive effects through their ability to reduce inflammation in the body. These omega-3 fats have also been found to turn on genes that stimulate fat burning and turn off genes that increase fat storage.

Power Play: If you're an oatmeal eater, sprinkle flaxseeds into your bowl of porridge for a big omega-3 boost.

Ginger

If you like sushi, you know this root as the yellow or pink pile of thinly sliced and pungent-tasting side that accompanies your rolls and is used to clean you palate in between bites. Known scientifically as Zingiber officinale, ginger has been used for centuries to help relieve digestive disturbances including lack of appetite, nausea, digestive spasms and indigestion. New research has even found that ginger can help reduce inflammation, boost blood flow to muscles and aid muscle recovery. It has also has been shown in the laboratory to boost calorie-burning.

Power Play: Adding ginger, either powdered or freshly sliced, to your recipes is an easy way to help burn more calories than you eat.

Grapefruit

It's likely you've heard of the grapefruit diet. And although I don't suggest you live on this citrus fruit alone, it can help you to burn more fat. A study from the Scripps Clinic (San Diego) reported that subjects eating half a grapefruit or 8 oz. of grapefruit juice three times a day while maintaining their normal diet lost an average of four pounds over the course of 12 weeks, with some losing more than 10 pounds without even dieting. The researchers reported that the effect is likely due to grapefruit's ability to reduce insulin levels, which they observed in the subjects consuming grapefruit/grapefruit juice. More recent research also suggests that the fat-burning effect may be due to a chemical in grapefruit known as naringin, which prevents fat from being stored in the body.

Power Play: I recommend the half-a-grapefruit serving size either three times daily (as in the study) or just once, at breakfast, whether you're in a get-lean phase or not.

Greek Yogurt

Like plain yogurt, Greek yogurt starts from the same source: Milk. Each one also has beneficial bacterial cultures added to them. But after having these cultures added, Greek yogurt is left to rest in cheesecloth, which allows the water to drain away to leave a much thicker yogurt. A good deal of the carbs (lactose) also drain away, which means that Greek yogurt is much lower in carbs than the plain stuff. In fact, one cup of Greek yogurt contains just nine grams of carbs, compared to plain yogurt's 16 grams.

Some of the whey protein (the liquid surface you often find on plain yogurt) also drains away, which means that Greek yogurt's primary protein source is slow-digesting casein, the main protein component of milk. The loss of water makes Greek yogurt a more concentrated protein source, delivering a whopping 20 grams of protein per cup compared to plain yogurt's measly 12 grams. Greek yogurt is a good protein source at anytime, but especially right before bed when you're seeking slow-digesting casein. Going with organic Greek yogurt is an even better option.

Power Play: My favorite way to eat Greek yogurt is by adding Pro JYM to it for a delicious, super-high protein dessert or snack. Here's the Greek Pro JYM Pudding recipe.

Honey

You may not think of a sugary treat like honey as a way to promote fat loss, but this natural sweetener can indeed aid fat burning and promote muscle growth. For starters, even though it's a sugar, honey is fairly low on the glycemic-index scale. This means it keeps blood sugar and insulin levels low. Keeping insulin levels low and steady is critical for maintaining an optimal fat-burning environment in your body, as insulin spikes decrease fat burning and encourage fat storage. Honey is also rich in chrysin, an isoflavone that can lower estrogen levels in the body. In addition, honey has been found to be a rich source of nitric oxide (NO) metabolites, which can enhance NO levels in the body. NO not only helps with muscle growth and strength gains, but it actually encourages fat release from the body's fat cells.

Power Play: Add honey to any smoothie or protein shake you like, though post-workout probably isn't the best time. That's the one instance during the day where an insulin spike is desired.

Olive Oil

Olive oil is a great source of monounsaturated fats. Not only do these lower levels of the "bad" type of cholesterol and improve cardiovascular health, but they're also more likely to be burned as fuel, which means they're less likely to be sticking around your midsection. Research confirms that diets higher in monounsaturated fats enhance fat loss. Olive oil also contains the powerful antioxidant hydroxytyrosol. Researchers believe that this compound is responsible for much of the Mediterranean diet's health benefits, including reduced risk of obesity, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Power Play: If you're not much of a cook but are still looking for a way to add olive oil to your diet, drizzle some on your salad.

Salmon

This fish is not only one of the tastiest, but also one of the richest sources of the omega-3 essential fats EPA and DHA. Unlike flaxseeds, which provide a type of omega-3 that has to be converted into EPA and DHA, salmon provides your body a direct supply of them, with no conversion required. This way you know you're getting a direct supply of the fats that turn on fat burning and block fat storage.

Power Play: In a pinch, grab some canned salmon and enjoy it as a snack or on a salad.

5 Pre-Workout Power Foods

One thing I get asked a lot is, “What should I eat before training?” Good question, since what you put into your body at this critical time can make or break your intensity and performance in the gym.

In the hour or so leading up to a workout, I highly recommend taking my blended protein powder Pro JYM as well as Pre JYM. But it’s in your best interest to also take in some form of whole food, particularly one containing carbohydrates that will help fuel your workout and boost your performance in a very direct way. Here are five foods that do just that:

Pre-Workout Power Food #1 – Apples

This might just be my favorite pre-workout whole food of all time. In fact, most of the diet plans I offer on JimStoppani.com list an apple alongside Pre JYM in the meal that falls within an hour before training. And there are multiple reasons for this.

First, apples are a very low-glycemic carbohydrate source, so they provide continuous energy during exercise. More than that, the skin of the apple is rich in polyphenols, particularly quercetin, phloridzin and ursolic acid. Research shows that such polyphenols can boost both muscle strength and size and possibly even enhance fat loss, too. Plus, ursolic acid has been shown to increase insulin-like growth factor 1 (IFG-1) and lower estrogen levels. All of these reasons make the age-old “apple a day” recommendation highly credible.

Pre-Workout Prescription: Eat a medium or large apple within an hour before training—just make sure you eat the skin of the apple. If you’re on a low-carb diet and don’t want all the sugar, consider peeling the apple and eating only the skin, since that’s where a majority of the polyphenols reside. As for what type of apple to eat, I recommend either “Red Delicious” or “Fuji” apples, as those two varieties have been found to have the highest polyphenol content compared to other types.

Pre-Workout Power Food #2 – Beets

Beets are a good source of betaine, also known as trimethylglycine. This nutrient not only enhances liver and joint repair but has also been shown in clinical research to increase muscle strength and power. This is why betaine is included in both Pre JYM and Post JYM.

Beets have been found to increase the diameter of blood vessels by boosting nitric oxide (NO) levels because they provide a rich source of nitrates, the nitrogen-containing compounds that contribute to the production of NO.

Here’s a brief explanation as to how that process works: The nitrates in beets are converted by bacteria living on the tongue into the chemical nitrite. After nitrite is digested, it becomes NO. This molecule relaxes the muscles in blood vessels and widens them, which allows more blood to flow through. This greater flow means that muscles get more blood along with more nutrients like amino acids and glucose as well as oxygen, which can enhance energy and aid recovery.

Pre-Workout Prescription: In the absence of Pre JYM (which contains betaine), try adding some beetroot juice to your pre-workout protein shake. Each cup provides about 100 calories, 24 grams of carbs, 2 grams of protein and no fat.

Pre-Workout Power Food #3 – Dark Chocolate

Dark chocolate is a true superfood. To be specific, I’m talking about dark chocolate that’s around 70% cocoa or more. Its health benefits are well documented—reduced risk of both cancer and heart disease among them—but dark chocolate is also a performance-enhancer that warrants inclusion in your pre-workout meal.

First off, it’s been shown in the past to boost nitric oxide (NO) levels; we’ve known this for a while. A recent study from Aberystwyth University (Wales), however, found another reason to add dark chocolate to your pre-workout shake: better muscle recovery and growth.

The researchers had men consume either 100 grams (about 3.5 oz.) of 70% cocoa dark chocolate or a control bar before pedaling on a stationary cycle for 2.5 hours at a moderate pace. They measured the subjects’ blood glucose and insulin levels, as well as markers of oxidative stress. They reported in an issue of the European Journal of Nutrition that when the subjects consumed the dark chocolate before the workout they were able to better maintain their blood glucose levels, had higher insulin levels and experienced less oxidative stress. These are significant findings, as the ability to better maintain blood glucose levels means you’ll have more energy to keep your training intensity up.

Pre-Workout Prescription: The aforementioned results suggest adding about 3 ounces of dark chocolate or 1/4 cup of cocoa powder that’s at least 70% cocoa (or cacao) to your pre-workout meal or shake. When to have your dark chocolate around workouts is simple: Whenever you take your other pre-workout supplements like Pre JYM and Pro JYM.

For taste reasons, you probably don’t want to throw chocolate or cocoa powder in with your Pre JYM, which is fruit/citrus flavored. But dark chocolate/cocoa tastes great with any flavor of Pro JYM. Of course, if your dark chocolate source is 3 ounces in bar form, it’s probably easiest to just eat it separately from your shake instead of trying to crumble it up and add it to your shake.

Pre-Workout Power Food #4 – Oranges

Believe it or not, oranges can help boost muscle growth, strength and muscle endurance, especially when eaten before workouts. This all comes down to its ability to boost nitric oxide (NO) levels. It was first believed that oranges boost NO levels due primarily to vitamin C, which prevents the breakdown of NO. But more recent research has shown that another component in oranges, hesperidin, can lead directly to increased NO levels.

Pre-Workout Prescription: Include a whole orange in your last whole-food meal before your workout.

Pre-Workout Power Food #5 – Wheat Germ

Wheat germ is the innermost part of the wheat kernel that stores most of the vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. It's rich in zinc, iron, selenium, potassium and B vitamins. The germ is also high in protein, with a good amount of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), arginine and glutamine. Plus, it's rich in fiber and is a great source of slow-digesting carbohydrates.

All of these reasons make wheat germ a perfect food to eat before workouts. Another reason I recommend it at this time is because wheat germ also provides a good source of the strength-booster octacosanol, the beneficial alcohol found in spinach.

Pre-Workout Prescription: Wheat germ, like oranges, is another great choice to include in your last whole food meal before a hard workout.

Fresh Broccoli is Best

Broccoli has been a staple vegetable in bodybuilders' diets for decades. Not only is this cruciferous veggie a good low-carb fibrous vegetable, but it offers a litany of health benefits. Just some of these benefits include a reduced risk of cancer, reduced inflammation, reduced risk of heart disease, reduced risk of diabetes, and can even reduce the production of "bad" estrogens.

Most of these benefits stem from a phytonutrient in broccoli known as glucoraphanin. When you chew broccoli, it activates the enzyme myrosinase, which converts glucoraphanin into sulforaphane. It is sulforaphane that actually provides the majority of the benefits of broccoli.

But the processing of commercially available frozen broccoli, which involves blanching the broccoli before freezing it, may inactivate the myrosinase enzyme. So when you eat frozen broccoli, the glucoraphanin may not convert into sulforaphane and you may not get the benefits of this potent phytonutrient. At least that's what a recent study has reported in the Journal of Functional Foods.

Researchers from the University of Illinois reported that in the three different types of commercially available frozen broccoli they tested, there was very little potential to form sulforaphane prior to cooking. And after cooking via microwave, as recommended on the package, there was no sulforaphane produced in any of the broccoli.

Jim's Take-Home Point

The obvious take-home point here is to buy broccoli fresh. Preferably fresh organic broccoli as it contains more glucoraphanin than conventionally grown broccoli. When it comes to cooking, steam it, lightly sauté it, or eat it raw. Research suggests that steaming broccoli increases its ability to produce sulforaphane. But never boil broccoli, as research shows that this decreases its ability to produce sulforaphane.

References

Dosz, E. B., et al. Commercially produced frozen broccoli lacks the ability to form sulforaphane. Journal of Functional Foods 5(2): 987-990.

Mahn, A. and Reyes, A. An overview of health-promoting compounds of broccoli (Brassica oleracea var. italica) and the effect of processing. Food Sci Technol Int. 2012 Dec;18(6):503-14.

Gliszczyńska-Swigło, A, et al. Changes in the content of health-promoting compounds and antioxidant activity of broccoli after domestic processing. Food Addit Contam. 2006 Nov;23(11):1088-98.

Green Tea: Don't Forget the Lemon

The first thing I do when I sit down at my favorite sushi restaurant here in L.A. is order a glass of iced green tea. Not only do I love how it tastes, but green tea is also one of the healthiest beverages on the planet and is very physique-friendly. If you don't know by now, research has shown that green tea has ingredients that help tremendously to promote fat loss—specifically the catechin epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), which can help speed up the fat-burning process in addition to helping with muscle endurance and boosting the body's immune system. Green tea also contains caffeine, a proven fat-burning agent and performance enhancer. It's no wonder, then, that I included green tea in Shred JYM, my top-selling fat burner.

The second thing I do at that sushi restaurant? Order a slice of lemon with that glass of green tea. Whether you take your green tea hot or cold (both versions offer the same great benefits), don't forget the lemon. It's not just a taste thing: Research from Purdue University has shown that adding lemon to green tea boosts its level of antioxidants and also helps with the uptake of EGCG by the body. Since lemon and green-tea antioxidants complement each other, having them together is a must, in my opinion.

If you're not a fan of drinking green tea, that's perfectly fine, since green tea extract has actually been found to be more effective at delivering the benefits of EGCG than drinking green tea. A recent study found that supplementing green-tea extract allowed subjects to absorb significantly more EGCG than when they drank it in beverage form. Personally, I prefer to drink my green tea and supplement it through green-tea extract via Shred JYM. If you're not taking Shred JYM, I still recommend supplementing green-tea extract on its own. One serving of Shred JYM provides 500mg of green tea-leaf extract, an adequate dose for promoting both fat burning and overall health. My long-standing recommendation is to take 500mg of green-tea extract standardized for EGCG three times a day.

Quinoa: The Best Grain

Although it looks like a grain, quinoa (pronounced "keen-wah") is actually a seed of the goosefoot plant, and is a relative of spinach. It has been cultivated in the Andes Mountains for thousands of years. Because it is physically similar to grains and can be ground into flour, it's often called a pseudocereal.

Quinoa is Rich in Nutrients

The main reason for this is because most grains are not complete proteins. That is, they lack one of the essential amino acids your body needs to build proteins. That amino is lysine. It's the main reason vegetarians eat rice and beans. The beans supply the lysine that the rice lacks, while the rice provides an amino acid that the beans lack (methionine). Together, rice and beans make up a complete protein. With quinoa, you don't need to pair it with anything else, because it is rich in lysine, making it a complete protein. Not only is quinoa a better kind of protein than whole grains, but it provides almost twice the amount of protein as most grains. One cup of cooked quinoa has 8 grams of protein, while one cup of brown rice supplies only 5 grams.

Quinoa also supplies more fiber (5 grams per cooked cup) and healthy fats (4 grams per cooked cup) than most whole grains like brown rice, which provides 4 grams and 2 grams, respectively. That means it's a slow-digesting carb source, meaning it won't spike insulin levels. That means it won't promote fat gain or diabetes when eaten in moderation.

Plus, quinoa has higher levels of minerals and vitamins that are important for muscle recovery, growth and strength than most whole grains. It's rich in magnesium, which helps to increase muscle strength and aids sleep quality. It loaded with potassium, which is critical for muscle contractions and also helps to pull water into your muscles. And a mineral that assists in pulling fluid from the bloodstream into muscle cells (creating the pump), is also important to recovery after exercise. And it's a good source of folate, which is a B vitamin that is required for muscles to make new cells, and can aid nitric oxide (NO) production.

As if that weren't enough, there's even more in favor of quinoa.

One study from the University of Lund (Sweden) found that eating quinoa was associated with an increase in levels of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1). This growth factor is crucial for muscle growth and strength gains.

So having quinoa as a side dish to your protein of choice (like chicken, fish or beef) means that you get all the benefits that a whole grain offers, plus an extra serving of quality protein, and micronutrients. That ultimately means that quinoa can enhance your results in the gym, leading to a leaner, more muscular physique.

Reference

Ruales J, de Grijalva Y, Lopez-Jaramillo P, Nair BM. The nutritional quality of an infant food from quinoa and its effect on the plasma level of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in undernourished children. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2002 Mar;53(2):143-54.

Red Peppers: Potent Fat-Burners

If you've tried some of my recipes, you know I like to add a lot of "heat" to my meals in the form of chili pepper flakes or hot sauce. To me, the hotter the better! But it's not just the taste I enjoy with spicy foods, it's also the benefit that they provide my body. By that I mean the fat loss benefits that spicy food offer.

These benefits all come down to a natural plant chemical called capsaicin or 8-methyl-N-vanillyl-6-nonenamide, which is its chemical name.

Capsaicin is the natural chemical in hot peppers such as cayenne peppers that gives them their spicy heat. This has to do with the way that the chemical reacts with receptors in the mouth. This effect that peppers have to provide heat has been studies so extensively that there is a unit developed to describe how hot a certain pepper is: or how much capsaicin it contains. This unit is called the Scoville Heat Unit (SHU). While a peperoncini is only a few hundred Scoville heat units, a Jalapeno pepper can be as high as 8,000. Habanero chili peppers can rate as high as 350,000 Scoville Heat Units with some of the world's hottest peppers coming in at close to 1,500,000! Law-enforcement-grade pepper spray is around 5 million Scoville Heat Units.

Capsaicin Has Been Studied Extensively in the Lab for its Ability to Aid Fat Loss

This is due to capsaicin's ability to disrupt energy production to produce less energy and more heat. This means the body has to burn more calories to produce an equivalent amount of energy. Several studies confirm that capsaicin can enhance fat burning by raising metabolic rate and reducing hunger and food intake. And a brand new study from Purdue University confirms this, even in people who are not overweight. The Purdue researchers gave subjects a meal containing about ½ teaspoon of crushed red pepper or a meal with no added rep pepper. They reported in a 2011 issue of Physiology & Behavior, that when they ate the meal with red pepper, not only did they experience a boost in the number of calories they burned just sitting there, but they burned more calories from fat and also experienced less hunger than.

Jim's Take-Home Advice

Consider adding 1/2 teaspoon of red pepper or chili pepper, or even fresh chili peppers to your meals for a kick in the taste buds and a kick in the fat cells. There are supplements that contain capsaicin for those who can't handle spicy food. In fact, my Shred JYM supplement includes an capsaicin ingredient called CapsiMax, which is a patented form of pepper extract that delivers 300,000 Scoville Heat Units. It uses the OmniBeadâ„¢ beadlet technology to encapsulate the pepper extract. The coating is designed to withstand the highly acidic, low pH levels of the stomach then release the capsaicin in the higher pH environment of the intestines.

Reference

Ludy, M. J. and Mattes, R. D. The effects of hedonically acceptable red pepper doses on thermogenesis and appetite. Physiology Behavior 102 (3-4): 251-258, 2011.

The Best Nuts for More Muscle, Less Fat, and Better Health

Due to their high fat content, nuts were once thought of as a food that needed to be avoided. Of course, that was back when people thought eating fat made you fat, which started the low-fat, high-carb craze of that 1980s that proved disastrous for the health and weight management of millions of Americans. Sure glad that diet trend is over.

We now understand the importance of fat in the diet—it not only helps encourage better fat loss and overall health, but getting ample amounts of monounsaturated and even saturated fat can help men maintain higher levels of testosterone. Most nuts are high in monounsaturated fats, as well as polyunsaturated fats.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you should simply sit down with a bag of nuts and plow through it. Regardless of the health benefits, nuts are still high in fat (and calories), so don’t go overboard. The best way to consume nuts is by the handful, which equals about one ounce and offers just enough of the healthy fats without the overdose of calories. But not all nuts are created equal. Here, I rank 5 popular types of nuts, in order of health and physique benefits, to help you choose wisely. As you'll learn, some are way better for you than others. The further down you scroll in the article, the better for you the nut is.

#5 – Cashews

Cashews tend to be popular due to their taste, yet that's pretty much all they have going for them. Sure, cashews have less fat (and therefore fewer calories) per ounce than other nuts, but given that the fat in nuts is actually healthy, that’s not necessarily a good thing. Plus, cashews are much, much higher in carbs than most other nuts, with only 1 gram per ounce coming from fiber.

Jim’s Nut Note

Cashews should be your last resort for nuts.  Enjoy them for the taste with other nuts, but limit your servings of cashews.

Nutrition Info

1 oz. of cashews provides:

#4 – Brazil Nuts

Brazil nuts are higher in fat and lower in carbs than other nuts, with most of the carbs being fiber. That makes them a great snack on low-carb days. Plus, they’re loaded with selenium (about 100 mcg per Brazil nut, or 500 mcg per ounce). This mineral helps to regulate thyroid function, which in turn controls metabolism. It's also involved in immune function and has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the risk of certain cancers. Recent evidence also suggests that selenium is critical for maintaining muscle strength.

Brazil Nuts for More Muscle

The trace mineral selenium is only needed in the body in small amounts, yet it has some big health, physique and performance-promoting properties. For starters, selenium is important for keeping your metabolism up, which is important for burning off body fat. That's because selenium is critical for the production of thyroid hormones. Selenium also plays an important role in immune function delivers other health benefits, including reduced risk of some types of cancer and cardiovascular disease and promotion of normal liver function. In fact, in 2003 the FDA issued a qualified health claim that states that selenium may reduce the risk of certain cancers.

Brazil Nuts Are Rich in Selenium

In addition to all of these benefits of selenium, research also suggests that it may also be critical for muscle strength. Italian researchers found that people with the lowest blood levels of selenium were about 95% more likely to have poor leg and grip strength, as compared to those with the highest selenium blood levels. Although they only measured the strength of the legs and the grip, it's reasonable to assume that those with low selenium levels also had less overall strength as compared to those with higher selenium levels.

A Few Brazil Nuts Each Day Is All it Takes

So consider adding selenium to your supplement regimen to ensure that your muscle strength is optimal, and to help stabilize thyroid hormone levels for keeping body fat off, as well as to maintain your health. I recommend getting 200 mcg of selenium per day. The easiest way to do this is to take a selenium supplement with food. However, it's equally effective to eat 2–3 Brazil nuts each day. According to the USDA, one Brazil nut contains almost 100 mcg of selenium, and a study from New Zealand found that subjects who ate Brazil nuts and those who took a selenium supplement every day for 12 weeks experienced a similar increase of approximately 60% in blood levels of the mineral. However you opt to get selenium, just make sure you're getting it every day. Your muscles, heart, liver and the rest of your body will benefit.

Jim's Nut Note

Eat two Brazil nuts per day and your selenium needs for the day are met, reported one study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Nutrition Info

1 oz. of Brazil nuts provides:

#3 – Peanuts

Peanuts are an excellent source of monounsaturated fat, which helps keep males’ testosterone levels higher. They’re also higher in protein than most other nuts, and low in carbs too. The same pretty much holds for peanut butter, making the peanut one of the healthier, more beneficial nuts you can eat.

Jim's Nut Note

Peanut butter makes a delicious and easy treat to enjoy when following a low-carb diet. Go for all-natural peanut butters to avoid trans fats and less added sugar.

Nutrition Info

1 oz. of peanuts nuts provides:

2 Tbsp of peanut butter provides:

#2 – Walnuts

Walnuts are the only nut that provides a decent amount of omega-3 fats in the plant form of alpha-linolenic acid. Although this is an omega-3 fat, it still needs to be converted in the body to the major omega-3 forms, EPA and DHA. So be sure to still get ample omega-3 fats from fish and Omega JYM to cover your bases. Walnuts have also been shown to have considerable heart-health benefits, affecting everything from the elasticity of blood vessels (due to their ability to aid nitric oxide production) to improving the ratio of good choleterol to bad.

Jim's Nut Note

Many people don't like walnuts' bitter taste. A great and delicious way to include walnuts in your diet (covering up most of the bitterness) is to add a half-ounce of walnuts to a cup of skyr or Greek yogurt along with some honey.

Nutrition Info

1 oz of walnuts provides:

#1 – Almonds

Of all the nuts, almonds have the most going for them. They’re fairly high in protein, and half of their carbs come from fiber. Plus, several studies have found that eating almonds boosts heart health, primarily because of the monounsaturated fat, vitamin E and magnesium content. Research even suggests that consuming almonds can aid fat loss, finding that subjects eating 3 ounces of almonds per day lost over 50% more weight, 50% more body fat, and 50% more waist size than subjects getting similar calorie amount from complex carbs.

Jim's Nut Note

Watch out for products that take a perfectly healthy almond and add sugar to it with delicious-sounding flavors. I recommend steering clear of anything that says "Honey Roasted" or "BBQ"—this goes for any nut, actually.

Nutrition Info

1 oz of almonds provides:

References

Lauretani, F., et al. Association of low plasma selenium concentrations with poor muscle strength in older community-dwelling adults: the InCHIANTI Study. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 86(2): 347-352, 2007.

Thomson, C. D., et al. Brazil nuts: an effective way to improve selenium status. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 87: 379-384, 2008.

The Best Organic Foods

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines "organic" as foods that are produced without antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering. Organic farmers are required to adhere to certain soil and water conservation methods and to rules about the humane treatment of animals.

Definitely sounds like the way to go, right? But when you're on a tight budget, buying organic foods (which tend to be pricier than their non-organic counterparts) can seem like an unjustifiable luxury. Instead of abandoning them entirely, though, a better option is to funnel your funds toward the ones that offer the best bang for your buck—those that boast real body-building benefits. Here's a rundown of the organic foods that are worth every penny:

Organic Best Buy #1 – Produce

In 2007, the nonprofit Environmental Working Group surveyed the 43 most popularly consumed fruits and vegetables and ranked each one based on how tainted with pesticides samples were. It found that there were 12 types of produce, termed the "Dirty Dozen," that were the most deeply affected. These included: peaches, apples, bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes. This means that even if you can't manage to buy all your produce organic, at least invest in organic versions of these 12 fruits and vegetables.

Studies also show that certain types of produce, including tomatoes, broccoli and berries (such as blackberries, blueberries, strawberries and raspberries) contain more antioxidants in the organic versions than in their standard counterparts. Since antioxidants not only enhance your health, but muscle recovery as well, you'd be smart to spend a little extra for these organic items.

Organic Best Buy #2 – Dairy

Also worth spending extra for is organic dairy. Research shows that organic dairy products such as milk, cottage cheese, yogurt and cheeses contain higher amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, as well as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), than regular dairy products. Since both of these can help to simultaneously burn more body fat and build more muscle, you'd be wise to splurge in the dairy aisle.

Organic Best Buy #3 – Beef

Organic beef is also a better choice for the fitness-minded individual. Like milk from organic dairy cows, the muscles (that's steak on your plate) from organic cattle are richer in CLA and omega-3 fatty acids than they are from conventional cattle. In addition, organic beef contains double the beta-carotene and three times the vitamin E (two critical antioxidants for hard-training individuals) than conventional cattle.

Get Hydrated

Regardless of how much you know or don't know about nutrition, it's likely that you know the cardinal rule about water: That you need a lot of it! Our bodies are about 60%-70% water, depending on the individual, and water is critical for numerous processes in the body. Plus, it keeps the muscles full and large by filling the cells; that's what we call cell volumization. In fact, research shows that not drinking enough water can decrease muscle strength and muscle growth. Do I have your attention yet?

You may be surprised to hear that water may be your best ally in fighting body fat. After all, it's just water with no added thermogenic ingredients, right? Well, yes and no. Numerous studies support water as an effective aid in losing body fat. German researchers discovered that when they had subjects drink 0.5 liters (about two cups) of cold water it boosted their metabolic rate by about 30%. The researchers estimated that if you drank about two cups of cold water before breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for a year, you'd burn 17,400 extra calories, which translates into a little more than five pounds of body fat. The same German team repeated the study a couple years later and found similar results. The effect appears to be mainly due to an increased release of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter/hormone that revs up your body's metabolism and fat burning.

Another study by Virginia Tech researchers had two groups of 24 subjects follow a low-calorie diet for 12 weeks. One group drank two cups of water prior to their meals and the other group did not. The VaTech team reported at the 240th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) that those who drank the water before meals not only ate less food, but also dropped 16 pounds over the course of the study; those not drinking water before meals lost only about 11 pounds.

One study performed at Old Dominion University tested the one-rep max on the bench press of weight-trained men while they were either normally hydrated or while slightly dehydrated. The researchers reported that when the men were dehydrated, their one-rep max was significantly less than when they were normally hydrated. They also discovered that the leaner the subjects were, the more that dehydration negatively affected their strength.

Since those who train are typically much leaner than the average Joe, this should concern you (I'm assuming most anyone reading this trains regularly), especially when you're in a "get-lean" phase.

The Benefits of Adequate Hydration Are Well-Proven

Another study, this one from the University of Connecticut (UCONN), tested the number of reps weight-trained men could complete during a squat workout that consisted of six sets of squats using 80% of their one-rep maxes (a weight they could complete for about eight reps) in two different states of hydration: Normally hydrated and slightly dehydrated.

The UCONN team found that when the men were slightly dehydrated, they weren't able to complete as many reps on a majority of the six sets as compared to when they were normally hydrated. Similarly, a study by Chicago State University researchers also found that when subjects were slightly dehydrated, they had less leg and arm power (about 15%-20% less) than when they were normally hydrated.

If less strength and power aren't enough to persuade you to drink more water, then how about testosterone levels? A second study by UCONN researchers measured a group of men's testosterone and cortisol levels after a squat workout while being normally hydrated or slightly dehydrated. They reported that being dehydrated significantly dropped their testosterone levels while simultaneously boosting their levels of the catbolic hormone cortisol after the workout.

Having less strength, power and endurance, not to mention lower testosterone and higher cortisol levels, should really have you alarmed. This is especially true when you consider that many of the studies found that subjects were weaker when their drop in body water was as little as 1.5% of their body weight (that's only three pounds for a 200-pound guy). Your body can easily drop three pounds of water in just a few hours, depending on how much you're sweating and how much you're drinking. This could drop your strength, power, endurance and ability to recover and grow after workouts.

My Hydration Recommendation

To avoid even slight dehydration (and therefore the loss of muscle strength and size), be sure you're drinking an adequate amount of fluids each day. I recommend that you drink one gallon (128 ounces) of water daily. This also happens to be the water recommendation set by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) for most men.

On days you train, especially when it's hot, you should shoot for even more water—I say 1.5 gallons on these days. But remember, that fluid doesn't have to come just from pure water. The water you get in tea, coffee and other drinks also counts.

And don't forget to include the water you use for your Pro JYM shakes as well as Pre JYM and Post JYM. You should also shoot for a good 20-30 ounces (almost 1 liter) of water before you train to make sure you're properly hydrated for your workout. And of course, continue drinking during your workout and after. Shoot for another 20-35 ounces after training.

References

Jones, L. C., et al. Active dehydration impairs upper and lower body anaerobic muscular power. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Resarch, 2008 Mar;22(2):455-463.

Judelson DA, et al. Effect of hydration state on resistance exercise-induced endocrine markers of anabolism, catabolism, and metabolism. J Appl Physiol. 2008 Sep;105(3):816-24.

 

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