Secret Muscle Foods

Eggs - Muscle-Building, Immunity, Vision

One egg provides more than 6 grams of protein and 78 calories. They contain A and B vitamins to enhance immunity, nerve response, and vision. Macedonia recommends eating whole eggs only three times a week, because of high cholesterol content.

Crack it open: Make a minute omelet. Coat a microwavable plate with non-stick spray. Mix up a tablespoon of milk with 2-3 eggs, add a few shakes of garlic powder and basil, then spread on the plate. Nuke for 1-minute. When it's still hot, add a slice of cheese and as many cooked vegetables as you wish. Serve with two slices of whole-wheat toast.

Waffles - Cardio Fuel

Waffles are great breakfast choice if players are going to be running in the morning, since eggs could turn stomachs. They provide carbs for quick energy, and make a nice "plate" for fruit. Skolnik recommends players top waffles with fruit and nuts, to sneak in important vitamins and more protein. The waffles should be cooked with enriched wheat flour, and go easy on the butter.

Iron it out: Try this recipe for buttermilk waffles. Use a waffle iron. Top with blueberries, strawberries, bananas, and nuts instead of syrup loaded with high-fructose corn syrup.

Fruit – Hydration

Fruit is one of the most important components of the players' diets because it helps them stay hydrated in the heat, while providing a great source of carbohydrates, potassium, fiber, and no fat.

Smooth transition: Smoothies are the best way for you to get in a lot of nutrient-dense calories in liquid form. Especially since heat suppresses appetite and you may not want to eat a big, hot meal. Pick up a large bag of frozen fruit, instead of letting it ferment in the fridge, and it'll always be on hand. Here's one of the Bengal's favorite smoothie recipes.

Milk – Strong Bones, Muscle Contraction

Good for the obvious reason of building strong bones through calcium, milk also assists the players in muscle contraction through high magnesium and potassium content, which can control nerve function and prevent muscle cramping. That means less twitching at night when they're trying to fall asleep after a hard day of training.

Instant Breakfast: If you're going to work out, add a packet of chocolate or strawberry Carnation Instant Breakfast to a glass of skim or 1 percent milk, or a smoothie, for flavor and more nutrients, Macedonio says. Active people should do this because it provides extra energy, carbs and sodium, which you'll need during a tough workout.

Chicken Breast – Lean Muscle, Energy, Memory

If you want to gain lean muscle mass, eat lean muscle mass. Grilled boneless, skinless chicken breast, is one of the easiest elements of any meal. One serving (about 3 oz.) is only 142 calories, yet it provides close to 27 g of protein, and only 3 grams of fat. It helps athletes retain muscle mass and is a good source of B vitamins, which provide energy and aid in memory, so players can memorize the playbook.

Easy does it: Smother chicken in spicy peanut sauce, barbecue sauce, or hot sauce, then cook on the grill. Skolnik and Bonci recommend topping chicken with pesto. Buy the pre-made version from Contadina. Keep it fresh by spooning two-tablespoon amounts into ice cube trays and freeze. Pop one out if you're cooking a portion for one.

Fish - Anti-inflammation, Muscle Repair, Immune Function

Swordfish, tuna, salmon, and halibut are all big sellers with NFL players. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish will help their bodies recover faster from the wear and tear of strenuous exercise. "We encourage foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, because they help muscles repair faster, and improve immune function," Macedonio says.

Protein power: Fish is an excellent source of protein and players usually eat big portions of 8-16 ounces, Bonci says. The cooking method is very important, as frying it can counteract the positive effects on the body. Always broil, bake, or grill. Here's a recipe for pan-seared and baked halibut with sauteed vegetables, from the Bengals' kicker, Shayne Graham, who, Macedonio says, is an excellent cook.

Vegetables – Hydration, Muscle Repair

Like fruit, vegetables are a staple food group for replacing water lost through sweat. Plant sterols also aid in muscle repair. Macedonio gets players to eat them by flavoring them using low-fat marinades like balsamic vinaigrette, or olive oil with garlic and onion. Broiling, roasting, or grilling are the easiest ways to cook vegetables to retain the flavor.

Skewer thing: Cut up big chunks of zucchini, summer squash, pepper, and/or onion. Marinate in balsamic vinaigrette for 20-30 minutes, then skewer on wooden or iron sticks. Preheat grill, then place skewers on grill for 15 minutes until vegetables are soft. You can add cut-up, marinated chicken and shrimp to the skewers for dinner on a stick.

Pasta and Rice – Energy, Speed Recovery

Whole-grain pasta and rice play a huge part in team diets because they're easy to prepare for large groups and they provide excellent sources of carbohydrates to give energy for exercise and speed recovery afterward.

Stir it up: NFL nutritionists love stir-frys because they're an easy, tasty way to sneak whole-grain products, numerous vegetables, and protein sources into one dish. To make simple stir-fry at home, Bonci recommends this easy recipe, a Steelers' team favorite, over whole-grain brown rice.

Sports Drinks – Hydration, Prevent Muscle Cramping

Players are constantly drinking Gatorade on the field. Staying hydrated is a key issue for all teams, especially since the heat index is set to soar this week. Athletes lose pounds of body weight through sweat, and sports drinks replace lost sodium and electrolytes, which are crucial to avoid muscle cramping.

Drink it up: Everyone should know his sweat rate. Before exercise, weigh yourself. Afterward, get back on the scale, and determine how much water was lost by the difference between your before and after weights. In one hour, an athlete can lose up to two liters of sweat, Skolnik says. Hydrate by drinking 1-to-1.5 times the weight lost in fluid ounces.

Sodium-Rich Foods – Retain Water, Prevent Muscle Cramping

If you're working out and losing a lot of fluids, it's a good idea to include more sodium-rich foods to help you retain water and avoid muscle cramping.  Skolnik recommends pickles, salted nuts, and pretzels. Macedonio suggests soup. "We serve soup at lunch and dinner, because the right amount of sodium prevents muscle cramping," Macedonio says.

Salt mine: Broth-based soups hydrate you through the liquid base and added vegetables. Because it is very hot outside, Macedonio recommends Gazpacho, a cold soup made with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and onion. Here's a delicious, easy recipe to get you started.

Ice Cream – Cool Down Treat

Because no diet plan would survive without something sweet, NFL players eat ice cream after dinner. It provides calcium, cools them off, and gets more fluid into their bodies. But there's a limit. The Steelers grab ice cream to-go after dinner, Bonci says, that way they can't pile it on or go back for seconds.

The scoop: Always choose frozen yogurt or low-fat ice cream. Ice cream is better than other treats, because it's not as heavy, calorically, as cookies or cake, Bonci says. "Plus it takes longer to eat, so you enjoy it more," she adds. Eat it on a cone, that way you can only take a small amount to avoid it from melting all over you.


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