Muscle Up Your Meals - Muscle & Performance

Muscle Up Your Meals

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Batman and Robin, chocolate and peanut butter, clean and jerk. Some pairs are meant to be. The same also holds true for various nutrients.

“Food synergy” is one of the latest nutrition buzzwords, and it occurs when different nutrients work in tandem to create an even bigger benefit than if either was ingested solo. This exciting science can be applied to several supplements. Try combining these five good-chemistry couples to get more bang for your supplement buck.

Dynamic Duo No. 1: Green-Tea Extract and Citrus

Now we know why restaurants always bring us lemons when we order tea. Studies conducted by food scientists at Purdue University have found that ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C) from citrus reduces the breakdown of catechin compounds such as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG) within the digestive system, making them more available to the body. These powerful antioxidant catechins, found in brewed green tea and green-tea extract, are believed to provide a myriad of health benefits, such as reduced heart disease, improved bone strength and reduced risk of certain cancers. Moreover, studies suggest that catechins may prevent weight gain and improve exercise endurance by stimulating fat burning while you’re sweating it out.

Do this: When taking your green-tea extract, chase it with orange or grapefruit juice or water spiked with freshly squeezed lemon juice.

Dynamic Duo No. 2: Vitamin D and Fat

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin found in very few foods, and it is also made in our bodies when the skin is exposed to the ultraviolet rays of the big yellow orb above. The current recommended daily intake of vitamin D is 200 IU, but many health experts recommend an intake of at least 1,000 IU, especially during winter when production from the sun isn’t much of an option for most Americans. That’s a level virtually impossible to get from food.

Beyond its role as calcium’s wingman, building break-resistant bones, vitamin D has been purported to help protect against a list of maladies as thick as a Tokyo phone book: diabetes, hypertension and Alzheimer’s, to name just a few. In fact, a 2007 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that subjects who supplemented with a daily dose of 300 to 2,000 IU of vitamin D had lower mortality rates.

Because vitamin D is fat-soluble, supplements with this sunshine vitamin should be consumed with a source of dietary fat for maximum absorption.

Do this: Take your daily vitamin D supplement with meals that contain healthy fat from sources like nuts, avocados or olive oil. You could also consume it with a glass of 2 percent or whole milk. (A perk is that milk contains vitamin D.)

Dynamic Duo No. 3: Arginine and Strawberries

The amino acid arginine is a known nitric-oxide booster — it’s readily converted to NO in the body. NO helps expand blood vessels, allowing more blood flow to skeletal muscles for improved delivery of oxygen, anabolic hormones and nutrients such as amino acids. This accelerates muscle recovery and growth in response to training. In fact, research has found that arginine supplementation may reduce body fat while increasing muscle mass. Preliminary findings from a study conducted at the University of Athens Medical School in Greece suggests that when vitamin C is taken with an arginine supplement, it results in noticably greater levels of NO than arginine taken alone. Vitamin C functions as an antioxidant, which may protect NO from degredation by pesky free radicals.

Do this: Before a workout, take your L-arginine supplement with a protein shake that includes fresh or frozen strawberries — they have more vitamin C than other common berries, such as blueberries or raspberries.

Dynamic Duo No. 4: Creatine and Chocolate Milk

By now, saying that creatine can help you pack on muscle and hoist more poundage is a Hummer-size duh. One way it does this is by increasing levels of insulin-like growth factor 1, a compound critical for stimulating growth in muscles. Many creatine powders come with instructions to take it with fruit juice. That’s because the sugars in juice cause a release of insulin, which transports creatine into muscle cells, setting the stage for muscle growth.

Do this: Instead of juice, try taking your creatine with chocolate milk. Like a glass of OJ, the sugars in the drink you guzzled as a tyke will boost creatine uptake. As a bonus, the conclusion of a 2009 study out of the United Kingdom showed that carbohydrate- and protein-rich chocolate milk is just as good as commercial sports drinks at promoting muscle recovery after exercise. Chocolate milk also contains some sodium, and creatine’s uptake mechanism appears to be sodium based.

Dynamic Duo No. 5: Fish Oil and Merlot

Perhaps no supplement is hotter these days than fish oil — and deservedly so. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil work their way into cell membranes, where they safeguard against a boatload of conditions, including cancer, mental decline, vision loss and heart disease. They may even help you win the war on flab. So take heed of a 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study that discovered subjects who consumed as little as one glass of wine a day had higher plasma and red blood cell levels of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the two blockbuster omega-3 fats in fish oil. Interestingly, a positive association was not seen for beer or spirits, leaving the scientists to surmise that rather than alcohol, other components of wine, such as heart-healthy polyphenol antioxidants, are responsible for the benefits.

Do this: When you decide to down a glass of wine with a meal, don’t forget a fish-oil capsule for dessert. Prefer chardonnay over merlot? According to a 2008 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry study, white wine contains its own distinct polyphenol compounds that give it the same heart-chummy qualities as its red cousin.

Prime Pairings
Try these supplements when using the advice in this article.

The Vitamin Shoppe Green Tea Extract
Source Naturals Green Tea Extract
The Vitamin Shoppe Vitamin D3
MHP NO-Bomb
MRI NO2 Black
Dymatize Nutrition Xpand AM/PM Perpetual Pump
BodyTech 100% Pure Creatine Monohydrate
Applied Nutriceuticals NeoVar
ProMera Health Con-Cret
Optimum Nutrition Pre-Load Creatine Complex
Nordic Naturals Ultimate Omega
The Vitamin Shoppe Omega-3 Fish Oil