Exercise is important if you’re trying to be stronger, or you know, just maintain a healthy lifestyle. What you do at the gym is crucial for getting toned and fit, but what you do in the kitchen also counts. Beyond just eating healthy and not eating too much (aka the ways you’ve learned how you should eat since your mother was making you all eat your broccoli at the dinner table), there are certain tricks and tips to getting more muscle tone and strength just from what (and how) we eat.

Certain foods can either hinder building muscle (and ruin all the hard work you did at your 8am spin class), or bring blood flow to the muscles, which increases their efficiency and helps them repair faster (so that 8am spin class just got a lot more productive). Read on for tips on how to eat to promote toned muscles and lose unnecessary body fat through your diet.

 

 

Base your diet around foods that help to scorch unnecessary fat and tone your muscles

Introducing certain nutrient-rich foods to your diet can help your muscles grow more defined and shed pounds in stubborn problem areas like belly fat. Millet and quinoa have a high magnesium content that enhances blood flow to your muscles and gives your body longer lasting energy (so you can do an extra rep or two). Seeds like hemp and chia have the ideal combination of omega-3s and fiber, which work together to strengthen muscles, and produce like bananas, beets, mushrooms, and avocados are superfoods in strengthening muscles and toning the body. For more foods, click here.

A muscle-toning diet doesn’t mean you can stop exercising altogether (since exercise is crucial for your wellbeing), but you can be rest assured that if you skip a leg day because you’re feeling too tired to make it to the gym, you can snack on some quinoa instead, knowing you’re still getting toned.

 

 

Avoid the foods that store fat

Our bodies digest by delivering the nutrients from the food to our entire body, in order to do everything from sustaining our energy to helping our hair grow. But when foods don’t have beneficial nutrients, they’re not digested properly and end up being stored in our body as fat. It’s no secret that fried foods, processed snacks, or refined sugar have no nutritional value, so these foods are the first to pack on extra, and unhealthy, fat.

Diet sodas are also loaded with chemicals that tell your body to store the fat, especially around the midsection. Statistically, diet soda drinkers have a higher percentage of belly flab than non-drinkers (according to a study done in the Obesity journal). So next time you find yourself reaching for a can of Diet Coke, pick up a sparkling water or iced tea instead.

 

 

Know the foods that irritate your digestive system

If you often feel bloated, uncomfortable, or have stomach pain, it might be worth it to check out a low FODMAP diet. FODMAPs are short chain carbohydrates that aren’t easily absorbed in the small intestine and can be found in foods like onions, garlic, broccoli, and cherries. Some people have more tolerance to FODMAPs than others, but it is one of the most common reasons for undiagnosed stomach pain, indigestion, and even IBS.

But no digestive system is like any other. Our bodies respond differently to certain foods, so while dairy or gluten may be fine for most people, it might be what’s causing excess gas and bloating in your body. Keep a journal for a few weeks to track what you’re eating and how you feel after each meal. Try to identify the foods that are making you feel sluggish, uncomfortable, or cause irregularities in bowel movements. Eliminating the foods that are specifically bad for your body, or at least reducing them, might make the biggest difference in how your body looks and feels.

 

When you eat is almost just as important as what you eat.

I love a late night pizza delivery just as much as the next girl, but our bodies, unfortunately, do not love it as much. Whatever we eat late at night, healthy or not, is realistically unnecessary because our body does not need any more energy. On top of that, our digestive systems are not entirely up to par when we’re asleep, because our digestive systems (and muscles) have to reset and repair for the next day. Experts recommend to avoid eating anytime after two hours before bedtime. However, deprivation is never a good idea, late night or not, so if you’re feeling too hungry to sleep, reach for a small bowl of high fiber cereal or oatmeal, which contains the good complex carbs that your body releases slowly, and can be found to even aid in sleep quality.

Not eating breakfast might seem like a way to save calories, but not having a high-protein breakfast every day weakens muscles and causes crashes in energy, as well as more cravings throughout the day. Make sure to eat within one hour of waking up to fire up your digestive system, and you’ll have enough energy throughout the day that you won’t even have to question whether or not to go for a run after work, and your muscles will be efficiently working throughout the day. Say hello to a stronger and more toned you (no gym necessary).