Back pain, jaw tension, leg cramps — so many common health problems involve your muscles, those powerful tissues that make up about 40 percent of your body. And yet, “most people don't think about their muscles until something goes wrong,” says Michelle Schoffro Cook, doctor of natural medicine, holistic nutritionist, and author of The Ultimate pH Solution (HarperCollins, 2008). But because a loss of muscle mass and proper function may cause you to be less active, it's essential that you nourish, strengthen, and stretch your muscles every day. Doing so can help prevent serious health issues such as osteoporosis, heart disease, and even cancer, suggests Robert R. Wolfe, PhD, a researcher at the University of Texas in Galveston. Adding the following steps to your daily routine can keep you feeling strong from head to toe.
Eat muscle-building minerals
One of the most vital aspects of muscle health is the tissues' ability to contract and relax properly. Because magnesium and calcium are essential to those functions, Cook recommends loading up on both every day. Dark green leafy vegetables offer a hefty dose of magnesium and calcium, as well as potassium, which is crucial for muscle growth. “You can never eat too many greens,” asserts Cook, who encourages having a salad full of arugula at lunch and sautéed kale for dinner. (See “Mineral-Rich Foods for Muscles,” page 44, for information about the mineral content in particular foods.) “It can be very hard to get enough calcium and magnesium, even if you're extremely conscientious with your diet,” says Cook. For insurance, supplement with 100-200 mg of each mineral, twice daily at mealtimes.
Boost your B vitamins
Dubbed “nature's energizers” by Cook, B vitamins help supply cells with the energy they need to function. By supporting the nervous system, they also help improve communication between muscles and the brain. Moreover, taking a B-complex supplement may help reduce leg cramps in pregnant women, according to a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Gynecology and Obstetrics. Get plenty of B-rich foods, including bananas, fortified cereals, and chickpeas, says Cook, and take a 50 mg B-complex supplement twice daily with meals. “B vitamins can increase your energy level, so it's better to take them with breakfast and lunch, and not within five hours of bedtime,” she cautions.