No I’m not talking about whey, or some mega mass concoction of mostly sugar and fat that is sold as a mass gainer. I’m not even talking about all you can eat buffets or two for one burger sales. I’m talking about the food that I see mentioned more than any other when it comes to muscle-building, fat loss, cravings, and just generally anything fitness related. That food is peanut butter.
We all knew a post on peanut butter was inevitable at this corner of the internet. If there is a food that is better suited to be crowned the best muscle-building nutrient and fat loss aid, then I haven’t heard of it. It’s a delicious, fast and easy snack or ingredient that is also versatile, and packs a wallop when it comes to its nutritional profile. It’s not that it’s nutrient content is heads above say eggs or avocado for two of many examples, but when muscle growth and fat loss is of precedence, especially when cost is a consideration, then peanut butter can be considered a contender for single best food.
For those of you like myself that follow a year round clean eating lifestyle with varying degrees of restriction depending on the goal at any one time, then peanut butter is an ideal go to food. It has little carbohydrate and is high in fat with a moderate amount of incomplete protein. I’ll get to its wonderful fat content a little later but for now I’d like to take a closer look at its protein make up.
As I just stated, the moderate supply of protein in peanut butter is of the incomplete variety meaning that in order to receive all of the amino acids not produced by the body, it would need to be combined with a complementary protein if you are a vegetarian or especially a vegan. Conveniently enough the bread in the classic peanut butter sandwich is a complementary protein, and when paired with peanut butter all 9 essential amino acids are present. The remaining amino acids are considered nonessential as they can be manufactured in the body. The fact that many of us simply add it to our protein shakes makes the incomplete protein point moot.
Of particular interest to me for many years has been the high content of the amino acid arginine present in peanut butter. Arginine has many important muscle-building attributes such as reducing the healing time of injuries, and it speeds the repair of damaged tissues, both of which apply after a seriously intense bout of weight lifting induced muscle trauma. It also plays a large role in cell division, something you want to occur if you’re trying to grow your muscles.
Another amazing and important contribution arginine makes to both muscle-building and fat loss is something called arginine induced growth hormone release. Although this has yet to be concretely proven, several studies indicate that arginine increases the release of growth hormone due to evidence that suggests that somatostatin’s ability to decrease the release of growth hormone is lessened by arginine.
Growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland, and is a powerful fat mobilizing hormone. It is therefore of great help to decreasing your body fat levels. That’s the real reason it’s so popular with the bodybuilding community. It’s also why I’ve always been curious as to the mechanism behind why so many people are able to consume such large and densely caloric portions of peanut butter while remaining lean. The high levels of arginine may be the answer to that question.
Here’s another peanut butter/arginine contribution: arginine is the immediate precursor to nitric oxide. The same nitric oxide that the bodybuilding supplement companies tell you you’ll get an incredible pump from if you buy their aggressively named nitric oxide production stimulating products. Those products are more or less arginine pills or powders. The nitric oxide acts as a vasodilator, relaxing smooth muscle and increasing blood flow to the muscles. This of course increases the pump feeling, but more importantly helps take away unwanted byproducts and speeds the delivery of healing nutrients for faster muscle recovery.
I’ll just touch on this last important contribution and that is arginine is a necessary precursor for the synthesis of creatine. Creatine increases the formation of adenosine tri phosphate, or our muscles preferred form of energy, in the cells of muscles. I don’t think I need to tell you why that might be useful to someone involved in any activity.
Moving on to another nutrient in abundance in peanut butter and that is biotin. It is essential in the conversion of carbohydrate and fats to energy, and also is important in regenerating damaged muscle tissue. This is of course of important to anyone involved in any athletic activity. Of special interest is the unresolved debate as to whether biotin increases testosterone production. If deficient, then bringing biotin back up to normal plasma levels will increase the production of testosterone. Overtraining has been shown to diminishes certain minerals responsible for hormone production. To be safe, keeping your intake of biotin steady will ensure your testosterone levels remain high in relation to your biotin levels.
Two other important nutrients in peanut butter that are both compromised due to frequent and intense training are magnesium and zinc. Magnesium more so as it is one of the electrolytes lost due to sweating. Both nutrients are also important in maintaining high levels of testosterone. The supplement ZMA, sold as a testosterone booster, is exactly those two nutrients with vitamin B6 added for increased absorption. Studies show a correlation between both zinc and magnesium levels in relation to testosterone levels. Zinc also boosts immune function, an important benefit as well as hard training can suppress your ability to fend off illness.
Copper is also present in peanut butter, and is the third most abundant mineral in the human body. Of particular importance to anyone interested in building strength, copper is an important mineral in the strengthening of tendons. Not really something that we consider when building muscular strength or power, but the tendons job is to connect the muscle to bone across joints that facilitate movement. Tendons need to be healthy and strong to make weight lifting, or any activity for that matter, possible.
Also worth mentioning is vitamin E and resveratrol. Both are antioxidants and great for warding off diseases like various cancers, but interestingly one of resveratrol’s duties is that it improves the function of the mitochondria. Please see my recent post to learn all you need to know about the mitochondria’s role in both fat loss and muscle-building. Resveratrol also protects against diet induced metabolic disorders, which if memory serves correct, those tend to involve the disruption of the mitochondria.
I will also quickly mention that the large amount of fat the makes up a major part of peanut butter is made up of the heart protective mono and polyunsaturated variety. The more of these oils that you consume, the greater the heart protective component. I’ll lastly include the fullness factor that these oils provide as well as the moderate amount of fiber from the peanut butter. Satiety is a major contributor to the compliance of anyone undergoing any form of caloric restriction, so I must mention that as well. The temptation to cheat is greatly lessened if you feel full.
There you have it. The supreme muscle and fat loss nutrient that was created by nature. Well, the peanuts were. It took human ingenuity to crush them up into a butter like substance. Of course all along I’ve been referring to natural peanut butter as opposed to the processed variety which is full of sugar. The benefits will still be the same to a degree but sugar interferes with many metabolic functions, and it’s always best to eat cleanly. Until next time my friends,