Muscle Building Foods – Quinoa


Quinoa Salad with cucumbers, peppers and other veggies

Quinoa Salad with cucumbers, peppers and other veggies

I first heard about quinoa back in 2004 or 2005 when one of my clients said he got a salad with some kind of grain for lunch at Whole Foods. He told me that it was high in protein. When he told me it was quinoa, I had no idea what he was talking about, but figured it was like most other plant based proteins and it was incomplete. I told him that he should’ve got some chicken breast or another lean meat with it because even though it was high in protein most grains were incomplete proteins. He told me that the person at the market told him it was a indeed a complete protein. I was intrigued by what he told me and was surprised I had never heard of it before. I knew I needed to do some research.  I found it was a good source of carbohydrates and it did have some protein, and to my surprise, it was a complete protein.


You might have first heard about this carb in the recent Bud Light commercial that is posted above, and no, it doesn’t taste like a dirty old tree branch and no, it’s not a loofa.  Quinoa is actually a seed and not a grain. Taste-wise it is very similar to rice or couscous. The good thing about quinoa though is that it has more protein than rice or couscous.

Even though I and many people have known about quinoa for a relatively short period of time, it has been around for over 3,000 years. It is native to South America and is becoming more and more popular through the globe. The Incas believed that quinoa increased the stamina of their warriors.

High in protein. I would classify quinoa as a carb not a protein, but for a carb quinoa actually has a lot of protein and the good thing is that it is a complete protein. This makes quinoa a good food choice for vegetarians.

Uncooked Quinoa

Uncooked Quinoa

Plant-based complete proteins are actually pretty rare, as most plant-based proteins are incomplete which means it is missing one or more of the essential amino acids. Quinoa has all of the essential amino acids and offers 8 grams of protein per cooked cups. This is almost double the 5 grams that a cup of brown rice provides. Quinoa is also high in the amino acid lysine which helps to build and repair tissue.

Good source of carbs.  Since quinoa is a carbohydrate obviously it should be high in carbs, but not all carbs are created equal. The carbs in quinoa are made up of starches and fiber which means it has no sugars. This means the carbohydrates in quinoa are relatively low on the glycemic index with a score of 38. Compare that to high glycemic carbs like white rice with 70 or French fries with 78. This is a good thing since foods with a higher glycemic index score causes the body to release insulin to combat the higher glucose levels caused by the sugars. Higher blood insulin levels are bad because the insulin helps to create and store body fat. This is probably more important to people who want to lose fat, but most people I know who want to get bigger want to increase their lean muscle, not put on a lot of fat along with the muscle.

Loaded with many nutrients. Quinoa is a good source of many nutrients which include manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, folate, iron and riboflavin.  All of these nutrient are responsible for important functions in the body and they help building muscle either directly or indirectly. Magnesium helps with muscle contraction and relaxation. Folate helps with the metabolism of amino acids.

Gluten free. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye and barley. It is estimated that 15 percent of people in the United States are affected by gluten either by celiac disease or gluten sensitivity. To avoid intestinal problems it becomes important for these individuals to avoid foods with gluten. Quinoa is  a great option since they provide high quality carbohydrates without the gluten.

Quinoa served as a side dish

Quinoa served as a side dish

High in fiber. This is a benefit that is more about health rather than building muscle, but fiber provides some good benefits to the body like reducing your risk for heart disease and diabetes. Quinoa gives the body 5 grams of dietary fiber per cooked cup. The amount of fiber once again beats out brown rice which yields about 3.5 grams of fiber per cooked cup.

No cholesterol. This benefit is also more about health, but as with all foods from plant sources, quinoa contains no cholesterol. High levels of cholesterol in the blood increases the risk for heart disease. For some people dietary cholesterol has very little impact on blood cholesterol levels. For others, keeping dietary cholesterol intake low is very important. Most of the good sources of complete proteins are from animal sources so they contain cholesterol. Quinoa is a complete protein food will not raise your dietary cholesterol.

Quinoa is a great carbohydrate that has a lot of benefits and can be included in most diets whether your goal is to gain muscle or lose fat. It can replace rice or pasta as a starch but unlike the most starches it also provides complete protein. Each cup of cooked quinoa has 222 calories, 4 grams of fat, 8 grams of protein and 39 grams of carbs. This ratio is about 71% carbs, 14% fat and 15% protein, which I think is pretty good for a starch.