Image courtesy of Men's Health

As you enter your 30s, it becomes more challenging to build muscle because growth hormone and testosterone levels naturally start to decline. High blood sugar can compound that problem by hampering the production of both hormones and triggering fat storage. In fact, something as seemingly benign as having a cookie or a couple handfuls of chips late in the evening can undermine your efforts to build muscle.

Here's how: Sleep is when your body does most self-restoration. Crucial to this process are human growth hormone (HGH) and insulin growth factor (IGF-1), which are typically produced at night. IGF-1 is triggered by the presence of HGH and is released by the liver and skeletal muscles to help build and repair tissues. Unfortunately, IGF-1 shares the same receptor sites as insulin, the peptide hormone that regulates carbohydrate and fat metabolism. When insulin is present because you've indulged in a high-carb snack before bed, IGF-1 is pushed aside. Eating carbohydrates at night hampers the muscle-repair process because insulin levels increase, preventing IGF-1 from binding to receptor sites. What to do: Avoid eating carbs after your evening meal and try consuming smaller meals low in high-glycemic carbs throughout the day.

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That's just one effective way to wrestle back control of your blood sugar and optimize your body for building muscle and avoiding weight gain and diabetes all at the same time. Here are seven more:

Fuel body repair with protein

Protein provides the raw material needed to repair your daily tissue damage, not just your muscles after a workout. For example, your body replaces blood cells every 100 days or so. That's a lot of cell turnover, and almost every system in your body is constantly renewing itself. You need to fuel that repair and renewal process by eating protein throughout the day. As a bonus, eating protein also helps you burn more calories because it takes more energy to metabolize protein than carbs (sugar) or fat. We call that the thermogenic effect of food. By limiting simple carbohydrates (cookies, cake) and slightly increasing protein intake you can burn your fat energy stores. (For a complete protein primer, check out Harness the Power of Protein.)

Eat it early

I recommend this to almost every patient: Start each day with a protein-rich breakfast. It sets you up right. If you eat within 30 to 60 minutes of waking, you signal the body to start burning energy. Some good choices for your morning:

  • Greek yogurt with 12 to 15 grams of protein
  • Cottage cheese and berries
  • A protein shake with at least 25 grams of protein combined with fresh or frozen berries
  • Almond butter on whole wheat toast or on a banana
  • Two or three free-range eggs mixed with vegetables
  • Last night's chicken and asparagus leftovers
  • Steel-cut oatmeal with protein powder, flavored with cinnamon

Fill up on fiber

Fiber, like protein and fat, helps you feel full, takes longer to digest, and slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream. It also helps maintain digestive health and lower cholesterol. The daily recommendation is around 25 grams of fiber. Eating lots of vegetables will help you get there. Other high-fiber foods are apples, beans, and nuts. Grains like oatmeal (steel-cut is best) and quinoa are also good. (Here are more foods with amazing -- and scientifically proven -- health benefits: Check out the 40 Foods with Superpowers.)