In a never-ending quest to achieve a massive musculature, many try to take advantage of every available muscle-promoting food they can get their hands on. One of the foods that consistently wiggles itself into the diet plan of aspiring weight lifters is peanut butter. Due to being found naturally in nature and delivered to the consumer with minimal processing, many automatically jump to the conclusion that peanuts, and it’s derivative peanut butter, must be “good for you”. Add this to the fact that peanut butter is usually surrounded with praise for it’s high protein content and monounsaturated fat, and you’ve good a grade A “health food” and “muscle builder”.
Just how “good for you” really is peanut butter? Should you be eating it if you are trying to gain muscle mass? What about for losing weight?
This article will address these questions (and more), and provide clear advice on whether or not you should include peanut butter into your diet plan.
What exactly is peanut butter?
First we have to establish what “kind” of peanut butter I am referring to during this article. For simplicity reasons, I will assume that we are talking about the best, most minimally processed peanut butter you can find – pretty much just mashing up peanuts. Thus, since peanut butter tends to have varying (and usually, a worse) nutritional rating due to added sugar and/or fat, talking about almost pure peanuts will give us our best-case scenario.
Most peanuts and organic, unaltered peanut butter contain somewhere around the following macronutrients depending on the brand:
1/4 cup peanuts:
– Fat: 14g
– Carb: 5g
– Pro: 7g
Total calories: 160
Calories from fat: 130
Right off the bat, we can see the peanuts are mostly fat.
130 out of the 160 calories come from fat. Most of the other calories come from protein.
About half of the 14g of fat comes from monounsaturated fat, while the other half comes from polyunsaturated fat and saturated fat.
So, is peanut butter “good for you”?
One of the main reasons that people will buy peanuts in the first place is their belief that it is good for them, whatever that means. Arguably, the best part of peanut butter is the monounsaturated fat, but there are still better options, such as olive oil.
The other main reason that protein gets a good rep is due to its supposedly high protein content. As we have already seen, only 30 calories remain in 1/4 cup as available for carbs and protein after the fat calories have been subtracted out. For all of the calories that peanuts contain, its tiny 7g of protein is nothing spectacular in any regard.
Even more importantly, peanuts do not contain all of the essential amino acids, making it an incomplete protein source on its own and rendering it almost useless for muscle growth unless taken with some other source of protein.
Thus, peanut butter does not even come close to some other natural, plant-based protein sources such as soy for adding muscle mass when taken in isolation.
It is important to remember, though, that this does not mean that peanut butter should not be taken or cannot promote muscle growth. It just means that you should eat peanuts around the same time as eating another, preferably complete, protein source, such as soy, whey, casein, milk, meat, etc.
So, is peanut butter “good for you”? That largely depends on your definition, but there is no real advantage for whopping down a ton of it unless you really need to increase your calorie intake. Do not think in terms of black or white and label it either 100% evil or health-magic food. Just realize that it is an alright, minimally processed food with some monounsaturated fat and an alright source of protein if eaten with another protein source.
Peanut butter for muscle mass?
As we have already discussed, the protein in peanuts is incomplete and should not be eaten in isolation for muscle growth. At the same time, if you have a hard time gaining weight and/or consume too little fat on your own naturally, then adding peanut butter might be a good option for you. You will definitely increase your calories and fat intake, making it easier for you to eat over maintenance level and thus easier to build muscle mass.
On the other hand, if you are concerned about adding too much fat when trying to add muscle mass, you might not want to shoot for a ton of calories over maintenance level. In this case, eating a lot of peanut butter might not be the smartest thing to do, as it is easy to underestimate the amount of calories you are consuming since it is so dense in calories.
Furthermore, if you are thinking about using peanut butter as a source of extra calories during your “cheat days” or “cheat meals”, think again. The main reason for a planned cheat day on a diet is to restore falling hormone levels so that fat-burning continues at a somewhat normal pace. One of the main hormones that we are trying to bring back up to a more normal level is leptin. It is important to note that while leptin is released from fat cells, increasing your carbohydrate intake is the best way to bring its levels back up to normal in a short time period – adding more fat to your diet does not affect leptin production much.
Therefore, you should focus on actually decreasing your fat intake and raising your carb intake during cheat meals or cheat days. This will allow the “cheat” to foster more positive results in less time and allow the diet to continue working as planned. In this case, do not add peanut butter to increase your calories.
Peanut butter for losing weight?
You can probably guess what the conclusion is already going to be on this one.
While there is nothing inherently fat-promoting about peanuts or peanut butter (like virtually any food…), there are definite reasons you might want to avoid eating peanut butter when trying to lose weight.
The high density of calories in peanut butter makes it extremely easy to over-consume. Fat takes a longer time to tell our body that it is full than protein (and protein makes you feel more full in general), so if you are not diligently tracking how many peanuts or how much peanut butter you are eating, it is all too likely that you will eat too much.
Ultimately, you would have an easier time with your diet if you chose more filling foods. Something like chicken for protein and cottage cheese for fat and protein would tend to fill you up more, provide higher quality protein, and be harder to over-consume. If you are concerned about your lacking monounsaturated fat intake, use olive oil, which you can easily measure out or just guess.
There is nothing wrong with having some peanut butter every once in a while on a diet, especially if you are on a low-carb diet. The main thing to be aware of is its caloric density, so just watch how much you are consuming.
Lastly, it should be mentioned again that through this article I was assuming that peanut butter had the same nutritional profile as peanuts, for simplicity reasons, so I could talk about both at one time. However, most peanut butters, especially the popular ones, are more highly processed and generally contain added sugar and/or extra oil, which further increases the calories it contains per serving.