Anabolic and catabolic states are two normal sides of the same coin called metabolism. Simply, anabolism refers to building up components in the body, a process that requires energy, whereas catabolism refers to breaking down components in the body, a process that generates energy.

Here are a few examples, so it's easier to understand. "Amino acids are combined to build proteins for muscle growth, which is anabolism," says Maggie Moon, MS, RDN, Different parts are coming together to form a unified piece to spark change within the body.

"Examples of catabolism are the digestion and the breakdown of food into energy, or the breakdown of muscle when you don’t eat enough food," she says. Here, you're using energy to get something done in the body, as you need the resource to help your cells function properly.

While catabolism happens naturally, there are a few ways to increase your anabolic state's capabilities. "The anabolic state helps muscles grow, bones build, and more. To optimize the anabolic state, the body has to: one, have enough food; and two: have a balance of nutrient-dense foods," says Moon.

Here are some of the best foods to optimize the building phase:

Fatty fish

Eating salmon, anchovies, trout, and herring will help fuel the anabolic state, and these sources offer omega 3 fatty acids to lower inflammation in the body and a steady stream of protein to improve the building process. (Need inspiration? Try this recipe.)

Greek or Skyr yogurt

These yogurts are high in protein and amino acids to stimulate growth in muscles. They also contain a lot of calcium, which is particularly beneficial for building bone mass and lowering risk of fractures and osteoporosis. Try a yogurt with fresh berries for an easy breakfast.


Tofu and edamame are great choices. Plus, they are versatile. You can make tofu stir fry for an easy weeknight dinner or snack on edamame in the daytime.


Whole grains like farro, quinoa, barley, and sorghum are great for both morning oatmeal bowls and for keeping the metabolism revved and the anabolic state in high gear when it's time to build or repair muscles. So, having a grain bowl post-workout could be an excellent way to recover.


Veggies like sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, kale, and carrots will do the trick. Not only are these high in antioxidants to protect the bones, skin, and heart and to reduce inflammation, but they also have protein to help the body thrive in an anabolic condition. (Try this macrobowl, which uses a bunch of vegetables and plant-based protein to fuel the body.)

Eating a combination of these foods together, versus in isolation, can keep the body primed for optimal anabolic function, when it comes time to build and grow, she says.

You might also like: Don't Eat These Foods Before Your Workout, Here's Why

About the Author

Isadora Baum

Isadora Baum is a freelance writer, author, and certified health coach. She writes for various magazines, such as Bustle, SHAPE, Men's Health, Women's Health, Health, Prevention, POPSUGAR, Runner's World, Reader's Digest, and more. She is also the author of 5-Minute Energy with Simon & Schuster. She can't resist a good sample, a killer margarita, a new HIIT class, or an easy laugh. Beyond magazines, she helps grow businesses through blogging and content marketing strategy. To read her work or inquire, please visit her website: