Lean muscle mass is the desire of everyone who wants to get fit and be healthy. There’s nothing wrong with being a tad on the burly side, but the only way to achieve a seriously ripped and strong body is to generate lean muscle mass.
Building lean muscle mass is focused around two key factors: eating the best foods and doing the best workouts. Fortunately for you, the following guide covers both. Still, any workout veteran knows it’s wise to switch things up every now and then. Add some variety to your workout regime with this top-rated No Bull Fitness Course to build muscle and lose fat.
A Cautionary Note
It goes without saying, but before you enter into any intense workout or dieting regimens, you should consult your doctor. Even if it’s just a relative or friend in possession of an M.D., running a basic plan by a doc will at least allow you to ensure you aren’t doing anything life-threatening. Most people take warnings like these as formalities, but many lean muscle mass routines are so intense they can’t be sustained for more than a week or so a month (and you need to be eating right to survive, literally). This article titled, “Why You May Need To Exercise Less,” makes a number of good arguments, though certainly does not cover all the bases. Long story short: talk to a doctor.
The Basics Of Muscle-Building Foods
Whether you’re just entering into a muscle-building program or about to start your one-week-a-month of intense workouts, you need to eat more. If you’re trying to build muscle (vs. trying to lose weight), you need to increase your daily caloric intake by roughly 500 calories (and possibly more if you’ve already got more muscle mass to feed). If you don’t eat more, you don’t gain weight, it’s as simple as that. Of course, you don’t want to stuff yourself with 500 calories of pure sugar; eating the right foods is important, too.
The following guide is broken down into two main sections. The first is devoted to the best foods to eat for your general, sustained lean muscle building. These are the foods you can incorporate into your diet on a daily basis. The second is devoted to work-out specific meals, shakes, plans, etc. In other words, the second section is what you eat when you need to turn up the intensity.
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The Best Lean Muscle Foods
Yes, this “king of grains” continues to become more and more popular. With more fiber than brown rice or oats (both of which are still excellent choices, by the way), quinoa is one of the best super foods to consume after a workout. It’s easy to make (boil), friendly on the taste buds and, perhaps best of all, it’s gluten free. Further, it’s a slow-digesting carb, it’s packed with iron and it contains all nine of the essential amino acids.
2. Grass-Fed Beef
A little red meat goes a long way for lean muscle. Grass-fed cattle tend to have higher levels of CLA, which is basically like feeding spinach to Pop-Eye: it’s one of the few compounds that truly allows you to lose fat while gaining muscle, which is about a million times harder to do than most fitness articles would have you believe.
3. Almonds (or mixed nuts)
Almonds are a particularly good nut to eat for several reasons. The first is that they’re packed with protein: 8g per 2oz, which is a better ratio than eggs. But whereas eggs are high in cholesterol, almonds are high in magnesium, potassium, zinc and, most importantly, alpha-tocopheral vitamin E. This last gem is the most efficient form of vitamin E, which helps prevent damage after workouts and allows you to synthesize protein quicker.
Or borscht! Either way, beets are stuffed full of exotic nutrients, such as trimethylglycine. This keeps your joints feeling oiled and helps your muscles stay dense, i.e. as strong and powerful as they look.
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5. Wild Salmon
It’s really unfortunate that farm-raised salmon lack omega-3 fatty acids, but they do, and only wild salmon has the legendary high levels of omega-3. But you should be aware of over-fishing and it’s just a Google search away to find out which wild salmon are sustainable. Beyond the fatty acids, salmon also boasts an insane rate of 20% pure protein.
Spinach is to be expected, at this point, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing. It’s one of our best sources of glutamine, an amino acid that is essential for lean muscle. But spinach helps prevent bone and muscle loss (good for sustaining muscle), and, of course, it fights cancer and cardiovascular disease, too.
7. Cottage Cheese
If you haven’t been hearing about cottage cheese, then you must be new to the muscle building game. To begin with, cottage cheese is unique in that a four ounce serving dishes out 14 grams of protein. You might be thinking turkey can do that, but can turkey also boast less than two grams of fat and less than 80 calories?
Further, cottage cheese is mostly casein protein, which is among the slowest digesting proteins out there, which means it’s a great late snack as it will keep your recovering body from using your muscles as an energy source while you sleep.
8. Cruciferous Vegetables
That’s a fancy way of saying bok choy, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, etc. Cruciferous vegetables all have one thing in common: they’re high in soluble fiber while being extremely low calorie. They also fight cancer and rebuild your liver like it’s nobody’s business.
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In the same way that it’s good to switch up your workout regimen, it’s also good to eat different foods. Oysters are actually one of the secrets of the body building world. You might wrongly think oysters are fatty due to their consistency, but they’re actually remarkably lean. A four ounce serving of oysters has only five grams of fat. The same serving has over 20 grams of protein and more zinc than any other food.
10. Soy: Milk, Tofu, Edamame
This is really the king-pin of lean muscle building foods. It holds everything else together in that it is a rare “complete protein.” This means that it has divine levels of amino acids (as in, 10 grams per four ounces). Plus, if you don’t dredge your soy in butter, it has about 20 other vitamins and minerals that not even red meat can keep up with.
Pretty much any berry will do the trick. Berries help keep you healthy so you don’t turn into a jaundiced muscle zombie. Berries’ claim to fame is antioxidants. These prevent all kinds of diseases – cardiovascular, cancer, eye – and when combined with oatmeal or granola, you’ll be surprised how well you feel.
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The Best Lean Muscle Meal Plans
You should have a fairly light pre-workout breakfast (don’t worry, you’ll fill up once you’ve earned it). The classic early morning meal is still the protein shake. You can overwhelm yourself on options, such as this list of 48 protein shakes by BodyBuilding.com, or you can try out the simple recipe below to see if shakes do it for you. Do note that this should be consumed 30-60 minutes before your morning workout:
- 1 cup (unsweetened) vanilla almond milk
- 1 banana (can be frozen)
- 1/2 cup blueberries
- 1-2 scoops vanilla or unflavored protein powder
- 1 teaspoon flaxseed (optional)
Blend for 30 seconds.
I won’t spell out the advantages of every meal, but as you can see, we have almond milk (skim milk is also an excellent food for lean muscle), berries, banana (a legendary pre-workout food) and a big serving of lightweight protein.
2. Keeping-It-Simple Post-Workout
There are literally an infinite number of ways to mix and match ingredients, but I like one of the following combinations for a solid post-workout meal. And again, this should be eaten within 30-60 minutes following your workout:
- 1 whole egg plus 3-6 egg whites depending on your weight. If it’s later in the day you can always substitute oysters, salmon, cottage cheese or soy for eggs. You can also combine them, but I’ll leave that to your creativity.
- 1 cup packed spinach. I personally like to lightly sauté my spinach, which also allows me to eat significantly more of it. For example, you can cook down a whole bag of spinach into two manageable portions. This is the easy way I cook spinach:
- 4 cups loose spinach
- 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced (another super-food, by the way)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- pinch salt and pepper
- Warm oil and garlic over medium-low heat until aromatic. Add spinach and salt and pepper. Mix, coating spinach in olive oil, and cook until desired consistency, approximately 3-5 minutes.
- 1/2 cup oatmeal or granola with berries and/or soy milk (or skim milk).
3. Killer Lean Snack
If you want to have a great, lean, protein-high snack in the middle of the day, I recommend going for hummus and pita, especially whole-grain pita. Hummus, like soy, is a great meat alternative. Add any of the following: red peppers, olives, olive oil, nuts or even a side of dreaded cottage cheese.
4. How To Get Addicted To Quinoa
If you want to get into quinoa, just follow this recipe. It takes 30-45 minutes to make, but it yields a ton of miracle lean-muscle-building substance. Just look at the ingredients:
- 1 cup uncooked quinoa
- 1 lb shelled fava beans
- 2 avocados, sliced or diced
- 2 garlic cloves, strongly crushed
- 2 bunches breakfast radishes, sliced longways
- 1/2 cup purple basil or purple radish cress
- 1 tablespoon cumin
- juice from one lemon
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
- salt and pepper to taste
All you need to do is cook the quinoa, rinse it under cold water and leave it out to dry (or pat it dry with a paper towel). Then boil the fava beans, if they’re uncooked, and rinse those with cold water and dry them, too. Then you literally just add all the ingredients together (except the radish cress!) and gently toss. Season lightly with salt and pepper as you go and then top it off, if needed, once it’s all mixed together. Top with the radish cress and serve in a salad bowl. That’s it, now you’re addicted to quinoa. Eat it any time to keep yourself stocked up on the essentials.
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