What if I told you sculpting lean legs and toned arms could be easier with certain foods to help you build lean muscle? You’re in luck, because there are properties in certain foods that increase how quickly your muscles burn fat to create definition. Building lean muscles does not equal building massive muscles. Lean muscle is all about that toned definition that we all seek in our legs, arms, abs and back. I’m here to tell you that exercise certainly helps, but if your diet isn’t right, no amount of treadmill time will help you. With these 8 foods to help you build lean muscle, your hard work will show itself in no time. The good news is that these foods are also pretty tasty and aren’t processed diet foods found in a box at the store. Start enjoying these foods and watch your waistline show in no time!
Table of contents:
- leafy greens
- fat free greek yogurt
- sweet potatoes
- hemp protein
Fish in general is one of the best foods to help you build lean muscle, but salmon is the king! Salmon has a unique combination of just the right fats, B vitamins, protein and nutrients like magnesium that aid in muscle formation, repair and recovery. Salmon is a great mood food too, which can prevent unhealthy eating habits or feelings of deprivation. Most people notice they generally look and feel leaner when they eat fish, so definitely try incorporating some grilled salmon with a salad, some green beans or some roasted sweet potatoes for a hearty meal that will keep you super lean. Salmon increases lean muscle and burns fat, just by eating it.
2 Leafy Greens
There is a reason Popeye ate spinach, ladies! Spinach is full of protein per ounce, and full of nutrients that feed your body, and your muscles. Spinach has 4 grams of protein per ½ cup and also has iron, Vitamin E, magnesium, fiber, Vitamin C and B vitamins. Spinach is a sweeter, milder green, so it is easy to incorporate anywhere, however it isn’t the only leafy green to try! Kale is a powerhouse of protein, nutrients, and more, just like spinach, with a hearty taste full of flavor. Chard and collards are also favorites of mine. These foods fill you up and not only help you build lean muscles, but also give you great skin, hair and nails.
3 Fat Free Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt can be your best friend if you’re trying to build lean muscle. Greek yogurt is full of calcium, protein, is low in sugar, and also high in B vitamins, including B12, which is critical for your metabolism and muscle function in general. Greek yogurt is a dairy product, so if you’re intolerant to dairy, then you may want to opt for a coconut-based or almond-milk based Greek style yogurt, which are new on the market right now. Luckily, for those who don’t tolerate other forms of dairy, Greek yogurt is actually lower in lactose than other yogurts or forms of dairy. Lactose is the milk sugar that causes issues for those intolerant to dairy since it can be hard to digest. Fat free Greek yogurt helps to build lean muscle by keeping muscles fueled with amino acids they can use for repair and formation, without any fat, so the protein is used efficiently, without the need for your body to digest and process excess fats with protein. Considering the calcium Greek yogurt has, it makes this food an incredible source of belly-blasting protein. Calcium from low-fat dairy or dairy alternatives, like calcium rich soy and almond milk, have been linked to a decrease in cholesterol, waist circumference and stronger bone health, especially in women. I like using hormone free brands of Greek yogurt such as Chobani or Fage, and sweetening the plain variety with a little stevia or fruit instead of buying the flavored versions which have tons of sugar that will derail your efforts.
4 Sweet Potatoes
Yes, sweet potatoes are full of carbs, but they are great for building lean muscle. How so? For starters, sweet potatoes are full of carbohydrates that keep your glucose stable, which is key for burning fat and preserving muscle. When your blood sugar drops, your insulin spikes, and can lead to sugar cravings, or cause your body to store fat. Sweet potatoes are a unique carbohydrate. They actually aid in weight loss due to their high fiber content, but they also keep you fuller longer than other starchy veggies. Sweet potatoes are used in many diets and bodybuilding menus for the prime reason that they supply your body with the carbs it needs to repair muscles, give you energy, and also train your body to become used to eating carbs, without making it store fat. By cutting out all carbs, you may lose weight, but any time you add the carbs back, you’ll gain the weight plus some. Sweet potatoes are the perfect alternative to bread, which can cause you to gain weight and store fat, preventing lean muscle formation. I love having sweet potatoes with a salad and salmon for a delicious and lean power meal.
5 Hemp Protein
I’m primarily a seasonal vegan, and only eat fish on occasion like for a special dinner out, so I rely on plant proteins high in amino acids to fuel my muscles and keep me lean. A girl needs her protein, and hemp protein is my top choice! It is full of all essential amino acids that are usually only found in animal proteins. Hemp protein is also full of fiber, Omega 3 fatty acids and more. I like using hemp protein in my smoothies, made into protein pudding, or using it in homemade raw energy bars. Hemp proteins are so easily assimilated and digested by the body that they are possibly the perfect protein. Hemp seeds are extremely nutrient dense, and also a beauty food. I like Manitoba Harvest and Nutiva brands the most, along with Sunwarrior’s Warrior Blend protein, which contains hemp seed protein.
Eggs are a great food to build lean muscle, with an emphasis on egg whites. Egg whites are low in fat, and high in protein, but you need a little of the yolk too, so don’t leave it out completely. Egg yolks are full of friendly fats, regardless that they are high in cholesterol. Eggs actually lower the harmful cholesterol in your body and raise the good, making them safe in moderation. A recent study even found eggs to be safe to eat 1-2 per day, so for a nice mix of protein and healthy fats, try using a ratio of three whites and one yolk. Eggs are wonderful for lean muscle formation because they are full of protein and nutrients that aid and nourish your muscles. They also keep you full longer than most foods, leading to stabilized blood sugar and preventing you from taking in extra calories.
Flaxseeds are wonderful for building lean muscles. Most people think that lean muscle formation is all about protein, but your body needs many things for lean muscle formation, not just protein. Flaxseeds are full of nutrients such as fiber to keep you regular and your heart healthy, plus a little protein, and great fats that aid in fat burning. Omega 3 fatty acids are abundant in flaxseeds and these specific fats have been linked to weight loss, depression prevention, diabetes prevention, and heart health. Flaxseeds are great to add to yogurt, smoothies, cereal, or over salads. Just be sure to buy them ground up or grind them at home yourself in a coffee grinder and store them in the fridge so they don't turn rancid at room temperature. You can find flaxseeds in the baking aisle at most grocery stores where other baking supplies such as cocoa are located. The reason you want to buy them ground or grind them yourself is your body can’t absorb the nutrients from flax as a whole seed. I like to grind a batch and store them in my fridge for the week so I know they’re fresh. I add about 2 tbsp. throughout my day to smoothies or salads or homemade protein bars.
Almonds are great for building lean muscle because they contain a little protein, and tons of heart healthy monounsaturated fats which actually lower your body circumference in the right portion amounts, which are about 1/4 cup almonds per day. Almonds are a top source of Vitamin E, fiber, and magnesium, so they are full of nutrients that aid in muscle repair and also heart health. Magnesium is a power nutrient that helps relax you, repair your muscles, and give you energy, while also keeping you relaxed. Almonds are a perfect snack for the afternoon when you want something crunchy besides raw veggies. Try eating about 1/4 cup with some yogurt, carrot sticks, or all by themselves. They will keep you full until dinner and also keep your mood stable due to the healthy fats. Healthy fats like those in almonds, olive oil, coconut oil, and walnuts have all been linked to a smaller waistline and overall faster metabolism, which is essential for building lean muscle that burns fat. You can also opt for natural, raw almond butter, which is really yummy on just about anything. Just keep it at 2 tbsp. for portion control.
While I don’t want to look like a bodybuilder or starve myself to look fit, I also want to be able to eat in a way that does half the work for me. These foods definitely do that and keep me satisfied too. You don’t have to live off chicken breasts and brown rice to be healthy and fit. Try using some of these foods in place of ones you’re already eating and you’ll notice leaner muscles in no time! Do you like any of these foods to build lean muscle?
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