Want to Build Lean Muscle? A Nutritionist Says to Eat These 7 Foods
Lean muscle: It's what so many of us are trying to achieve. But sometimes, no matter how many SoulCycle classes we attend and Y7 sessions we flow through, the muscle definition of our dreams still feels out of reach. Here's our question: Are you paying attention to the foods you eat? There are certain foods out there that are proven to help you build muscle—for real. With that in mind, we tapped Jenn Randazzo, Vega regional educator and registered dietitian with an MS in nutrition and dietetics, for the best foods to eat for muscles, as well as some general background on building the body you want.
First, let's start with a little lesson on lean muscles. What does that even mean? We asked, and Randazzo had this to say: "Something I hear time and time again is, 'I don’t want to build muscle; I just want to become more toned,' but guess what? Building muscle and toning muscle are the exact same thing!" She says, "Our total body composition is composed of four things: fats, fluids, mineral mass, and lean body mass. This lean body mass includes all of our muscles, which are fat-free cells in the body, and lean muscle is just a popular expression. Lesson here: Muscle is muscle!" In other words, all muscle is inherently lean. So if you're building muscle, it's going to be fat-free and lean. "When you hear people say they want to be more toned and lean, what they really want is to build strength in their body while reducing their total amount of body fat. This concept is typically referred to as the "strength-to-weight ratio," she says.
So how does one "build" muscle with diet? It might sound a little confusing, but muscle is "built" when it gets broken down by the body. "Especially during exercise, the protein-packed structures within the muscle become depleted of their glycogen stores, resulting in muscle fatigue," Randazzo explains. "Ever 'bonked' mid-workout because your muscles have ached so badly? This is exactly what you’re feeling. Because the body perceives this work as an 'injury,' the immune system is triggered, sending in special proteins to help begin repairing the damaged muscle tissues—so the body can focus on repairing and muscle to rebuild from. To effectively rebuild muscles, diet becomes especially important," she says.
On that note, keep scrolling for seven of the best foods to help your body build muscle.
Says Randazzo, these fresh whole-food fruits contain valuable phytonutrients and antioxidants "while providing that much-needed easily digestible carbohydrate immediately after a workout. These fruits are considered lower-glycemic fruits, so they’ll give those muscles what they need without spiking your blood sugar." She suggests 1/2 cup berries, one medium orange, or mashed dates on a piece of sprouted whole-grain toast 20 minutes after a workout.
These nutrient-packed seeds and nuts are perfect on-the-go proteins that help keep you full yet energized and provide post-workout protein to rebuild muscle. For optimal portion and timing, Randazzo recommends 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds or 1/3 cup almonds or cashews, 45 minutes after a workout.
"These heart-healthy fruits are the bomb!" Randazzo says about avocados. "Perfect additions to a smoothie, salad, tacos, or just eaten by themselves (maybe with a little salt and pepper), avocados help refuel the body while managing the inflammation."
Keep scrolling for a delicious smoothie recipe that's great for building muscle.
Black Forest Chocolate Smoothie
1 serving Vega Sport Performance Protein Chocolate
1 cup frozen tart cherries
1/2 frozen banana
2 tbsp. raisins (soaked for 5 minutes in warm water, then drained)
1 1/2 cups cashew milk
1/2 cup ice
1 tbsp. cacao nibs
1. Add all ingredients except cacao nibs to blender. Blend until mixed.
2. Stop blender, add cacao nibs, and lightly incorporate so nibs get mixed throughout.
3. Pour smoothie and top with additional nibs, raisins, and cherries, if you’re feeling fancy.
Click here to see what trainers think is the worst food you can eat before a workout.
This story was published at an earlier date and has since been updated.