Lentils are considered a good “plant-based” protein.” But as a bodybuilder, you’re probably wondering whether lentils are helpful for ANYONE looking to build muscle or just those on a plant-based diet.
- Lentils are excellent for bodybuilders as one cup contains 18g of protein. This makes it an effective means for all bodybuilders, including vegans and vegetarians, to boost their protein intake.
- However, lentils, eaten by themselves, are not considered a complete protein because they are low in an amino acid called methionine. As such, lentils aren’t as high-quality as other plant-based or animal-based protein sources.
- Including lentils in your bodybuilding diet can also be beneficial because they are rich in micronutrients that support your overall health and provide fiber for gut and cardiovascular health. Plus, lentils are relatively easy to prepare, and you can include them in various recipes, such as salads and chili.
Calories In Lentils
Lentils are calorie-dense because they are high in two macronutrients: carbs and protein.
They have around 230 calories per cup but can vary slightly in caloric value based on the type.
Lentils have a good amount of calories from healthy sources of macronutrients and are better for our health than the calories a hot dog, for example, would provide.
That said, the calories lentils have still need to be accounted for you to work towards your bodybuilding goals. This is because the number of calories you consume will determine how your body composition changes over time.
If you’re trying to lean out and lose body fat, you may need to eat smaller portions of lentils or enjoy them less frequently. When gaining, you can have more significant portions of lentils or eat them more frequently.
- Related: Cheap Bulking Carbs
Macronutrients In Lentils
A cup of lentils provides 18 grams of protein, 40 grams of carbs, and 0.8 grams of fats.
Lentils are also plant-based, which makes them an ideal protein source for those who don’t consume meat or other animal products.
That said, lentils contain the nine essential amino acids, but they have lower levels of methionine (one of the essential amino acids).
Therefore, lentils are not considered a complete protein by themselves (I will share tips on how to make it a complete protein in the next section).
Of the 40 grams of carbs per cup, 16 grams are fiber, making lentils a fantastic food for gut health, digestion, and regular bowel movements.
Micronutrient Content Of Lentils
Lentils provide a variety of micronutrients such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc.
Including lentils in your diet can help you hit your daily micronutrient goals along with your macronutrient goals, which are crucial for your body to function optimally and to help you achieve your physique goals.
According to Kerry Torrens, a nutritionist and health editor for BBC GoodFood:
“Studies demonstrate that regularly eating lentils reduces your risk of chronic disease. This is thanks to their rich content of protective plant compounds called phenols – lentils being amongst the top-ranked legumes for phenolic content.”
Pros Of Eating Lentils
Lentils Can Easily Become A Complete Protein
As mentioned, lentils are not considered a complete protein because of their low methionine content. However, lentils can become a complete protein by pairing it with food sources that contain methionine or by sprouting the lentils themselves.
To stay vegan-friendly and become a complete protein, lentils can be paired with nuts, grains, or seeds.
You can pair lentils with one of these sources in a meal or snack or ensure you eat enough of them throughout the day. Both options will have the same overall effect.
Alternatively, you can sprout lentils overnight in cold water for 8 to 12 hours to make lentils themselves a complete protein without having to pair them with other sources of methionine.
Lentils Are High In Micronutrients
Lentils provide several micronutrients our body needs, including:
- B vitamins are crucial for cellular function and the formation of ATP (the primary energy currency for our cells).
- Magnesium is a mineral necessary for muscle relaxation following a contraction; a deficiency can cause your muscles to cramp up, affecting your training.
- Potassium is an electrolyte with crucial functions in fluid balance and nerve transmissions that make muscle contractions possible.
- Zinc is involved in hormone production, and a deficiency can result in lower testosterone levels that can impact overall well-being, athletic performance, and muscle growth
So including them in our diet regularly can be highly beneficial for our health.
Lentils Are High In Fiber
Lentils are high in fiber at 15.6 grams per serving, which can help keep our digestion more regular to improve health outcomes and reduce digestive issues.
The fiber in lentils is beneficial in providing bulk to your stool, which is extremely important in keeping you regular.
By being more regular, you’re less likely to experience indigestion, bloating, and gas. Not only will this help you feel better, but look better.
Lentils Are Relatively Easy to Cook
As a bodybuilder, you probably value simple and nutritious meals, which is a benefit of eating lentils.
Essentially, it comes down to the following:
- Rinse the lentils
- Add four cups of water to a cup of lentils
- Bring it to a boil
- Cover the pot and let the lentils simmer for 20 to 30 minutes
- Drain the water and use the lentils however you wish
I’ve shared two delicious lentil recipes below.
Con of Eating Lentils
Lentils Are Not A Great Option When Limiting Carbs
Lentils have a higher amount of carbohydrates, which makes it challenging to reach our protein intake.
This is especially true for vegans and vegetarians when you’re limiting your carbohydrate intake to get leaner.
With lentils, for every 18 grams of protein, you also get 40 grams of carbs, which doesn’t take long to add up, especially when your carbs are limited.
To reach your protein intake without blowing your carbohydrate intake goals, you would have to consume protein sources with little to no carbs and probably consume fewer carbs throughout the rest of the day.
If you’re currently trying to add mass, the carb content of lentils, along with the protein, is likely not an issue.
Can You Eat Lentils Before Workouts?
Lentils are a great food to eat before a workout because they provide enough carbs and protein with minimal fat. They will give you the energy you need and be relatively easy to digest.
Just be aware that they also have a high amount of fiber (16 grams per cup). If you have issues digesting high-fiber foods, it may be best to keep lentils until after the workout.
Can You Eat Lentils After Workouts?
Lentils are also a great option after workouts because of their carb and protein content, which our bodies will need following a workout to replenish energy stores and repair muscle damage.
Lentils contain the perfect ratio of macronutrients to help you achieve your bodybuilding goals regardless of whether you’re bulking, cutting, or maintaining.
I asked Dietitian Brenda Peralta about eating lentils around workouts. She said:
“Lentils have a good number of carbs and protein, which makes them an ideal pre-workout meal. Not only are they high in fiber, meaning they will offer long and steady energy, but they are also packed with essential nutrients the body needs. As a plant-based protein source, it’s also an ideal post-workout meal. Mainly for vegetarians and vegans since it will provide the protein they need for muscle recovery.”
Do Lentils Help Muscle Growth?
Lentils alone cannot produce muscle growth, but they can help by boosting our protein intake, especially for vegans and vegetarians, but this is only one piece of the muscle growth puzzle.
Lentils can help muscle growth because they contain calories and provide adequate protein and carbs to help you meet your calorie and macronutrient goals for bulking.
However, they also tend to be higher-volume foods, meaning they take up more room in our stomachs. So, it can be challenging to consume enough to hit our calorie requirements without feeling uncomfortable.
Also, without a good training stimulus, you will still be incapable of muscle growth.
Therefore, lentils can help, but you must still eat in a calorie surplus, hit our macronutrient targets, and provide an adequate training stimulus for muscle growth.
- Related: Highest Protein Beans
Lentil Recipe For Bodybuilding
Lentil Lime Bean Salad
This delicious lentil salad provides excellent amounts of carbs and proteins and packs a micronutrient punch.
Makes six servings.
- For one serving: 383 Calories with 64g Carbs, 19g Protein, and 8g Fat
- 1-15oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
- 1-15oz can lentils, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup canned corn, rinsed and drained
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, diced
- ½ cup small red onion, diced
- ¼ cup cilantro, finely chopped
- 1 medium avocado, cubed
- Zest of 1 lime
- ¼ cup lime juice
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- ½ teaspoon cumin
- 1 teaspoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Add beans, corn, tomatoes, red onion, cilantro, and avocado into a medium mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Add lime zest, lime juice, maple syrup, and seasonings to a small mixing bowl. Whisk together.
- Pour dressing over lentil and bean mixture and toss to combine.
- Store in the fridge for at least an hour for flavors to mingle.
- Stir and enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are The Benefits Of Including Lentils In A Low-Fat Diet For Bodybuilding?
Lentils are ideal for low-fat bodybuilding diets because they’re rich in protein and fiber, which aid muscle repair and provide satiety with negligible fat. They also have micronutrients like iron and potassium, supporting overall health.
How Can Lentils Fit Into A Bodybuilder’s Meal Prep Routine?
Lentils are perfect for meal prep, as they can be prepared in large quantities and stored for use in various dishes, ensuring a consistent protein source throughout the week. They can be mixed with other ingredients to create diverse, muscle-building meals.
Are Lentils Suitable For All Types Of Bodybuilding Diets?
Yes, lentils are versatile and can be included in various bodybuilding diets, from vegan to omnivorous, because they provide essential nutrients and protein.
What To Read Next
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Zhang Y, Xun P, Wang R, Mao L, He K. Can Magnesium Enhance Exercise Performance? Nutrients. 2017 Aug 28;9(9):946. doi: 10.3390/nu9090946. PMID: 28846654; PMCID: PMC5622706.
Lanham-New SA, Lambert H, Frassetto L. Potassium. Adv Nutr. 2012 Nov 1;3(6):820-1. doi: 10.3945/an.112.003012. PMID: 23153736; PMCID: PMC3648706.
Te, L., Liu, J., Ma, J., & Wang, S. (2023). Correlation between serum zinc and testosterone: A systematic review. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, 76, 127124. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtemb.2022.127124
Mitchell, D. C., Lawrence, F. R., Hartman, T. J., & Curran, J. M. (2009). Consumption of Dry Beans, Peas, and Lentils Could Improve Diet Quality in the US Population. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 109(5), 909-913. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jada.2009.02.029
Lattimer, J.M.; Haub, M.D. Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health. Nutrients 2010, 2, 1266-1289. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu2121266
Tipton K & Wolfe RR (2001) Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, 11 (1), pp. 109-132. http://journals.humankinetics.com/ijsnem-back-issues/ijsnemVolume11Issue1March/ExerciseProteinMetabolismandMuscleGrowth
About The Author
Amanda Parker is an author, nutrition coach, and Certified Naturopath. She works with bodybuilders, Olympic weightlifters, and powerlifters to increase performance through nutrition and lifestyle coaching.
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