Lentils are considered a “plant-based” protein”. But does that mean lentils could be useful for all bodybuilders or just those who are plant-based?
Here’s my quick answer:
Are lentils good or bad for bodybuilding? Lentils are a great food for bodybuilders to include in their diet as 1 cup contains 18g of protein. This makes it an effective means for all bodybuilders, including vegan and vegetarian bodybuilders, to meet their daily protein intake. Lentils also contain micronutrients such as vitamin B, iron, magnesium and zinc.
To understand how lentils could help us achieve our bodybuilding goals, it’s important to understand what nutrients lentils bring to the table and where they could fall short.
After reading this article you’ll learn:
- What nutrients that lentils have to offer
- The pros and cons of eating lentils for bodybuilding
- If we should eat lentils before and after workouts
- How to make 2 lentil recipes that will help you reach your physique goals
Lentils For Bodybuilding: Overview
Calories In Lentils
Lentils are somewhat calorie-dense because they are high in two of the three macronutrients (carbs and protein). Lentils have around 230 calories per cup but can vary slightly in caloric value based on the type of lentil that we’re consuming.
Lentils have a good amount of calories but these calories come from healthy sources of macronutrients and are therefore better for our health than the calories that a hot dog, for example, would provide.
That being said, the calories that lentils have still need to be accounted for us to work towards our bodybuilding goals. This is because the number of calories that we consume will determine how our body composition changes over time.
If we’re currently trying to lean out and lose body fat, then we may need to eat smaller portions of lentils or enjoy them less frequently.
If we’re currently trying to gain mass, then we can have larger portions of lentils or eat them more frequently.
- Lentils are on my list of cheap bulking carbs. Check out where it stands among 15 different carb sources
Macronutrients In Lentils
Lentils provide a good source of protein and carbohydrates per serving with minimal fat. This makes lentils an excellent choice for bodybuilders because protein and carbs are the main macronutrients for performance and body composition.
Lentils pack a protein punch with 18 grams per serving (1 cup), and they are a plant-based protein, which makes them an ideal protein source for those who do not consume meat or other animal products.
Many plant-based protein sources are not complete proteins and therefore they do not provide all the essential amino acids (building blocks) that our body requires to build muscle.
Lentils do contain the 9 essential amino acids but they contain lower levels of methionine (one of the essential amino acids), therefore lentils are not considered a complete protein by themselves. I will explain more tips on how to make it a complete protein in the next section.
In addition, for each serving, lentils have 40 grams of carbohydrates, which provide us with the energy we need for training and help us reach our daily carbohydrate intake.
Lentils are low in dietary fat, which is a good thing because if they were higher in fat then the calorie content of lentils would be quite high.
Fat does help to keep us full and keep our hormones in check, so we should make it a priority to consume more fats with our lentil meals or at other meals throughout the day to make sure we’re achieving our daily fat requirements.
Micronutrient Content Of Lentils
Lentils provide a variety of micronutrients such as B vitamins, iron, magnesium, potassium, and zinc. Lentils have a lot of nutritional value to bring to the table.
Including lentils in our diet can help us to hit our daily micronutrients goals along with our macronutrients goals, which are so important for our body to function optimally and to help us achieve our physique goals.
Because of their nutrient profile, we could eat lentils every day, but I would suggest not eating them at every meal because we need a variety of foods to ensure we’re consuming a variety of micronutrients that our body needs.
Along with lentils, we could have fruit, vegetables, fats (nuts, olive oil) and other protein sources (fish, beans, greek yogurt) to round out our micronutrient requirements.
3 Pros Of Eating Lentils For Bodybuilding
The pros of eating lentils for bodybuilding are:
- Lentils Can Easily Become A Complete Protein
- Lentils Are High In Micronutrients
- Lentils Are High In Fiber
Lentils Can Easily Become A Complete Protein
Lentils can become a complete protein similar to meat, fish, and dairy, by pairing it with food sources that contain methionine or by sprouting the lentils themselves.
As I mentioned previously, many plant-based proteins are not complete proteins so they do not provide us with all the amino acids in sufficient quantities to repair and build muscle.
But because we can easily make lentils a complete protein it can help those who do consume animal products to consume the protein they require to repair and build muscle.
To become a complete protein lentils can be paired with nuts, grains, or seeds. We can pair lentils with one of these sources in a meal or snack, or just ensure to eat enough of them throughout the day. Both options will have the same overall effect.
Alternatively, we 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 (the missing amino acid in lentils).
This works because sprouting lentils increases the amino acid levels that lentils contain, which gives them enough to become a complete protein.
Lentils are a great source of protein that will help us to reach our daily protein goals. In addition, they will also help the environment by allowing us to go meat-free at least every once in a while.
Lentils Are High In Micronutrients
Lentils provide many micronutrients that our body requires to perform many processes, so including lentils in our diet regularly can be extremely beneficial for our health.
Lentils are high in micronutrients and therefore can be consumed more often as they provide nutritional value beyond their calories and macronutrients.
Having staple foods in our diet, like lentils, that can do double duty in helping us reach our macronutrient and micronutrient goals are important for us to reach our physique and health goals.
- If you want to learn more about Edamame, check out my article Is Edamame Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding (Pros & Cons)
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 also reduce many digestive issues.
The fiber content that lentils have is extremely useful in providing bulk to our stool, which sounds a bit gross, but is extremely important in keeping us regular.
By being more regular, we can dramatically reduce indigestion, bloating, and gas. Not only will this help us feel better, but it will also help us look better.
In addition, consuming an adequate amount of fiber can lower our cholesterol and reduce our risk of heart disease.
- Lentils is on our list of high calorie, low sodium foods (click to read more food choices that fit this category)
Cons of Eating Lentils For Bodybuilding
The cons of eating lentils for bodybuilding are:
- Lentils Are Not A Great Option When Limiting Carbs
Lentils Are Not A Great Option When Limiting Carbs
Lentils do have a higher amount of carbohydrates, which makes it difficult to reach our protein intake, especially for vegans and vegetarians, when we’re limiting our carbohydrate intake to get leaner.
With lentils, for every 18 grams of protein, we also get 40 grams of carbs, which doesn’t take long to add up especially when our carbs are limited.
For us to reach our protein intake without blowing our carbohydrate intake goals, we would have to consume protein sources with little to no carbs and probably consume fewer carbs throughout the rest of the day, depending on how low our daily carb goals are.
If we’re currently trying to add mass, then the carb content of lentils along with the protein is likely not an issue. However, if we’re trying to lean out and lose fat mass, then the carb content of lentils may pose an issue.
Can You Eat Lentils Before Workouts?
Lentils are a great food to eat before a workout because they provide an adequate amount of carbs and protein with minimal fat. They will give us the energy we need and will be relatively easy to digest.
Lentils are a great food option before a workout, but we should be aware that they do also have a high amount of fiber so some individuals may not tolerate them as well as others.
If we’re someone who has issues digesting high fiber foods, then it may be best to keep lentils until after the workout.
Can You Eat Lentils After Workouts?
Lentils are also a great option for after workouts because of their carb and protein content, which is exactly what our bodies will need following a workout to replenish energy stores and repair muscle damage.
Lentils contain the perfect ratio of macronutrients to help us achieve our bodybuilding goals regardless of whether we’re bulking, cutting, or maintaining.
Learning how to prepare lentils in a way that we enjoy is likely the only missing piece of the puzzle.
We asked Dietician Brenda Peralta about eating lentils before and after workouts and she stated that :
“Lentils have a good number of carbs and protein, which makes them an ideal pre-workout meal. Not only are they high in fibre, meaning they will offer long and steady energy, 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 to muscle recovery.”
Do Lentils Help Muscle Growth?
Lentils by themselves 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 us meet our calorie and macronutrient goals for bulking. However, without an adequate training stimulus, we will still be incapable of muscle growth.
Therefore lentils can help, but we still need to eat in a calorie surplus, hit our macronutrient targets, and provide an adequate training stimulus for muscle growth to occur.
- Check out other highest protein beans
Is It Okay To Eat Lentils When Bulking?
Lentils can be helpful when we’re bulking because with every serving of lentils we’re getting a solid serving of protein and carbohydrates together. However, if calorie demands are higher then we may need a higher fat intake.
Lentils can be helpful because they are higher in carbs and protein, but they also tend to be higher volume foods, meaning they take up more room in our stomachs. So it can be difficult to consume enough to hit our calorie requirements without feeling uncomfortable.
In addition, carbs and proteins are lower in calories than fats. Therefore when we eat foods higher in fat, which are less voluminous, we won’t get as full and we get a good amount of calories.
So although lentils are okay to eat when bulking, we may get to a point where we’re better off adding foods higher in fat than foods high in protein and carbs.
Lentil Recipes For Bodybuilding
Lentils are a great food for before and after workouts because of their carb and protein content, but we also need to incorporate them in a way that tastes delicious.
Lentil Lime Bean Salad
This delicious lentil salad not only provides excellent amounts of carbs and proteins and also packs a micronutrient punch. This recipe is exactly what we need nutritionally before a workout, and it tastes great!
Makes 6 servings.
- For 1 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 flavours to mingle.
- Stir and enjoy!
Post-Workout Lentil Recipe
Lentil Vegetarian Chili
After a workout, we’re needing a higher amount of protein and carbs to promote recovery and muscle adaptation, but we also want some delicious to look forward to after training. Enter this vegetarian chili that delivers on all fronts!
Makes 6 servings.
- For 1 Serving: 510 Calories with 89g Carbs, 28g Protein, and 7g Fat
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 1 medium red bell pepper, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 4 cloves, garlic
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1-28oz can diced tomatoes
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup lentils, soaked overnight or for 1 hour, strained and rinsed
- 3 cups vegetable broth
- 1-14oz can kidney beans, rinsed and strained
- 1-14oz can black beans, rinsed and strained
Want to learn more about beans? Check out my articles on Are Black Beans Good or Bad For Bodybuilding? and Are Kidney Beans Good Or Bad For Bodybuilding?
- Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add olive oil, onion, bell pepper, and carrots. Cook for 3 to 4 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.
- Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, paprika to the pot and cook until fragrant.
- Add the lentils, tomatoes, tomato paste, and vegetable broth. Stir to combine.
- Reduce heat, cover the pot with a lid, and let simmer for 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.
- Add kidney beans and black beans, and cook for an additional 20 minutes on low.
- To reduce the chili further, heat the pot over medium heat and cook uncovered for 5 to 10 minutes.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Lentils are a great option for all bodybuilders but particularly for those who are vegans and bodybuilders because of their protein and carb content. However, we should ensure to eat adequate protein and other micronutrients as well throughout the day.
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.