Building lean muscle is one of the best things we can do for our health. For starters, it helps protect our bones and maintain muscle mass, which is particularly important as we age. Lean muscle helps your body burn calories long after workouts are over and also works to boost our energy. And unless you’re a bodybuilder, you won’t bulk up; in fact, having more muscle helps your look leaner and more toned.
Most people believe that the only way to build muscle is to put in countless hours of strength training. And while that’s certainly a key factor, it’s not the only factor. Here are my five favorite ways to boost muscle growth outside of the gym.
1. Add more protein your diet.
Protein is critical for building muscle mass—especially after strength training, when muscle fibers are repairing from the damage of your workout so they can grow back stronger. In addition to supporting tendons, ligaments, and other body tissues, protein is necessary to maintain that healthy muscle mass you’ve worked so hard to build. When your diet lacks amino acids, muscle wasting (also known as muscle atrophy) can take place as your muscle fibers are broken down to support your body’s energy needs.
Some of my favorite protein-rich foods include grass-fed beef, lentils, wild-caught fish, beans, and free-range organic eggs. These foods don’t just feed your muscles, they’re loaded with health benefits of their own.
2. Eat enough food overall.
Replacing your regular breakfast with a chia seed- or yogurt-filled smoothie might help you meet your protein needs, but it may not have enough calories to support your overall fitness goals. If you’ve recently increased the intensity of your workouts or have just started incorporating strength training into your routine, it’s important to eat enough food to both sustain your activity levels and support new muscle growth.
In addition to eating enough protein, adding more calories from veggies, fruits, and healthy fats will help you feel better throughout the day and ensure your muscles are getting the amount of nutrients they need to keep growing.
3. Get more sleep.
Getting enough shuteye each night is one of the most important things you can do to help your body build muscle. It’s during these hours that the body repairs itself from the day and gets ready for the one ahead, and skimping on even one hour each night means your body won’t have the time it needs to recover properly. Just a few of these nights can also lead to a weaker immune system, leaving you susceptible to colds and groggy mornings.
While the amount of sleep each person needs varies, aiming for a minimum of seven hours a night is a safe choice. And while more Americans than ever are suffering from insomnia and other sleep disorders, the good news is that there are plenty of all-natural ways to fall asleep fast.