5 Ways To Build Lean Muscle (That Don't Involve Exercise!)
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 support1 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 things2 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 recover3 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.
4. Supplement with bone-broth protein.
High-quality supplements can help your body speed up muscle growth, and one of my favorites is bone-broth protein. There are tons of protein powders on the market, but many are filled with questionable ingredients that do little to support overall wellness. Bone broth, on the other hand, is rich in protein, collagen, gelatin and minerals—all of which support4 healthy muscles5 and joints.
Bonus: It’s terrific for digestion and the gut, too. And instead of spending a whole day cooking a pot of broth, bone broth protein provides the same muscle-boosting health benefits in an easy-to-use powder. Add it to smoothies and sauces, or just mix with warm water and sip it on its own.
5. Take rest days.
Training the same muscles every day won’t get you faster results. In fact, overtraining can actually impede your efforts. Muscle needs time to recover6 from the damage that occurs when you work them, and not giving your body the time it needs to relax increases the risk of overuse injuries. It can also lead to poor sleep, loss of energy, and a weakened immune system.
For strength training, the rule of thumb is to train each large muscle group two to three times a week, ideally leaving 48 hours between sessions. On rest days, activities like yoga or foam rolling will help you stretch and assist in your muscles' recovery and rebuilding.
It's time to try this at-home bone-broth recipe, in honor of your muscles.
Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, is is a doctor of chiropractic, certified doctor of natural medicine, certified nutrition specialist, and author with a passion to help people get well using food as medicine. He operates one of the world's largest natural health websites at www.DrAxe.com.