Build Muscle the Vegetarian Way:
Lentils For Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAA)
If you are trying to build muscle and are also a vegetarian, you have probably noticed that most of the information in magazines, blogs and professional body builders websites etc. for muscle nutrition and growth, are usually full of articles telling you to eat meat and/or fish. The hard core will advocate blending chicken or tuna with water as meat smoothies. I believe that food should be enjoyable, not a chore. There are alternatives such as whey protein and supplements but I find these can be extremely bland and sickly tasting and may even contain components from animal sources. Key components to building muscle are Branch Chain Amino Acids and a good vegetarian source of these are Lentils. So if you are like me and enjoy satisfying and tasty food, then why not try my Lentil recipe below, for a yummy and warming Dahl.
Lentils and Leucine:
It has been found that Lentils are a great source of Branch Chain Amino Acids or BCAAs and particularly Leucine. Leucine is the BCAA that is most abundant in our muscle cells and is essential for repairing and building new muscle fibres after training. Recent evidence though suggest that Leucine has many other roles to play in the body. Leucine can be used by the muscles for energy so it is essential that it is replaced and since our bodies cannot make it, it has to come from our food. It also triggers muscle growth by activating the muscle building switch in our cells called mTOR. This means that as well as being incorporated into muscle fibres, Leucine actually affects the rate of muscle protein synthesis and studies of this show the more Leucine we have, the faster the rate of growth. The net result is quicker recovery and less DOMS.
There is also evidence to show that this amino acid can help you lose weight and plays a part in blood glucose regulation and it also helps prevent muscle loss during dieting. Yet another benefit seems to be that more Leucine in the diet can reduce LDL (bad) Cholesterol while increasing HDL (good) Cholesterol. I will add here however that there does not seem to be any consensus on how much Leucine we should be consuming so I will not give any recommendation. I also believe that natural sources are better than supplements as your body will tell you when you're full before you can over do it.
So if that hasn't wet your appetite for some Lentils, then maybe this easy recipe will!
Red Lentil Dahl:
Two cups of Red Lentils
1 Good sized Onion
1 Tea spoon of Turmeric
Half Tea spoon of Cardamom seeds
A good sized piece of Cinnamon bark
Half a bulb of Garlic
Several (to taste) Dried Birds eye Chillies
Half Tea spoon of Onion seeds
Some fresh Coriander
To a medium sized Saucepan, add the Lentils, the chopped Onion, Onion seeds, Turmeric, Cinnamon and Cardamom. Cover this with enough water (or vegetable stock) to cook the Lentils. I usually measure the water in the same way as rice and tend to err on the side of more water as I don't like Dahl too thick. This can be adjusted later in the cooking by adding more water or cooking longer. Bring to the boil and then gently simmer until the lentils are cooked and the Onion boiled down (Usually around twenty minutes).
While that is cooking, slice the garlic and place it with the chillies. Normal chilli can be used but a better taste I feel, comes from the dried Birds eye chilli. When the Lentils are almost done, heat enough oil to cover the chilli and garlic in another pan and fry the chilli and garlic together. Do not have your oil too hot, if you burn the garlic it will go bitter, you want to gently fry it until golden so it has a nice roasted taste, the same goes for the chilli. When done, drain slightly and add to the Lentils (careful, it may spit!) and cook everything for at least another five minutes so the taste of the garlic and chilli permeates through.
Once you are happy that everything is cooked, add your salt to taste. Serve in a bowl or Balti bowl and sprinkle on top your chopped Coriander. I can eat this on its own but it goes great with a mushroom curry. Many people eat Dahl with rice or bread, but if you're building muscle you don't want too many carbs. Onion seeds are optional and most Dahls don't have them, but I like the slight musty taste they bring.
I hope you try a Dahl and enjoy it as much as I do!