December 7th, 2022

Good Health: 4 Ways to Build a Stronger Body and Lean Body Mass


Stronger Body, Stronger Life

Recently I carried my 18-month-old and 4-year-old up the stairs of our home… together. 

With one daughter in my left arm and one in the other, we trudged up the 14 steps until we reached the landing.  It’s one of those things that moms just ‘do’ because kids often seem to want our attention – at the same time.

As I plopped into the glider with the girls in my lap for a few stories before nap time, I realized just how significant that was. Becoming strong, building lean body mass, and upping my weights at the gym really isn’t about size or physique. It’s about functional strength that allows me to take on a challenge, enjoy a new adventure and feel strong.

I want the stamina and strength to be able to be as active and adventurous as I want.  I know you do too.

Good Health Builds Physical Strength

build a stronger bodyStrength training is a crucial part of a wellness routine, and it probably doesn’t get enough attention. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 2 days per week of strength training – working all the major muscle groups. But here is the deal, you can’t build lean body mass if you don’t give your body the nutrients it needs.  

You can’t expect to see physical changes if you don’t nourish your body and muscles.  

And, research shows that it’s not just about the nutrients, but how these nutrients are packaged, how often we are consuming them, and how we are caring for our body.

There are a lot of diverse eating styles popular in our current culture that make it confusing for people to figure out how to put together a healthy meal. And even more bewildering is the best way to move towards goals like lowering excess body fat and building lean body mass.  

Good news, Team – it’s not complicated!  The research is pretty clear on some key strategies that can help improve our functional strength and build lean body mass.

Does God Really Call Us to Do This?

build a stronger bodyIn 3 John 1:2, John greets the church stating, “Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.” But ‘good health’ isn’t automatic.  It’s a lifestyle we get to choose in order to walk in the fullness of our calling.

You aren’t ‘better than’ if you wear a certain size or follow a specific eating pattern. But good health is something you can choose to pursue to be able to enjoy the life, adventures, and experiences available to you here on earth.

It’s like an extra gift your Father has for you. Do you want it? 

Research also continues to remind us that how we nourish our body significantly affects how we feel mentally and physically.  Let’s be real, most of us make a lot of decisions consciously and unconsciously purely out of how we feel.  

So, let’s position ourselves to be in the best place physically so that we can love our families and serve people well.

What You Need to Know About Getting Stronger

Improving functional strength and building lean body mass doesn’t require hours in the gym every week. You can do that if you like, but it’s not necessary. Here are a few key strategies that research shows will make the most impact:

1. Begin Your Day with a High Protein Breakfast.

build a stronger bodyWhat does your typical breakfast look like?  For many of us, it is the least planned meal and most rushed meal, if it even happens. Most individuals eat very little protein at breakfast, a little more at lunch and an excessive quantity at dinner, a pattern that isn’t ideal for muscle protein synthesis or overall wellness.  Research shows that eating about 20-30 grams of protein at breakfast helps us in many ways, including:

  • helps build lean body mass
  • helps reduce hunger ALL day long
  • helps reduce total calories consumed at meals
  • helps manage blood glucose and insulin levels

A few simple high-protein breakfasts: 

Yogurt Bowl: 8oz of greek yogurt, 1oz chopped nuts and 1cup of frozen berries (29 grams protein)

Tex-Mex Eggs: 2 eggs, any veggies desired, ½ cup black beans, 1oz diced avocado (20 grams protein)

Chocolate Banana Breakfast Quinoa (21 grams of protein/serving)

Creamy Mocha Overnight Oats (21 grams protein/serving)

2. Plant Protein Counts Too, But It’s a Little Different.

Plant protein is an excellent option to include at meals, but if not thought through, it can disrupt the balance of your meals. For example, you would need to eat 2 cups of black beans in order to get 30 grams of protein. This large volume of black beans would displace room on your plate for some veggies. Lastly, this quantity of beans totals more than 400 calories and 75 grams of carbohydrate!

If someone wanted to eat peanut butter as their sole source of protein at a meal to hit the target of 30 grams of protein, they would consume more than 700 calories!  This is why it’s important to consider all of the components at the meal and how they go together to nourish your body, fit your budget, complement your health goals, and fall in line with your food values.

Research points to plant protein as one solution to the complex issue of sustainable food sources and caring for our planet.  And, one of the most researched eating plans, the Mediterranean Diet, promotes the inclusion of plant protein like beans and legumes as a regular part of meals.

Plant proteins also tend to be excellent sources of fiber along with a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Registered Dietitians are pros at helping individuals meet nutrient needs and create sustainable eating plans that don’t cause clients to sacrifice one goal to meet another. 

3. Whole Foods May Be Better Than Isolates

build a stronger bodyResearch in the Journal of Clinical Nutrition has begun to unpack whether we simply need isolated protein to build muscle OR if whole foods are the key. This study looked at whole eggs vs egg whites. After resistance training, both groups got exactly 18 grams of protein either from whole eggs or egg whites. While the whole eggs (with yolk) and egg whites both stimulated muscle synthesis (building lean body mass), the whole eggs stimulated it to a greater extent. In addition to fat, whole eggs contain a wide variety of nutrients including vitamins and minerals all packaged up together.

To be fair, this was a small study. But, it does indicate that protein-rich whole foods may have a higher impact on building lean body mass than simply a protein-rich food or isolate. There is still a little mystery in all of this but it seems that all the nutrients packed into a whole egg will help you build lean body mass better than protein-rich egg whites.

So how do we apply this information? Building lean body mass isn’t only about getting the right amount of protein each day. What appears to be just as important, is eating a diet full of nutrient-rich whole foods so that your body can effectively process and metabolize nutrients to benefit your body best. Sounds like a God-inspired idea.

4. Weight Training = Better Protein Metabolism

build a stronger bodyIt is well known that weight training is not only beneficial but necessary to build lean body mass. But research also demonstrates that weight training actually makes your body more efficient at absorbing and utilizing protein from food.  When your body is working efficiently at this process, you will see changes and results a lot faster.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends strength training 2x/week, working all muscle groups.  If you choose to strength train more often, it is recommended that you swap muscle groups each day in order to give the muscle fibers enough time to rest before working them intensely again. 

Inadequate time to rest can lead to injury. After a heavy strength training session, muscle fibers have been stressed and the rest phase allows them to get the nutrients necessary to restore themselves and become even stronger than before.

So, what’s the play call?

Is your body able to do all that you want to be able to do? All bodies are beautiful, but not all people have the energy and strength they want or need for their day. God doesn’t call us to perfection. He calls us to discipline our bodies, just like we train our spirit to hear His voice and follow His lead.  

Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training.” 1 Corinthians 9:24 NLT

Here are 3 tips to help you train:

  1. Begin your day with a healthy breakfast, aiming to include 20-30 grams of protein, 5-10g fiber and a serving of healthy fat.
  2. Consider adding strength training into your weekly movement routine. You don’t have to lift heavy to experience change and health benefits.
  3. Choose whole foods as often as possible, every day.

Now, run to win. 

Jennifer Hunt, RDN, LD
Jennifer Hunt, RDN, LD is a nutrition communications dietitian whose joy and passion is to empower women to live healthy, balanced lives that are fulfilling and free of guilt and shame. She loves sharing real-life strategies to choosing nourishing foods, fitting in fitness and looking beyond the mirror. Jennifer enjoys encouraging women on her blog, Healthy Inspiration, taking walks with her daughter, cooking with her husband and trying out different kinds of physical activity.
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