If you can't make these peanut butter granola bites and this chicken salad, we can't help you.
Toby Amidor, R.D. 1 / 11
In order to stay fit and get lean, you need to eat right.. That means a well-balanced diet containing whole grains, fruit, vegetables, healthy fat, lean meat, and low fat dairy. But if you want to build lean muscle, you also want to include a healthy dose of branch chain amino acids (BCAA). Although that may make you think of taking a supplement, you can actually get everything you need just by eating the right foods.
BCAAs include valine, leucine, and isoleucine. These are three of the nine essential amino acids you must obtain from food, because your body cannot produce them. These amino acids promote protein synthesis in muscles and help reduce exercise-induced muscle damage. Here are 10 healthy recipes that are super easy to whip up. Each contains a nice amount of BCAAs.
Take the time to master this recipe, so your chicken breasts come out perfectly every time. Once you can make these with your eyes closed, you can start experimenting with simple sauces like salsa and chutney.
Ingredients: 2 chicken breasts, preferably organic ½ teaspoon salt ¼ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper 2 tablespoons coconut oil
Instructions: 1. Preheat oven to 350F. 2. Rinse and thoroughly dry chicken. 3. Place salt and pepper in a small dish. 4. Sprinkle the salt and pepper mix over the chicken to create a fine, even layer on both sides. You will likely not need the full amount of salt and pepper, especially if your breasts are smaller than 8 ounces. 5. Heat coconut oil in a cast iron skillet over high heat. When you start to see a bit of smoke rising from the pan, remove from heat. Add chicken to hot pan and do not move from the initial spot. 6. Add pan back to flame and reduce to medium-high heat. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Check for adequate browning before flipping. Cook, uncovered, for an additional 2-3 minutes. 7. Place the entire pan into the oven to finish cooking. 8. Set the timer for 8 minutes then check the internal temperature to get a gauge of where you are. Once you reach 160F, remove from oven and let sit in pan for a few minutes longer. The goal is to reach 165F but not exceed 175F.
Ingredients: 2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese (I used Trader Joe’s Mediterranean Feta Crumbles) 2 tablespoons part-skim ricotta cheese 1 slice sprouted grain bread, toasted 9-12 very thin cucumber slices Truffle salt (or sea salt)
Instructions: 1. In a small dish, mix feta cheese and ricotta together. Spread cheese mixture on toasted bread. 2. Layer cucumber slices on top of cheese and sprinkle with truffle salt. Devour immediately.
You’ll get plenty of muscle-building power from the chicken sausage in this one pot meal. Serve with a salad and loaf of crusty bread. Toss leftovers with whole grain pasta to get a second meal out of it.
Ingredients: 1 tablespoon olive oil 1 pound chicken sausage (Longhini brand recommended) 1 red onion, sliced 2 bell peppers, cut into strips 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce 1 cup marinara sauce ¼ cup basil, chopped Kosher salt and black pepper
Instructions: 1. Heat oil in a large skillet; add sausage and brown on all sides. Add onions and peppers; season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes over medium high heat. Add Worcestershire and tomato sauce and cook for an additional 5 minutes or until sausage is cooked through and vegetables are tender. 2. Garnish with fresh basil and serve.
These no-cook granola bites also have oats, which contributes to your daily whole grains (remember, carbs are a source of energy!). It also contains omega-3 fats to help fight inflammation. For 100 calories a piece, it’s a perfect snack or dessert that can boost your dose of BCAAs (from the peanut butter).
Skill level: Beginner Serves: 12 Start to Finish: 10 minutes, plus refrigeration time Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 0 minutes
Ingredients: 1/3 cup natural creamy peanut butter 1 cup instant oats 1/3 cup honey 1 tablespoon chia seeds
Instructions: 1. Mix all ingredients until combined well; refrigerate mixture about 30 minutes 2. Form about 1 tablespoon of mixture into small balls. Roll between finger tips to make ball shape. Store leftovers in refrigerator.
Legumes, including beans, peas, and lentils, contain BCAAs for fit muscles. Although the recipe has a bit more ingredients than you may be used to, take it step-by-step. If you really want to make things even easier, purchase a store bought pesto instead of making your own.
Ingredients: For the pesto: 1 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, chopped 1 clove garlic 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice Dash sea salt and pepper
For the beans and vegetables: 2 cups canned white beans, drained and rinsed 1 pound asparagus, chopped 1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced 1 tablespoon coconut oil
Instructions: 1. To prepare the pesto, place ingredients in blender or food processor and blend until well combined. 2. To prepare beans and vegetables, melt coconut oil in sauté pan. Add chopped asparagus and sauté until softened. Then add beans and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes. Then add cherry tomatoes and cook for a few minutes more. Add pesto and stir well. Cook everything together for a few minutes and serve!
Chicken salad is an easy and versatile muscle-making meal. Make a batch or two on Sunday night and store in the fridge for easy weekday meals. If you don’t have leftover cooked chicken, then use pre-cooked rotisserie from the market. Serve over a green salad, bagel crisps, stuffed into whole grain pita or inside lettuce leaves.
Skill level: Beginner Serves: 4 Start to Finish: 10 minutes, plus refrigeration time Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 0 minutes
Ingredients: 3 cups finely chopped cooked skinless chicken 1⁄2 cup toasted chopped nuts (such as almonds, pistachios, walnuts or pecans) 1⁄2 cup chopped apple (may also use grapes) 1⁄4 cup dried cranberries 2 tablespoons nonfat plain Greek yogurt 3⁄4-1 cup lite balsamic vinaigrette Salt and pepper to taste
Instructions: 1. In a large bowl, toss together chicken, nuts, apple, and cranberries. Stir in Greek yogurt. 2. Drizzle with vinaigrette and toss until combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. 3. Chill, covered, 15 minutes or until ready to serve.
The microwave is a handy tool, especially when it comes to cooking muscle building eggs. If you don’t have spinach on hand, then add whatever you have in the fridge. For veggies like broccoli and cauliflower, chop before adding.
Ingredients: Cooking spray 2 large eggs 1 handful baby spinach 1 small handful crushed Rice Chex
Instructions: 1. Combine and whisk eggs. 2. Spray a small ramekin or glass bowl with cooking spray. 3. Layer crushed Chex first, then spinach and pour whisked egg mixture to cover. Give it a quick stir. 4. Microwave on medium-high heat for 2 - 2 1/2 minutes; stopping 1 time to stir. Let cool and enjoy!
Ingredients: 1 cup tofu, extra-firm, diced 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil 2 teaspoons fresh ginger 1/4 cup scallions, diced 2 tablespoons sesame seeds 1 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional) Pinch of salt
Instructions: 1. Heat oil in a small skillet and add ginger and scallions. Sauté for a minute; add tofu and press down with a fork to scramble. Cook through until tofu starts to turn golden brown. 2. Remove from stove and sprinkle with sesame seeds, smoked paprika and salt. 3. Serve from the skillet.
Recipe and photo provided by Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN of Simple Cravings. Read Food.
Smoked Salmon Sandwich Spread
Salmon contains both BCAAs and anti-inflammatory omega-3s. Whip up this spread for an easy snack and serve over multi-grain toast or place a spoonful over cucumber slices.
Ingredients: 1 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt 2 ounces organic or wild smoked salmon (no added nitrites), finely chopped 1 teaspoon dried dill weed or 1 tablespoon fresh dill weed ½ cup fresh tomatoes, chopped (optional, for garnish)
Instructions: 1. In a medium bowl, combine ingredients and divide evenly. 2. Serve over multi-grain toast. 3. Garnish with optional chopped tomatoes and serve.
Recipe from Beyond The Mediterranean Diet: European Secrets Of The Super-Healthy, by Layne Lieberman, MS, RD, CDN.
Jerk Pork Tenderloin with Pineapple Mango Salsa
Pork is another lean protein to help get your muscles fit and lean. If making the salsa seems daunting, then start by making the jerk chicken pork on its own. You can always buy jarred mango salsa at the market or make the salsa in advance and store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Ingredients: For the Pork: 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 2 tablespoons jerk seasoning 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 1-1 1/4 pounds pork tenderloin, trimmed of fat and silver-skin
For the Salsa: 1 cup fresh pineapple, washed and diced 1/2 cup fresh mango, washed and diced 1/4 cup red onion, washed and diced 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, washed 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice 2 teaspoons diced jalapeño, washed Salt, to taste 1 lime, washed and quartered
1. In a small bowl, mix half of the olive oil with the jerk seasoning and salt. Spread mixture evenly over the pork. Place the pork in a resealable plastic bag, seal and marinate it in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. 2. While pork is marinating, make the salsa. In a mixing bowl combine all of the salsa ingredients and mix well. Season with salt to taste. 3. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for about 15-20 minutes. 4. Heat a heavy non-stick pan, such as a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat until hot, about 3-5 minutes. Add the remaining oil to the pan and then the pork. Cook about 2 minutes per side, until browned. Cover loosely with foil, reduce the heat and cook, turning occasionally, until internal temperature reaches a minimum of 145°F in the thickest part of the pork. 5. Remove the pork from the pan and let it rest for at least 3 minutes. 6. Slice the pork and serve topped with pineapple-mango salsa. Serve with a lime wedge.