Lentils are legumes along with other types of beans. Peas, chickpeas, and peanuts also fall into this category. Although these foods are a staple of vegetarian diets, non-vegetarians can also benefit from eating more legumes. This is also true for people engaged in bodybuilding and other types of fitness activities. In this article the emphasis will be on lentils. However, what applies to lentils applies mostly to other legumes as well. We really hope that after reading this articles you will find enough justification for incorporating legumes and lentils into your diet.
Nutritional facts of lentils
Lentils contain 3 of the most important nutrients you will need for your training: a lot of fiber, protein, and slow-digesting carbohydrates.
A cup of lentils contains only 230 calories, with an impressive 18 grams of protein, and a total of 16 grams of fiber.
Adults generally need 10 to 35 percent of their total daily calories from proteins. This amounts to about 50-175 grams of protein a day based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet (according to Mayo Clinic).
As per the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, 1 cup of cooked legumes/lentils contains about 18 grams of protein. So with some clever permutations and combinations, it should be possible to get all your protein needs from legumes, lentils, and dairy products.
Meat eaters, however, will point out that legumes/lentils do not contain all nine essential amino acids. For that reason we cannot consider them as a complete source of proteins. They basically lack the amino acids methionine and cysteine. The good news, however, is that you can easily get all nine amino acids by consuming legumes/lentils with a grain such as rice.
Though different types of lentils may vary slightly in their nutrient contents, one cup (198 grams) of cooked lentils generally provides about 38 grams of carbohydrates (with fibers making almost 42%).
One cup of cooked red lentils provides almost 62% of the daily dietary fiber requirement for adults (15.6 g), which is the highest among all high-fiber foods such as chickpeas, kidney beans, and whole wheat bread. Split red lentil also has the lowest glycemic index (GI) when compared with rice and white bread, which makes the lentil an ideal food for people with diabetes.
There is almost no fat in lentils, which makes them a naturally fat-free food. However, many cooks add fat such as olive oil when they cook lentils, and that will change the nutrition facts. One-cup serving of lentils contains less than 1 gram of fat (0.8 grams).
Vitamins & minerals
Vitamins B3, B5, B6, B9, folic acid; calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc.
Why are legumes and lentils a good choice for bodybuilders & endurance sports?
They are rich in fibre, protein, and low-impact, slow-releasing carbohydrates. After quinoa they are the best plant protein sources. Most non-vegetarian bodybuilders focus on eggs and chicken. But including a part of plant proteins in your diet can further build your nutritious quotient. Therefore adding them to your daily meal will add a lot of nutrients and a good dose of plant protein as well.
One of the best foods for endurance sports also, lentils are also a rich source of the feel-good factor. Packed with protein and slow-releasing natural sugars, lentils are great for stabilizing blood sugar levels and maintaining stamina. In fact, one study found that eating lentils three hours before exercise could help increase endurance significantly more than other carbohydrates. Lentils are also crammed full of folic acid, an energy-boosting vitamin that plays a key role in the production of serotonin, the neurotransmitter in the brain associated with feeling happy.
Types of lentils & cooking time
When looking at lentils, you will see that there are 5 major varieties of lentils. These are red lentils, green lentils, French green lentils, brown lentils, and black lentils. Among these five types, red and green lentils are the most common types. Red lentils are faster to prepare because you will only 15 minutes to cook this, but the other 4 types require 30 to 45 minutes of cooking time. Red lentils play a major role in daily diet in South Asian countries like India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh.
Health benefits of legumes and lentils
- Legumes and lentils are rich in fiber. If you are looking for ways to reduce constipation, relax; you need not swallow anti-constipation pills or those disgusting fiber supplements. Try legumes and lentils instead. They are high in dietary fiber, both soluble and insoluble. Not only do they add bulk to stool, but they have also been found to reduce symptoms of the dreaded irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
- Legumes and lentils are good for a healthy heart. Societies that consume legumes and lentils as part of their regular diet are 82% less at a risk of developing cardiovascular diseases than those who do not. This is mainly due to the fact that they contain significant amount of folate and magnesium which do wonders for your heart.
- Low glycemic index. They are slowly digested. As a result, they feed for a longer period of time with more stabilization of blood sugar preventing fluctuation in energy level.
- Legumes and lentils replenish iron needed for energy. Legumes and lentils are rich in iron. Iron is an integral component of hemoglobin, which transports oxygen from the lungs to all body cells. Iron is also a vital component of energy production and metabolism in the body. No wonder, legumes and lentils are nowadays recommended to pregnant women who may be at a risk of iron deficiency, as also to growing children and adolescents in need of iron.
- Legumes and lentils are low in cholesterol. They are preferred over red meat (another rich source of iron) because legumes and lentils, unlike red meat, are low in fat, calories and cholesterol. Higher amount of legume intake lowers the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level and increases the high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol level.
- Reduced risk for type 2 diabetes. Various studies are showing that consumption of legumes like lentils reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, and obesity.
Summing up: Legumes and lentils
In ancient times, legumes/lentils were regarded as “a poor man’s meat”. Now thanks to scientists and expert bodies like the Mayo Clinic, we know that legumes/lentils are not only high in protein, like meats, but are actually better than meat with more dietary fiber and lower fat content. Furthermore, they are readily available, moderately priced, tasty, versatile, and easy to prepare .