Best Foods for Building Muscle

Athlete muscular fitness male model pulling up on horizontal bar in a gym.
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If you’re serious about building muscle, nutrition should be a big focus of yours, because what you eat — or don’t eat — is just as important as how you work out. Research has shown that several nutrients, including protein, folic acid, and vitamin B12, play a role in muscle growth and performance.

But not every food is suitable for building muscle. While high-protein foods can fast-track your muscle growth, other foods, such as refined sugar, may not do your muscles much good. Here’s everything you need to know about the best foods to build muscle.

How does nutrition affect muscle growth?

Nutrition plays a vital role in muscle growth. Intense exercise, such as resistance training, can cause muscle fiber trauma, which then triggers the process of repairing and replacing damaged muscle fibers. Muscle growth occurs when the rate of muscle protein synthesis (or the muscle repair process) is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. Nutrients such as protein help promote muscle synthesis while reducing muscle protein breakdown.

In fact, protein can help you grow and repair muscle, reduce hunger and burn fat.

However, protein alone doesn’t guarantee maximum muscle growth – you also need a source of energy to fuel your body, and the easiest way to do this is by adding carbohydrates.” Carbohydrates fuel your workouts and stimulate Insulin – a hormone that helps build muscle,”.

You’ll also want to add healthy fats like monounsaturated fats and omega-3s to your diet , as these boost the production of muscle-building hormones like testosterone. “In general, about 20 percent fat in the diet is usually sufficient,” says Dr.

Foods to Eat to Build Muscle, According to Experts

While it’s helpful to know the individual nutrients that are best for building muscle, most of us focus more on the actual food. If you’re wondering about specific foods to add to your diet to boost muscle growth, here are some of the best foods for the job, according to experts.

protein powder

Protein powders are a great way to get protein on the go. Most brands contain about 10 to 30 grams of protein per serving, making protein powders a great way to boost your protein reserves before or after a workout. What’s more, most powders dissolve easily in water or milk and can be easily added to smoothies. Protein powders come in a variety of forms, including whey and plant-based proteins.

A systematic review in Sports Medicine looked at the effect of protein supplementation on performance in adults aged 18 to 50 years. The study found that while protein supplementation in untrained individuals had no effect on lean muscle mass and muscle strength during the first few weeks of resistance training, protein supplementation appeared to enhance untrained individuals as the duration, volume, and frequency of training increased. and muscle strength gains in trained individuals.

chicken breast

A skinless, boneless chicken breast contains about 55 grams of protein, making it a good muscle-building food. But in addition to protein, chicken is also a great source of micronutrients like iron and vitamin B12, which may also support muscle building .

There are many ways to enjoy chicken in your diet, and you can add it to hot and cold dishes. However, avoid breading or frying chicken, as it may hinder your muscle-building goals. Instead, she recommends frying or grilling chicken breasts.

“Many people may find chicken breast boring, but when it’s seasoned properly, such as with paprika or lemon pepper, it can be delicious, and I also pair it with complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, brown rice or Quinoa.


According to MacPherson, eggs are one of the best forms of complete protein (a source of protein that contains all nine amino acids). A large hard-boiled egg contains about 6 to 7 grams of protein. They’re also high in other nutrients and healthy cholesterol to support muscle growth.

Both whole eggs and egg whites have been shown to improve muscle building, but whole eggs may have an advantage. Consuming whole eggs shortly after resistance training increases muscle protein production more effectively than egg whites, according to a small study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition


Tofu, a soybean-based food, is a great alternative to animal protein, “containing about 3 grams of protein per 6-ounce serving,” she says. Tofu is also a great source of calcium and iron, which promote muscle growth. Calcium helps muscles contract and relax properly, while iron helps deliver oxygen to muscle cells.

According to a 2015 review in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition , soy protein is just as effective as animal protein at supporting weight loss and promoting lean muscle gain, and even offers additional cardiometabolic benefits.

skim milk

Skim milk — which is high in carbs but low in fat — is the perfect addition to a post-workout protein shake, says MacPherson. Each cup contains about 12 grams of carbohydrates and 8 grams of protein, making it a good source of protein and energy.

An earlier study from 2007 examined the effects of drinking skim milk after a workout in novice, male weightlifters and found that skim milk enhanced muscle hypertrophy during the early stages of resistance training


A can of tuna contains about 42 grams of protein, making it an excellent choice for building muscle. It also contains vitamins and minerals such as iron, magnesium, and vitamin B12, which all support muscle growth.

Tuna is also rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are not only good for the heart but also help improve muscle mass and strength. For example, a small 2015 study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that fish oil-derived omega-3s slowed the decline in muscle mass and function in older adults.

Foods to Avoid for Muscle Growth

Not all foods support muscle building. If you’re focusing on building muscle, foods to limit include:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol consumption can negatively affect your ability to build muscle because it interferes with the protein synthesis process. What’s more, alcohol digestion forces the body to use antioxidants — compounds that protect cells from harmful free radicals. This reduces the amount of antioxidants available to support optimal cellular function in the body, which affects your muscle-building efficiency, she says.
  • Refined sugar: Sugary foods such as cakes, ice cream, and donuts are high in calories but very little in nutrients. “While a calorie is a calorie in terms of the math equation, not all calories are of equal quality,” recommends avoiding sugary foods and sticking to complex carbohydrates like bananas and apples because they contain fiber and other nutrients that support digestion and athletic performance.
  • Fried or breaded foods: It is recommended to avoid foods such as French fries, onion rings and chicken fingers, as they can promote inflammation and digestive issues, which can ultimately affect exercise performance.

When to Eat to Build Muscle

Knowing when to eat is also important for muscle gain. McPherson recommends eating a few hours before starting your workout so you don’t feel nauseous. You should also avoid high-fat foods before a workout because they can slow down digestion.

“You can refuel by eating a high-carb, high-protein meal an hour before your workout,” says McPherson. After a workout, she recommends consuming 25 to 40 grams of protein and 50 to 100 grams of carbohydrates. According to McPherson, some foods that can help you get there include:

  • 1 cup egg whites and 1 cup oatmeal
  • A scoop of protein powder and a banana
  • 1 cup skim milk and 1 cup sliced ​​strawberries

Along with a balanced diet, protein supplements such as protein powders are recommended to maximize muscle building and retention.

Bottom line: Nutrition plays a vital role in muscle building. So, for best results, do your best to stick to foods that complement your goals, avoid foods that slow you down, and eat the right foods at the right times.


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