Diet

21 Best Foods for Building Muscle
Here’s What You Need to Eat

best-muscle-building-foods-featured-image
Isaac Robertson
Written by Isaac Robertson

Trying to bulk up for the summer?

Well, it’s not going to happen sitting on the couch taking creatine supplements and ordering pizza.

There’s a common myth that training for serious muscle gain requires ridiculous caloric intake, especially for those naturally skinny guys and gals.

​The truth is, modifying your diet to include more protein and nutrient rich foods, combined with serious muscle training is the proper way to encourage muscle growth.

It is indeed true that calories and carbs are needed for energy during hard training, but in excess and without the proper moderation these extra calories and carbs only “bulk-up” to extra pounds of fat, not muscle.

Here are 21 healthy foods to help you start bulking up the right way along with plenty of water and a regular strength training routine:

Top 21 Muscle Building Foods

1. Chicken Breast

chicken-breast

Chicken breast (skip the skin!) is a muscle building staple because it is a lean meat that is chock full of protein and nutrients that help get muscles growing.

Especially important for active muscle builders, chicken contains plenty of niacin and vitamin B-12 which help with energy and proper muscle function. 

Chicken also includes iron and zinc, which all help ensure healthy body functioning.

Chicken was also one of the biggest factors that helped Matt Damon shed 60 pounds of weight.

2. Whey protein

Perfect for building muscles with its low calorie count and high protein content, whey protein is also full of nutrients such as glutamine and BCAAs. These nutrients aid in muscle stimulation and growth. (1)

Whey is a protein lover’s dream and manages to be filling while also being quick to digest. This results in speeding up the muscular repair and growth process to help with more effective muscle building.

3. Lean Beef

lean-beef

The leaner the better! Aim for 90%-95% lean beef to avoid adding extra fat to your diet, and if you can, spend the extra money on grass-fed beef to ensure that your body is getting the nutrients it needs.

These nutrients include plenty of protein, creatine, as well as B vitamins and minerals. A Healthline study states,

 “Some research has even shown that consuming lean red meat can increase the amount of lean mass gained with weight training.”

4. Tuna

Not only is tuna high in protein and nutrients, it’s also inexpensive and easy to pick up a can full of fish that tastes good and is good for you.

Light canned tuna, preferably tuna that comes packed with water instead of unhealthy mystery oils, is a perfect weight building food that includes vitamin A, omega fatty acids, and many B vitamins that are essential for healthy body weight and exercise function.

tuna

5. Shrimp

shrimps

Shrimp are a blast of almost nothing but protein, with single servings containing 18 grams of protein with as little 1 gram of fat and zero carbs.

A great way to incorporate protein into your diet without packing on calories, shrimp can be prepared a variety of ways as a meal or a snack any time of day.

Shrimp are also filled with leucine, an amino acid naturally found in animal protein. This amino acid is crucial for muscle mass to grow and function.

6. Eggs

Containing high quality protein including leucine and other essential amino acids, eggs are perfect for muscle building. (2)

Eggs have long been misunderstood as artery cloggers, but the cholesterol filled yolks can left out if you are going for a lower fat diet.

Either way eggs are a powerful and versatile muscle growing food. 

eggs

Recipes containing egg whites also work to add healthy protein to your diet without the extra fat and cholesterol.

7. Lentils

lentils

Lentils are loved for their many health benefits and little to no unhealthy qualities. Lentils are not only inexpensive and easy to make, they are filled with protein, dietary fibers, and carbohydrates to fill you up and keep you full throughout the day.

Lentils also aid in lean muscle growth. These legumes are also high in potassium, which helps muscles work without cramping or painful muscle contractions.

8. Quinoa

Quinoa is a high protein super-food that is filled with healthy nutrients as well as carbohydrates to keep you full throughout your workouts. Some of quinoa’s nutrients include magnesium and phosphorus, the former being a necessary nutrient for healthy heart and brain functioning.

Phosphorus has the added benefit of building healthy muscle fibers as well as strong bones and teeth.

quinoa

9. Salmon

salmon

Those good for you omega-3 fatty acids are what salmon is all about, including EPA and DHA, which make this another food that is good for your muscles and for your brain. Salmon is also high in protein and low-fat, making it a perfect diet staple.

Not only is salmon shown to build muscles, but the B vitamins within salmon are great for energy to keep your workout going.

​If you want to learn how to cook salmon, you can watch this video below.

10. Soybeans

Soybeans are another great food that can boost your vitamin and mineral levels as well as those healthy unsaturated fats. Vitamin K, iron, and phosphorus are at the top of the list of the soybean’s nutrients.

Vitamin K is essential for healthy eye function and iron is necessary for oxygen transport in your blood. Women in particular can benefit from iron especially during menstruation, when iron levels are low.

11. Turkey Breast

turkey-breast

Turkey breast is one of the leanest forms of meat you can eat, and can replace chicken and beef as well as pork in dishes which you would like to make healthier.

Turkey lacks the fat that these meats contain, even in their leaner variety, and can aid in packing on protein with delicious meals that will not add fat or extra calories to your meal plans.

12. Broccoli

Leafy greens like broccoli are perfect for muscle gain and this vegetable contains numerous nutrients necessary for a muscle building workout routine.

One that includes vitamins and minerals for a fit body and mind.

Make sure to include this on your meal plan.

broccoli

13. Brown rice

brown-rice

This is the classic bodybuilder's bro food.

Brown rice may not be a protein packed super-food, but it contains enough carbohydrates to endure any weight lifting session and get you through your strength training.

It is also more healthy and nutritious compared to white rice.

14. Steel-Cut Oats

Similarly to brown rice, steel cut oats are full of carbohydrates and can be used in a variety of ways in your cooking.

Besides the traditional breakfast of hardy oatmeal, oats can be used for breading a variety of lean meats or as a filler in meatballs.

However you prepare your oats, make sure to opt for steel cut, ensuring that you get the most nutrients possible.

oats


15. Spinach

spinach

Spinach isn’t just for Popeye! Another healthy leafy green vegetable, spinach packs a punch of nutrients such as vitamins A and E as well as plant fiber and plenty of protein.

This low calorie, low fat food is great for weight building in that it gives you many different nutrients in one small package.

16. Sweet Potato

Sweet potatoes are a root vegetable that can be a surprising addition to any muscle building meal plan. (3)

You will watch your progress increase with these super veggies, also called yams, which are filled with potassium and healthy fiber.

Mash them, make them into fries, prepare them any way that you would a white potato and watch the extra nutrients beef up your workout.

sweet-potato

17. Chickpeas

chickpeas

Chickpeas are a carb and protein packed food, with dietary fiber in addition.

These tiny beans, also known as garbanzo beans, can replace some rice dishes and be added as another versatile carb source for your diet plans.

​Watch the video below so you'll know how to make delicious ​dishes with chickpeas.

18. Peanuts

Although many nuts have plenty of protein for muscle growth, you do have to watch out for the fat content to keep those muscles lean. Peanuts contain lots of protein, fiber, and carbohydrates. (4)

In addition, the amino acids found in peanut butter can help lower blood pressure. They make a great snack food and with a variety of different seasonings and flavorings,

peanut

 peanuts can be a quick handful of protein that you don’t have to become bored of.

19. Tofu

Tofu is made up of one of the best muscle building super-foods, soybeans.

This meat substitute therefore contains lots of carbohydrates, as well as some protein while being relatively low in fat.

Tofu is also high in calcium, helping grow strong muscles for vegetarians and meat eaters alike. 

tofu

20. Almonds

almonds

Almonds are another very healthy nut, with high protein content and many nutrients.

Almonds contain vitamin E, which is great for hair, skin and nails, as well as magnesium and phosphorus for healthy body functioning.

Blend almonds into a smoothie to concentrate your nutrients, or have them as a snack covered in any flavoring that you prefer.

21. Whey Protein

There’s a reason so many fitness buffs love it. Whey protein is low-calorie and high-protein. It fills you up. 

Whey protein powder is fast to digest in the body and will help boost the muscular repair and growth process as fast as possible.

And it’s often packed with nutrients known to stimulate muscle growth like BCAAs and glutamine. The overall health benefits are wild.

150x150 - 100-whey-gold-standard Editors Choice

​Best ​​Muscle Building Foods: The Bottom Line

Weight training can be a tough balance between gaining weight for muscle mass and keeping lean muscles while avoiding additional fats. Without the proper diet, bulk can quickly turn into flabby pounds that are difficult to shed. 

In addition, turning gained weight into lean muscle is difficult without the right training regimen. A balanced combination of eating right and working out the targeted muscle groups for muscle gain will ensure that you get the results that you want.


​References

​1. Pasiakos SM, McLellan TM, Lieberman HR., The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review., retreived from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25169440
2. Jesse Hicks, You Should Eat the Entire Egg to Build Muscle, retrieved from https://tonic.vice.com/en_us/article/wjpdwy/you-should-eat-the-entire-egg-to-build-muscle
3. August McLaughlin, Sweet Potato Benefits for Bodybuilders, retrieved from https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/sweet-potato-benefits-bodybuilders-8975.html
4. S. Chauhan, Akshata R. Salve, Shalini S. Arya, Peanuts as functional food: a review, retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4711439/

About the author

Isaac Robertson

Isaac Robertson

I’m a personal fitness trainer and nutritionist living in sunny Indianapolis, IN. I’ve spent the last 8 years staying at the forefront of the health and fitness industry. In that time, I’ve helped hundreds of people shed the excess weight and get into shape, maintaining their healthy new lifestyle through proper training and eating habits. You can read more about me here​.

>