Nutrition plays an equally huge role when it comes to building muscle, which is something that most people forego.
Sure, you can spend countless hours at the gym training your muscles, but in the end the results won’t be as good if you don’t back it up with the right foods.
To build the most muscle, you’ll need to supplement with the best muscle-building foods. Believe it or not, you can’t just load up on calories and call it a day. Careful planning and knowing which ones are the most beneficial will give you the most muscle gains.
Take a look at our 13 best bodybuilding foods below.
Best Foods for Building Muscle Mass
Fish in general, are good for building muscle, with its abundance of omega 3 fatty acids and B vitamins. However, salmon is king when it comes to growing lean muscle as it supplies a greater concentration of nutritional value, including vitamin D, niacin, and selenium.
A 3-ounce serving of salmon should give you a whopping 17g of protein. In addition, salmon tastes great no matter how you prepare it. They’re easy to eat, and you won’t have to chew as much as other types of protein.
Salmon is also associated with other benefits, such as improved memory and reduced cholesterol.
Chicken is a popular staple in any bodybuilder’s diet, and with good reason. It’s easy to procure, can be prepared in many different ways, and contains a lot of protein. A 3-ounce serving gives you 26 grams of clean protein.
You should, however, avoid eating the skin or frying it in a pan with oil so you won’t get the extra calories and unhealthy fat. Therefore, grilled chicken is the absolute way to go, especially if you want to pair it with grilled veggies and such.
Chicken is also good for those trying to convert fat into lean muscle.
What’s a good muscle-building eating program without eggs? It may sound cliche, but you’ll eventually have to incorporate them into your diet.
Eggs are cheap and packed with lean muscle-forming nutrients. You can prepare them easily- boil, poach, or eat them raw to get high-quality protein, choline, B vitamins, and healthy fat. In addition, you’re also getting essential amino acids that aid in workouts.
It’s worth noting that you get leucine, an amino acid that plays an essential role in muscle growth. Between 3 to 6 eggs daily should be enough to cover your protein needs. For a nice boost, it’s recommended that you eat them post-workout.
The only downside with eggs is that the yolks are loaded with cholesterol, if this is a concern for you just stick with egg whites.
Related: How to Eat for an Athletic Body
Lean beef can be your reward at the end of a long and rigorous training week. It’s delicious and packed with the good stuff necessary for muscle growth.
Studies show that lean red meat is a good protein complement for those who are doing weight training. Three ounces of 70 percent lean ground beef equals 21 grams of protein, while 95 percent lean ground beef has 22 grams of protein.
As a rule, the leaner the beef, the higher the protein count and the lesser its caloric and fat numbers. Keep this in mind when you’re going on a calorie deficit or when you’re trying to cut fat intake.
As for nutrients, you’re getting a slew of minerals, B vitamins, and creatine.
Whey protein powder is one of the best and most popular workout supplements around. Granted, it’s technically not traditional food but you do get a well-rounded smattering of nutrients for packing on much-needed lean muscle mass.
Digging further, you can choose among 3 types: whey protein isolate, whey protein hydrolysate, and whey protein concentrate. You’ll want to choose between isolate and concentrate- isolate has more protein per serving while concentrate has milk fat and sugar that your body can use.
Regardless of the type of whey protein powder, you can expect benefits such as essential amino acids, faster digestion and absorption, BCAAs and in some way, fat loss. In addition, you gain more strength and mass when paired with regular workouts at the gym.
You may not know it, but cottage cheese is considered one of the best superfoods for muscle gain, mainly due to its pure casein content.
Casein is a type of protein characterized by its slow-digesting aspect. This means that when you eat cottage cheese, you’re getting constant doses of protein throughout the day. Bodybuilders usually consume them before sleeping to get a streaming dose of amino acids to slow down muscle breakdown.
It’s worth noting that cottage cheese can aid in weight loss as it’s relatively low in calorie count and helps you feel fuller. Aside from protein, you also get calcium, vitamin B12, selenium, phosphorus, choline, zinc and copper.
Shrimp may be a rarity in a ‘best muscle building foods’ list, but it has a unique characteristic that others don’t.
You see, shrimp does have a decent amount of protein like other fish types, but what makes it shine in a lean muscle program is the fact that it contains super-low amounts of calories and virtually zero carbs.
A 3-ounce serving has only a gram of fat, no carbs, and 18 g of quality protein. It’s an excellent choice for low-carb diets such as keto and when you don’t want any other nutrients getting in the way.
It’s delicious and packed with omega 3 acids, selenium, and vitamin B12. Plus, you won’t have to go far in terms of preparation- just mix them in with vegetables or grits and you’ll be good to go.
Greek yogurt is different from the standard variety in that it doesn’t contain whey (so no sugar). Plus, you can choose a non-fat version, so you can just get pure protein.
This food should be at the top of your list as far as muscle building is concerned. Aside from that, you can look forward to other health benefits, such as boosting metabolism, better gut health and others.
Greek yogurt contains probiotics, vitamin B12, calcium and iodine. Furthermore, it has fibrous carbs and healthy fats for well-rounded nutrition. You can add it with fruits, particularly blueberries and bananas for a tasty breakfast or snack for easy eating.
If it seems that soybeans are superb bodybuilding foods, then you’d be right on the money. It offers several advantages over whey protein, especially for lactose intolerant.
Soybeans are versatile in that you can prepare them in many different ways. You can convert it into powder (as a protein shake), drink it as soy milk, or add it tofu or tempeh.
Vegans and vegetarians can turn to soy protein as an alternative to dairy-based proteins. It may not be as effective as whey, but it has all the essential amino acids you’d need to effectively build muscle. Nutrition facts are astounding- soybeans are a significant source of manganese, copper, phosphorus, iron, and fiber.
Tuna makes for a great addition to a muscle-builder’s diet. A mere 3-ounce serving gives you anywhere between 20 to 25 grams of protein, similar to the ones you get from chicken.
Other than essential protein, you also consume essential omega 3s, including EPA, DHA and ALA, vitamin D, selenium, and heart-healthy fats. Moreover, it doesn’t have a carb content, and it’s not as expensive as salmon or shrimp.
Canned tuna is great for snacking or getting your protein on the go. Just be mindful and eat tuna in moderation, or cycle through your protein sources.
Beans are usually overlooked in favor of popular proteins such as chicken and fish, but they do contribute to bigger lean muscles.
Although not as protein-rich as the others, you get essential fiber when you turn to beans. The best ones to include in your diet are kidney beans and black beans. Kidney beans provide 14g of muscle-building protein in one cup, while black beans provide 16g of protein.
Plant-based sources are a welcome addition to any eating program. You can get other essential nutrients as well, including B vitamins, iron, phosphorus and magnesium.
If you have carbs in your workout program, we’d suggest you turn to oatmeal. It’s excellent because the carbs are long-lasting and supplement your training quite well.
The fiber and high-satiety factor play along with a bodybuilder’s cutting phase, while bulking oats can give you the essential protein to make each lift count. It also has iron, thiamin, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc and manganese to round out the nutritional value.
Avocado and Other Healthy Fats
Avocado tops our list of superfoods for muscle growth because it’s an excellent source of vitamins and minerals and dietary fiber.
Fiber can help move things along, and it’s a relatively higher fruit in protein count than the others. A medium-sized avocado can give you up to 4 grams of protein. Other than that, you get the requisite folic acid, vitamin B9 and healthy fats.
Don’t shy away from good fats as they can help with bodily functions.
Best Muscle Building Exercises
Just eating the best muscle-building foods won’t do anything if you don’t do the right exercises to gain muscle. The following are some of the best exercises for building muscle:
2. Deadlifts: This is another excellent exercise for the entire body that engages many different muscles simultaneously.
3. Bench Press: Now for the king of upper body exercises. The bench press is a classic chest exercise that can help you build a powerful upper body.
4. Pull-ups: This compound back exercise is one of the best for developing overall strength and size.
5. Dips: This triceps builder is a must-do exercise for anyone looking to add size and strength to their arms.
6. Lunges: Lunges are an excellent way to target your quads and glutes, and they can be done just about anywhere.
7. Overhead Press: The overhead press is an excellent exercise for the shoulders, and it can also help build core strength.
8. Rows: Rows are an excellent exercise for developing the back and biceps. They can be done with various implements, I prefer cable rows myself.
9. Curls: curls are a must-do exercise for anyone looking to build big arms. There are many different curl variations that you can use to target all the muscles in your arms.
10. abdominal exercises: Finally, don’t forget about doing some basic abdominal exercises like planks to help build a solid and muscular core.
For a complete muscle-building program check out our 12-week hypertrophy cycle for building muscle.
As you can see from this list, you want to focus on compound exercises to build the most muscle. Calf raises are nice, but they aren’t going to get you very far overall.
Building muscle takes time and effort, but the payoff is worth it. By incorporating some of the best foods for muscle building into your diet, you can make the process a little bit easier.
They won’t do it alone though, you will also need to incorporate muscle-building exercises into your workouts.
These nutritious options will help give you the energy and protein you need to see results. What are you waiting for? Start stocking up on these power-packed eats today!
Ryan is a former college wrestler and lifelong fitness fanatic. He has run half marathons, done mud runs, placed in body transformation contests, coached wrestling and now coaches girls soccer. Not to mention he has also tried literally hundreds of supplements over the years and has a vast and thorough supplement knowledge. He has written for Muscle & Strength, Testosterone Junkie, The Sport Review and other publications. He is also the editor in chief of this website. Feel free connect with him on his LinkedIn page below.