Lean muscle mass is more than just big biceps and triceps. When talking about building muscle, a lot of people immediately picture masculinity. This generally involves men with large muscles – something that is desirable but not by all.
Muscle tissue in the body plays many roles. It can be used to improve body composition without gaining large biceps or six-pack abs. Numerous studies show that lean muscle tissue plays a key role in the maintenance of a healthy body (1).
One problem that comes with weight loss in some dieting programs is a loss of muscle tissue (2). When muscle tissue is reduced along with fat, there are adverse effects that may be experienced. Understanding how muscle tissue can be preserved and even increased is important. We look at some of the best foods that help to promote a healthier amount of lean muscle mass.
Best Foods For Muscle Growth
Some foods will make you gain weight in the form of fat, while others might rather assist in increasing your lean muscle mass. Understanding which foods will contribute to specific functions is important. Whether you are working out to grow your bicep or simply want the health benefits that come with an appropriate level of muscle mass in your body.
We want to focus on muscle growth foods here. There are many foods that contain the perfect combination of carbs, protein, fats, and nutrients to help you increase muscle mass.
Fatty acids are often overlooked when considering a diet for muscle growth. Omega 3 fatty acids, in particular, play a role in maintaining healthy muscle tissue throughout the body. There are many sources of omega-three fatty acids. Several studies show that salmon remains one of the top sources.
Salmon is easy to prepare and can be included in various dishes. It is also a diet-friendly food that not only helps with muscle development but could also be a useful addition to a weight-loss strategy.
Consuming a three-ounce piece of salmon offers approximately two grams worth of omega 3 fatty acids (3).
Another important factor to consider is that salmon is incredibly rich in protein. This is one of the most important macronutrients that a person needs if they are looking to increase lean muscle mass (4). The same serving size of salmon (three ounces) would offer a person approximately 17 grams of protein.
Apart from the protein and omega 3 fatty acids, salmon is also rich in several important nutrients. These include:
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
- Pantothenic acid
The combination of nutrients, protein, and fats makes salmon the ideal muscle growth food. Additionally, this is a low carb food, which means a person can add it to their diet even when following a ketogenic lifestyle.
2. Greek Yogurt
When it comes to protein, there are few sources that give you the same quality as Greek yogurt. This particular variation of yogurt may not taste as good as your favorite option but consider the benefits too.
The protein content in Greek yogurt gives you better quality than many alternative sources. This is not the only factor that makes Greek yogurt a great addition to a muscle growth diet.
There is not just a single type of protein in this yogurt variant. Instead, you get a dose of both slow and fast digesting proteins. The faster-digesting protein helps to provide a more immediate benefit, while the slow-releasing version tends to work over a longer period of time – it usually takes the body a few hours to digest this protein.
There are studies that show a combination of these two proteins should be considered essential among anyone looking to build muscle mass (5).
Consider adding some Greek yogurt to your post-workout smoothie. This is a great way to take full advantage of the slow and fast digesting proteins in the yogurt. Some people also find it useful to have some Greek yogurt before they go to sleep. This allows the higher quality proteins in the yogurt to work while the person sleeps.
3. Lean Beef
Beef is a popular meat product that is versatile. It can be added to a wide variety of dishes. While there are some adverse facts sometimes associated with beef, this may also be a great source of protein when looking to build more lean muscle mass.
When buying beef, make sure it’s a lean cut. You do not want too much fat on the piece of steak or meat you buy. High-quality protein is found in lean beef. In addition to the protein, lean beef also contains creatine, which is another excellent option for building muscle mass. Studies show that consuming creatine for just four weeks can already create a significant improvement in lean muscle growth (6).
Turkey is another excellent source of protein. Similar to the previous sources we mentioned, Turkey also has a high-quality type of protein. Eating about three ounces of Turkey breast would load a person up with 25 grams of protein. One thing to take note of here is that Turkey is incredibly low in carbs and fats.
While some may see this as a negative factor, consider the versatility that Turkey offers. By including only a small amount of carbs and fats, a person has more ideas to explore when setting up a meal. This way, it's easy to ensure there is no overload in carbs.
While Turkey gives a person high-quality protein, there are other reasons why this poultry meat is such a good option for muscle growth. The poultry meat includes niacin, which is known to assist with the digestion of carbs, as well as fats (7). The overall combination of vitamin Bs in Turkey helps to provide enhanced performance during physical activity too, which further contributes to the development of lean muscle mass.
When preparing a meal that will be used for bodybuilding or muscle growth purposes, you need to consider the complete macronutrient profile. Sure, focusing on protein is important, as this is the macronutrient you need to promote the development of muscle tissue.
Quinoa is a high-protein option that can be prepared with turkey, chicken, beef, salmon, and really any other type of food. It is also a great food for preparing dishes with vegetables.
The thing about quinoa is that this particular food is rich in carbohydrates. Yes, you do not want to overload on carbs, but when you are going to train hard, you need some help to push through those sessions. This is where carbs can come in.
Eating a cup of quinoa gives you about 40 grams of carbohydrates. The same cup of quinoa will offer you around eight grams of protein, along with some fiber. The high phosphorus and magnesium content in quinoa further add to the overall benefits offered by the food. Magnesium is critical in helping with your muscle functions (8). This mineral is also responsible for keeping nerves healthy.
6. Dairy Products
While we've already covered Greek yogurt, there are other dairy products that can be useful for people trying to build some muscle mass. Milk sometimes gets a bad rep – but for muscle growth, it can be very useful.
Milk provides an ideal combination of three important macronutrients:
Two important types of proteins can be found in dairy products. This includes slow digesting and fast digesting proteins. As previously discussed, combining the two proteins tend to yield more effective results.
There are studies that have looked at milk and muscle growth. In one study, researchers report milk is highly effective (9)—the study combined milk consumption with a frequent session of weight training.
Vegetarians and vegans sometimes feel a bit limited in terms of how they can consume high-quality protein. This is where substitutes come into the picture. Tofu is sometimes considered one of the best substitutes for meat – particularly in cases where a person is trying to load up on protein.
Tofu is a product made from soy milk. Tofu can be consumed raw but is sometimes also used in cooking. When consumed raw, there are about 10 grams of protein in half a cup of tofu. In addition to the protein content, this amount of tofu also offers two grams carbs and six grams fat.
Calcium is an important mineral that can be found in tofu. This mineral contributes to improved bone health. Studies also show that calcium plays a role in ensuring muscles can function properly (10).
8. Peanut Butter
A favorite among many bodybuilders, peanuts are incredibly rich in proteins and healthy fatty acids. This snack is also high in carbohydrates, which means eating some peanuts can give you a boost in energy. The more energy you have when training, the better you can work out.
A person can choose between eating peanuts raw or may rather opt for peanut butter instead. When consuming peanut butter, it's usually better to opt for purer options that do not contain additives and sweeteners.
Half a cup of peanuts will offer a person 17 grams protein and 16 grams carbs. The unsaturated fats in peanuts contribute to muscle function and toward a healthier body in general. It should be noted, however, that peanuts are relatively high in calories. Half a cup of raw peanuts contains an estimated 425 calories (11).
Soybeans are great food options for vegetarians looking to increase protein intake. Even among those who do consume meat, certain types of soybean products can still be a useful addition to their diet.
Among people who are looking to gain muscle mass, edamame is sometimes a preferred source. These are immature soybeans. They are still developing and can be found in the soybean pod. Many dishes use edamame as an ingredient. It’s generally easy to add it to a diet.
There are about 17 grams of protein in a single cup of edamame. Apart from the high protein content, one cup of this immature soybean offers around eight grams of fiber too. Fiber is important for digestive health and ensures the body is able to stay regular.
Edamame is also known to be a great source of manganese, vitamin K, and folate. The folate content in edamame helps the bodywork with amino acids more efficiently. Amino acids are considered protein's building blocks.
Last on our list is also one of the most potent muscle-building foods that exist. Eggs have been frowned upon in the past. People thought that eating eggs would cause a rise in cholesterol. Recent studies, however, have debunked this as a myth.
In fact, according to some studies, eating eggs may rather improve cholesterol balance. In one study, researchers report that eggs do not have an association with a condition known as dyslipidemia (12).
When it comes to high-quality protein, eggs often rank at the top. Eggs are not only packed with high-quality protein but also provide the person access to a range of healthy fats. Choline is another important nutrient found in eggs, along with multiple vitamin Bs. Leucine is an amino acid that is abundant in eggs (13). This amino acid is critical in cases where a person tries to increase their lean muscle mass (14).
Promoting Muscle Growth Through Diet
What a person puts into their body has a significant impact on the output. When leaning toward fast foods and fatty foods, the chances of gaining weight becomes higher. In this case, excess weight is gained in the form of fat. With obesity being the next step, there are additional factors to consider, including risks of heart disease and diabetes.
When using diet to increase muscle growth, it is important not to overlook the role of exercise. Goals also need to be taken into consideration.
If the goal is to lose weight, a person will need to achieve a calorie deficit (15). If a healthy body weight has been reached, then weight gain through muscle mass will sometimes be the goal. In this case, higher-calorie consumption will be required.
It is also important to consider the desired macronutrient profile. Men looking to experience a more significant increase in muscle growth will likely need to consume more fatty acids and protein. This comparison can be made to a woman trying to sculpt her body composition without experiencing a visible increase in size.
Increasing lean muscle mass can sometimes pose a challenge, especially while following a weight loss diet. Both men and women can benefit from a healthy amount of lean muscle in their bodies, however. There are certain foods that contribute to increased muscle mass, and including these in an existing diet may be easier than most people think.
(14) http://journals.lww.com/nutritiontodayonline/pages/articleviewer.aspx?year=2009&issue=01000&article=00013&type=abstract(15) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18025815/