Bigger, toned muscles require strong willpower and patience. A muscle-building diet and regular workouts are crucial for the results you want to achieve. Your muscles won’t get bigger instantly, they develop gradually and boost your confidence at the same time. To support the effects of regular workouts you need to make necessary dietary changes. Instead of fast food and other unhealthy options, you may want to enrich your diet with 14 muscle-building foods from this post. Scroll down to see them all.
Lean beef is an abundant source of various nutrients including B-complex vitamins, high-quality proteins, minerals, and creatine. For people who want to increase muscle mass, consumption of lean red meat is important. A study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consumption of lean red meat can elevate the amount of lean mass gained with weight training (1).
This meat is beneficial for older adults too. Evidence confirms been intake is positively related to the mid-arm muscle area and protein intake has a positive impact on nutrition status, calf circumference, and BMI (2).
It’s also useful to mention that beef contains creatine which is beneficial for muscle growth and maintenance, taurine which promotes muscle function. Moreover, beef contains all essential amino acids and is referred to as complete protein. Consumption of lean beef also boosts energy levels for improved athletic performance.
Eggs are incredibly nutritious and rich in vitamin A, B-complex vitamins, selenium, phosphorus, healthy fats, and protein. Proteins are composed of amino acids and eggs are particularly abundant in leucine. This amino acid is important for muscle gain. Muscle recovery from exercise, resistance, and endurance depend on dietary leucine (3).
Egg protein is highly bioavailable and able to promote muscle protein synthesis. Lutein and zeaxanthin, two powerful antioxidants, are present in high amounts in eggs. Consumption of three whole eggs per day for 12 weeks elevates plasma levels of these antioxidants and adiponectin thus reducing systemic inflammation. Adiponectin supports the reduction of catabolic inflammatory cytokines and it is inversely correlated with muscle fat storage.
A diet rich in eggs reduces intermuscular adipose tissue by lowering overall adiposity and skeletal muscle lipid intake. Basically, not only do eggs promote muscle growth but also preserve lean muscle mass in people who lose weight (4).
Now you’re probably worried about cholesterol. While eggs are high in cholesterol, eating them doesn’t adversely affect blood cholesterol levels for most people.
Poultry, especially chicken breast, is a staple muscle-building food. Chicken breasts are rich in protein as well as some B-complex vitamins such as niacin and B6. The body needs these vitamins for energy production (5).
So, while supplying the body with protein to support muscle growth, poultry also increases energy levels to help you get the most out of your workout routine. Besides the chicken, turkey meat is also a great food choice to gain muscle mass due to the same reasons. Poultry meat is cost-effective, versatile, and easy to prepare with different ingredients.
Salmon is one of the best sources of Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. This fatty fish also supplies the body with protein, B-complex vitamins, potassium, and other important nutrients your body needs for overall health. A growing body of evidence confirms that Omega-3 fatty acids are beneficial for muscular health and may even increase muscle mass during exercise programs (6).
A study from the Current Developments in Nutrition found that the consumption of salmon or its isolated nutrients elevates plasma amino acid levels and increases the stimulation of post-exercise muscle protein synthesis rates (7).
Since omega-3 fatty acids are important for muscle strength and definition in young and older adults alike (8), salmon should be a part of your diet. Besides salmon, you may also want to eat other fatty fish including tuna, mackerel, sardines, and herrings.
Milk is packed with important nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus, B vitamins, potassium, and vitamin D. Additionally, milk is an excellent source of protein, especially slow-digesting proteins. These proteins are beneficial for muscle growth.
In one study participants who combined resistance training with milk consumption experienced greater muscle mass accretion, strength gains, and fat mass loss. They also had a possible reduction in bone turnover than their counterparts who combined their training with carbohydrates (9).
You see, ingestion of whole milk following resistance exercise results in threonine and phenylalanine uptake, representative of net muscle protein synthesis. Whole milk could improve the utilization of available amino acids for protein synthesis (10).
Different types of milk are available nowadays so it can be tricky to choose the right kind for muscle building. Cow’s milk seems to be the best choice. Skim milk helped weightlifters build twice as much muscle mass as soy milk in one study (11).
If you’re lactose intolerant, you may benefit from goat’s milk which despite a low level of lactose is easier on the stomach to digest. Almond milk and other plant-based milk kinds could help you as well.
Besides milk, cottage cheese also belongs to the optimal muscle-building diet. One cup (226g) of low-fat cottage cheese contains 28g of protein, including a significant amount of leucine (12). As seen above in this post, leucine is important for muscle growth and health. Consumption of dairy products, dairy protein, and calcium is associated with more favorable body composition (13).
Cottage cheese is also an abundant source of protein casein which is just as effective as whey protein at building muscle. In fact, casein is even better than whey at inhibiting muscle breakdown due to slower absorption (14, 15). Casein supports prolonged absorption of amino acids, which is associated with increased muscle building capacity.
Greek yogurt has become popular lately but it’s not just a random fad. Abundant in nutrients, Greek yogurt has a wide spectrum of health benefits. What many people don’t know is that bigger muscle mass is one of them. Consumption of Greek yogurt during a training program results in improved strength, muscle thickness, and body composition. Combination of this yogurt with a workout program proves to be more effective than combining an exercise regimen with carbohydrates (16).
It’s also useful to mention that Greek yogurt contains both whey and casein. Whey is a fast-digesting protein while casein is slow-digesting. Research shows that people experience increases in lean mass when they combine slow- and fast-digesting proteins (17).
Why not regular yogurt, you wonder?
A regular yogurt is also a decent option for men and women who want to gain muscle mass. However, Greek yogurt contains double the amount of protein. To get the most out of Greek yogurt, you may want to eat it after a workout or before bedtime due to its combination of the two kinds of proteins.
Nowadays it’s easy to find Greek yogurts with different flavor options. You should stick to the plain one in order to avoid added sugar.
Diet is an excellent source of different nutrients you need to gain muscle mass, especially protein. However, sometimes we do not obtain enough of those nutrients during the day to experience the benefits they provide. For that reason, supplementation with whey protein is a great way for men and women alike to promote muscle growth and toning. Whey is a complete protein because it contains all the essential amino acids. This protein is also abundant in leucine, which is vital for muscle growth.
When we’re talking about whey protein, which is most widely consumed in the form of supplements, it’s also useful to mention that casein is also a great option. Protein powders deliver the exact amounts of nutrients you need to gain muscle mass and tone your body.
Oatmeal is a staple breakfast food. Simple to prepare, easy to combine with other ingredients, and a great source of fiber, oatmeal keeps us full and healthy. The fiber in oatmeal supports digestion and ensures regular bowel movements; which is important for overall health.
The chances are high you’ve never thought of oatmeal as suitable muscle-building food, but you should. You see, oatmeal is a wonderful source of carbohydrates due to the minimum processing and low glycemic index. As a result, oatmeal increases satiety and prevents overeating and frequent hunger. It also boosts energy levels to help you go through strenuous workouts and get the most out of them.
Moreover, oat consumption can alleviate eccentric exercise-induced skeletal muscle soreness to facilitate recovery (18). When it comes to muscle building, proper recovery is just as important as your workout routine.
Getting enough protein to support muscle building is easy for omnivores, but not quite simple for vegans and vegetarians. That’s where the beans step in. Beans are high in amino acids, the building blocks of protein. They prove to be a decent source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. Besides protein, beans also deliver folate, antioxidants, fiber, and other important nutrients such as magnesium, phosphorus, and iron.
Plant-based protein sources are often considered not as effective as animal-based counterparts. However, studies confirm that proteins from plant-based sources can increase skeletal muscle mass (19).
Beans keep you full for longer and provide a consistent energy boost throughout the day. Since energy is important for endurance during your workouts, you should consider adding beans to your diet.
Broccoli is a vegetable that most people push aside on the plate and refuse to eat, but you should up their intake. Selenium, phosphorus, potassium, folate, vitamins K, A, C, fiber, and protein are some of the many nutrients found in broccoli.
The folate content in broccoli is particularly important because it converts to folic acid in the body and helps repair DNA and takes part in the production of red blood cells. Vitamin C works as an antioxidant and it’s crucial for immune defenses and protection against oxidative stress (which exercise can produce).
Moreover, broccoli (and other vegetables such as kale and spinach) is abundant in zinc. The body needs zinc to produce testosterone, which is crucial for muscle mass. Zinc promotes recovery from exercise, athletic performance (20) and boosts fertility too.
Gaining muscle mass is not just about upping the protein intake, you also need other nutrients to achieve your goal. Quinoa may not be an abundant source of protein like cottage cheese, for example, but it delivers carbohydrates. The body needs carbs to produce fuel for energy (21).
One cup (185g) of cooked quinoa supplies the body with 40g of carbs as well as 8g of protein, 5g of fiber, and decent amounts of micronutrients such as phosphorus and magnesium (22). Magnesium is vital for our overall health and wellbeing. We need this mineral to support the proper function of muscles and nerves which we use every time we move, especially when working out.
So, quinoa can help you get a consistent source of energy for workouts and support your muscles and nerves at the same time. Fiber will support digestion and aid weight management.
When we’re on the subject of energy source, it’s also useful to mention brown rice. Even though one cup (195g) of cooked brown rice delivers only 5g of protein, it supplies the body with the carbohydrates you need to fuel your workouts.
Many people fear carbohydrates thinking they’re bad for them. The source of a specific nutrient is the most important thing. So, if you consume carbs from healthy sources such as quinoa and brown rice you will be able to do more during your workouts. Consider eating brown rice a few hours before your training session.
Speaking of rice, evidence shows that rice protein supplements can produce as much muscle gain as whey protein during a weight-training program (23). More research on this subject is necessary to learn the true potential of brown rice and proteins obtained from it.
Have you ever tried bison meat? If not, you should. A three-ounce (85g) serving of bison meat provides 22g of protein including leucine (24). Muscle building requires protein because protein is the building block of your muscles. For those reasons, eating a sufficient amount of protein helps you maintain or increase muscle mass in a healthy way. Bison delivers a significant amount of this important nutrient per serving. Yet another good news is that bison is better than beef in the potential to reduce the risk of heart disease (25).
Bigger muscle mass is a body goal for many people. It’s not uncommon for people to think this goal is impossible to achieve, but the reality is different. To increase muscle mass you need to exercise regularly and modify your diet. Careful selection of foods can help you maximize results from the gym. This post featured 14 amazing foods you can eat to increase muscle mass, boost energy levels, and support overall health and wellbeing. Dare to experiment, prepare your own meals, and combine different ingredients to find out what works for you the best.