The most strenuous, high-intensity workout in the world won’t mean much unless you’re eating the right foods to actually fuel muscle growth. Most foods will be high in protein (a key macronutrient for building muscle) but you’ll also need carbs too for replenishing depleted glycogen stores and providing your body with energy to hit your workouts hard.
Round things out with some healthy fats to help with vitamin and nutrient absorption, and you’ll have the ideal formula for building muscle.
Read on as we dive into 20 of the best muscle-building foods. In conjunction with a solid strength training program, the foods below hold the keys to muscle growth!
Build Muscle With These 20 Foods
1. Chicken breast
We’re starting our list off with one of the best protein sources pound-for-pound. It’s simple, easy, and you can make a ton of different recipes with chicken breast at the center of them. In just 4 ounces of chicken breast, there’s a whopping 35g of lean protein to help you pack on the muscle.
2. Whole eggs
While egg whites may have less fat content, you’d be missing out on a lot of other health benefits by skipping out on whole eggs. Besides, the yolk is actually a healthy fat that’s good for you!
Eggs are packed with protein. And the thing that whole eggs give you over egg whites is a ton of leucine. Leucine is an amino acid that is key to helping your muscles recover in between workouts. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that consuming whole eggs post-workout led to a greater muscle growth reaction than consuming just egg whites.
Salmon comes in at an eye-popping 23g per 4-ounce serving. Outside of protein, any type of fish is also going to be super high in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce risk factors associated with heart disease (like high blood pressure), fight inflammation that can cause autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease, and even guard against age-related diseases like Alzheimer’s.
In just one 4-ounce can of canned tuna, there’s a ton of protein, at roughly 28g per serving. Canned tuna is an especially great option if you’re on the go and need something quick. It goes great over salads and like salmon, it’s an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.
If you were to look up protein in the dictionary, there might be a picture of shrimp alongside it. That’s because shrimp is loaded with protein. 4 ounces comes with a mind-blowing 27g of protein. It's also low in overall calories, which makes shrimp a great option if you’re trying to build muscle while staying lean.
6. Lean beef
Want to pack on the muscle? Try lean beef. Not only is it high in protein but it contains conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), which is basically a natural body fat melter. When looking at lean beef options, try to go with grass-fed beef if you can.
7. Greek yogurt
Greek yogurt is not only delicious but packed with a ton of protein too. Compared to other yogurts, Greek yogurt is king when it comes to the protein at approximately 10g per 4-ounce serving.
Drizzle some granola or fruit of choice on top like blueberries or strawberries, or maybe even some chia seeds to concoct the ultimate and tasty treat to help you build muscle.
8. Whey protein
Whey protein is a convenient way to hit your protein goals. Our Whey Fantastic protein powder is 100% grass-fed and comes jam-packed with 25g of protein per serving. This fast-absorbing protein powder contains the optimal blend of whey isolate, concentrate, and hydrolysate to help you build the muscle you want.
Sliced turkey from the deli is a quick and easy option for sandwiches. But if you go with a super lean cut of ground turkey, such as 99% fat-free, you can expect a whopping 28g of protein and just 1g of fat per 4-ounce serving. Lean ground turkey is great for making turkey burgers. So not only is it high in protein but your taste buds will thank you too!
10. Pork tenderloin
Pork tenderloin is a tender cut of meat that’s super high in protein. 4 ounces come in at roughly 29g and one serving will get you a third of the recommended amount of vitamin B2 for the day. Vitamin B2 is crucial for helping your body convert the food you consume into energy.
11. Cottage cheese
Cottage cheese contains about 13g of protein per 4 ounces. The great thing about cottage cheese is that it’s jam-packed with casein protein, which is just as beneficial as whey for building muscle and helping you recover in between workouts. Aside from having a lot of protein, cottage cheese is also full of calcium, B vitamins, and vitamin A.
This is an extra lean cut of mean, so it’s great for anyone who’s looking to pack on some size while limiting putting on any body fat. At 17g per 4-ounce serving, this flavorful protein option is a good way to switch things up with your animal cuts of meat.
One cup of cooked soybeans has roughly 29g of protein. They also come filled with unsaturated fats (the good kind) and a host of other vitamins and minerals, such as vitamin K and iron.
Vitamin K prevents excessive bleeding and is critical to bone health, while iron transports oxygen throughout your body, including to your muscles.
14. Chia seeds
Can little tiny seeds really have a lot of protein? You bet they can, so don’t let their size fool you! Aside from helping you build muscle, chia seeds have a ton of other health benefits. One ounce of chia seeds comes with 10g of fiber, which is bound to keep you feeling full and on track with your health goals. They’re also high in omega-3 fatty acids, which work to reduce inflammation and lower the risk of heart disease, among other things.
15. Hemp Seeds
Sticking on the topic of seeds, hemp seeds are next on our list. If you’re looking for a superfood, then you’ll find it in hemp seeds. Just three tablespoons will get you about 10g of protein. You can sprinkle hemp seeds in your cereal or yogurt, use them in your smoothies, bake with them, or even sprinkle them on top of a salad.
16. Sweet Potatoes
Sweet potatoes are great for workout recovery. They’re packed with healthy carbohydrates to help your body refill expended glycogen stores in between training sessions and contain fiber to keep you full and on track with your muscle-building goals.
Sweet potatoes are also low on the glycemic index, which makes them a great option for managing blood sugar levels.
17. Brown Rice
Complex carbs are a key part of any diet whose goal is to build muscle. Since complex carbs are slow-digesting, they give your body a prolonged energy source that you can apply to your workouts.
When it comes to building muscle, oatmeal is a staple you’ll want to include in your diet. The carbs in oatmeal can help fuel your workouts while the fiber will keep you feeling full and your bowels regular (wave bye to constipation). A common muscle-building breakfast might include oatmeal, with a side of eggs and turkey sausage for some protein.
If you’re looking for a plant-based protein source, give quinoa a try. It contains insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which is a hormone that promotes muscle growth, and has the complex carbs to supply your body with energy. Combine quinoa with some chicken and a side of vegetables like broccoli and you’ll find yourself with the ultimate muscle-building meal.
Nuts are a great way to get in some healthy fats, protein, and fiber all in one. They’re great for a snack on the go and make for something healthy to munch on in between meals.
Having your nutrition in order makes building muscle that much easier. Prioritize foods that are high in protein like chicken breast, shrimp, grass-fed lean beef, and Greek yogurt. Whey protein shakes can be a convenient option for hitting your protein goals.
Carbs and fats matter too. Fill up on healthy carbs like sweet potatoes, oatmeal, brown rice, and quinoa, while throwing some healthy fats in there like nuts and seeds to round out your complete muscle-building diet.
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About the Author:
Chad Richardson is a freelance writer from Cincinnati, OH. He enjoys creating content that helps people get in shape and live healthier lives. When he’s not behind his computer, you can find Chad at the gym, out with friends, or being a homebody binging on Netflix.