Foods That Build Muscle: Eat Your Way to the Physique of Your Dreams

Posted by: Robert Swilley

Eating the proper foods is paramount for muscle growth. To build muscle you need high quality protein sources that are low in saturated fat, complex carbohydrates that are high in fiber, and healthy dietary fats.

These foods are also filled with important vitamins and minerals that the body requires to build muscle. By eating the right foods for muscle growth you will not only pack on muscle in the process they will also help with you lose fat.

Greg Plitt
Greg Plitt knows how to eat.

Eat High Quality Protein Sources

Protein is the building block of muscle. It's important to choose lean proteins that are low in saturated fat. However, don't completely eliminate saturated fat from your diet. Saturated fat should consist of 10% or less of your daily caloric intake.

Summer lunch with spring vegetables, cherry tomato & steak

Below are some example protein sources:

  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Beef (90% lean)
  • Tuna
  • Wild Salmon
  • Egg Whites
  • Whole Eggs (in moderation)
  • Whey Protein

Eat Complex Carbohydrates Packed with Fiber

Carbohydrates give your body the fuel (muscle glycogen) it needs to take on intense workout sessions. High fiber complex carbohydrates give you energy while also keeping your blood sugar levels in check which helps minimize fat storage.

Whole Grain Cereal with Raisins

Below are some example complex carbohydrates:

  • Steel-cut Oats (Hate oatmeal? - Make oatmeal taste better)
  • Millet
  • Barley
  • Brown Rice
  • Wild Rice
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Natural Yogurt (low fat)
  • Legumes (Beans)
  • Whole Wheat Pasta
  • Whole Wheat Bread
  • Other Whole Grains

Vegetable sources:

  • Broccoli
  • Spinach
  • Green Beans
  • Asparagus
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Cauliflower

The Best Time to Eat Simple Carbohydrates

Keeping simple carbohydrates (simple sugars) low in the diet will help with fat loss, however, there are times when they are beneficial such as immediately after your workout. After a tough workout, your blood sugar levels are lowered and consuming simple carbohydrates (like Gatorade or a sports drink) will provide an insulin spike that will put your body in an anabolic (muscle building) state instead of a catabolic (muscle breakdown) state. I generally drink some Gatorade right after my workout and then shortly after drink a whey protein shake.

What About Fruits and Berries?

Both fruits and berries are simple carbohydrates, but they are also loaded with fiber and nutrients. They generally are very low in calories and have a low glycemic index. For example, a cup of raspberries has a whopping eight grams of fiber and is only 60 calories. They're also packed with antioxidants which help fight free radicals in the body.

Fruits and Berries

This is not a complete list by any means, but these Fruits/Berries are staples in my diet:

  • Apples
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Blackberries

I generally have a 1/2 to a whole banana every morning in my morning smoothie or berries depending what kind of smoothie I make. Fruits and berries are also great as mid-morning or mid-day snacks when combined with quality protein and fat sources. You can add some berries to yogurt or eat an apple with peanut butter, for example.

As long as you don't over do it you really can't go wrong with fruit. What you really need to stay away from and keep minimal in the are the processed simple sugars such as table sugar, white bread, high fructose corn syrup, sodas, cakes, cookies, etc. These sources provide no real nutritional value and are considered "empty" calories.

Eat Healthy Fat Sources

Dietary fats are absolutely essential for human health and eating the right fats will actually aid with fat loss and building muscle. A diet consisting of 20-30% fat has been shown to boost testosterone levels which will aid you muscle building endeavors.

Almonds and Nuts

Remember, as stated earlier around 10% or less of the total fat consumed should be saturated fat. Trans fat is the true "bad guy" in the fat world. EFA's (essential fatty acids - think Omega 3's) are also very important as they cannot be produced by the body. The only way you get them is through the food you eat, and they have a whole range of health benefits to boot.

Below are some example healthy fat sources:

  • Fish Oil
  • Flax Seeds
  • Almonds and Other Nuts
  • Olive Oil
  • Natural Peanut Butter

Should You Avoid Dairy?

No, not at all unless you are lactose intolerant. Dairy is a great way to add the extra calories needed in your diet in order to build muscle.

Dairy examples:

  • Milk
  • Butter
  • Cream
  • Cheese
  • Buttermilk
  • Yogurt
  • Ice Cream

Milk is great to mix with protein shakes and smoothies and consists of 20% whey protein and 80% casein protein. It has near perfect balance of fast digesting protein (whey) which is absorbed quickly in the body and slow digesting protein (casein) which will feed your muscle slowly over a few hours. It also contains important vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, vitamin b-12, and vitamin D just to name a few.

Ice Cream

That's right even ice cream (in moderation) is good for building muscle. A study by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that ice cream triggers a better insulin response than most other foods. In laymen's terms that means less protein breakdown and more muscle. So, have a bowl of any type of ice cream you want 2 hours after your workout. Now that's a treat!

Do not be afraid of dairy. There are some misconceptions out there about dairy. You won't get fat from the fat content in dairy. However, I recommend you get low fat instead of full fat dairy products. The essential fatty acids in dairy help regulate your metabolism and keep your skin, hair, and nails in healthy, shiny condition.

Another misconception about dairy is sugar content. The sugar in a glass of milk is not going to hurt you. The sugar in yogurt actually gets consumed by the live cultures (the good bacteria) while it sits on your shelf or the fridge!

Increase Calories to Pack on Muscle Mass

In order to gain muscle mass you'll need to eat a calorie surplus which is simply eating more calories than your body burns off. You can use our daily calorie estimator tool to get an idea of how many calories you should be eating each day.

Remember, even though these foods listed are healthy doesn't mean that you can over eat. You can still gain fat by over eating healthy foods and eating too many calories. Good luck on your quest for muscles, and be sure to include some of these foods on your next grocery shopping list!

 

Muscle Building Supplements

Supplements will never replace a good diet. I'll be the first to tell you that many supplements do not help you at all or are out right scams. However, there are some decent supplements that can help you build muscle such as whey protein and creatine.

Did I Miss Anything?

I know I haven't listed every possible muscle building food. Are there any great foods that you eat to build muscle that I've missed? Leave a comment below.

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