Many people are under the impression that the best way to build lean muscle is to work out. While it’s true that challenging your body through physical activity is important for building muscle, if you do not have the appropriate nutritional support, your progress will stall. Therefore, both nutrition and physical activity are part of the process for gaining lean muscle mass.
Foods that are high in protein are important for gaining muscle- but you also need carbs and fats to supply your body with energy. Therefore, if your ultimate goal is to build lean muscle, it’s important to work out on a regular basis and make sure that your calories are coming primarily from foods that can help you gain muscle.
In this article, we’re going to explore 26 of the best foods to gain muscle.
Best 26 Foods to Gain Lean Muscle
As we’ve said, there’s more to building muscle than working out. Diet has a lot to do with it as well. Below, we’ll take a closer look at 26 foods that have been proven to help build lean muscle.
A 3-ounce serving of tuna contains 20 grams of protein, as well as high levels of vitamin A, vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, and niacin. These nutrients are critical for optimal workout performance, health, and energy levels. In addition, it contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are presumed to support muscle health. This is especially important for older adults. Research indicates that omega-3 fatty acids slow down age-related loss of muscle mass and strength.
When it comes to muscle-building and overall health, salmon is one of the best foods you can choose. Each 3-ounce serving contains several important B vitamins, 1.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids, and 17 grams of protein.
Omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in muscle health and may contribute to muscle gain during workouts.
Shrimp are almost 100% pure protein. Each 3-ounce serving contains 1 gram carbs, 19 grams of protein, and 1.44 grams of fat. Adding some shrimp to your diet is a great way to get muscle building protein without consuming too many extra calories. Like other proteins, shrimp contains high levels of leucine, which is critical for optimal muscle growth.
While it’s true that tilapia doesn’t have as much omega-3 fatty acids as salmon, it is another seafood item that is packed with protein.
A single tilapia filet offers 23 grams of protein, as well as high levels of selenium and vitamin B-12. Vitamin B-12 is critical for healthy blood cells and nerves, which allow you to perform the workout you need to in order to gain muscle.
Just like lean poultry, tilapia, and shrimp, scallops offer lots of protein with little fat. Therefore, if you want to add protein without adding extra calories, scallops are a great way to do it. A 3-ounce serving offers less than 100 calories, but 17 grams of protein.
Pork tenderloin is a lean cut of meat. A 4-ounce serving contains 23 grams of protein and 2 grams of fat. There is some research indicating that pork works a lot like beef and chicken when it comes to building muscle.
Chicken breast is packed with protein, which is the reason they are a staple when it comes to gaining muscle. A 3-ounce serving contains 26.7 grams of high-quality protein. In addition, chicken breast contains high levels of niacin and vitamin B-6, which are important if you are physically active. They help your body perform at its best during your workout session to optimize muscle gain. It’s also important to note that high-protein diets that include chicken may also lead to fat loss.
Turkey breast contains approximately 26 grams of protein, and almost 0 fat or carbs in a single 3-ounce serving. Turkey also contains niacin, which helps with the processing of fats and carbs in your body. Having high levels of B vitamins helps you build muscle over time by supporting your ability to work out.
Bison, like beef, offers approximately 22 grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving. There is some research indicating that bison may actually be healthier than beef, especially when it comes to risk of heart disease. If you like red meat, but are concerned about heart health, consider using bison in place of beef from time to time.
Studies have shown that beef is a high-quality source of protein, minerals, creatine, and B vitamins. There is some research indicating that consuming red meat increases lean mass gained with weight training. Even if you are trying to build muscle, it’s still best to choose beef that supports muscle gain without the extra calories.
For example, a 3-ounce serving of 70% lean ground beef contains 16 grams of fat and 235 calories. On the other hand, the same serving size of 95% lean ground beef is higher in protein, contains 6 grams of fat and only 148 calories.
If you’re on the go or just want a quick snack with a high-quality, powerful punch of protein, lean jerky is a great option. You can find jerky in a variety of meats, so the nutrition facts vary from one to another. Most of the fat is removed during processing, so almost 100% of the calories in jerky are from protein. Lean jerky is very high in protein and therefore stimulates muscle growth.
Tofu is a vegetarian product that is made from soy milk and typically used as a substitute for meat products. Each ½ cup serving of raw tofu contains 2 grams of carbs, 6 grams of fat, and 10 grams of soy protein. It is also high in calcium, which is critical for proper bone health and muscle function.
While we mentioned that plant-sourced proteins are not as high-quality as animal proteins, they are adequate and soy protein is the best of the plant proteins. Therefore, any foods containing soy protein are appropriate for vegans and vegetarians.
Eggs are a high-quality source of protein, healthy fats, and other important nutrients including choline and B vitamins. Proteins are made of amino acids and eggs contain high levels of leucine, which is an amino acid that is responsible for muscle gain.
Dairy products are considered high-quality protein because they contain a combination of whey protein, which digests quickly, and casein protein, which digests slowly. There is some research that indicates individuals who consume these dairy proteins experience an increase in lean muscle mass.
However, not all dairy is created equal. Greek yogurt is typically better because it contains twice the amount of protein as regular yogurt. This is a great snack to have any time, but it is especially beneficial following a workout or before going to bed due to the combination of whey and casein proteins.
One cup of low fat cottage cheese contains 28 grams of protein and a healthy dose of leucine. You can find cottage cheese in a variety of fat content- the higher fat versions, such as creamed cottage cheese, are higher in calorie content than others.
Choosing the best cottage cheese depends on how many extra calories you want to add to your diet. No matter what you choose, it’s always a great snack for building muscle.
Milk offers a variety of fats, carbs, and proteins. It is a lot like most of the other dairy products on the market, it contains fast-digesting and slow-digesting proteins. Research indicates that this can be good for muscle growth. In fact, there are several studies where participants have increased muscle mass by drinking milk and engaging in weight training workouts.
A half-cup serving of cooked soybeans contains 16 grams of protein, several vitamins and minerals, and healthy unsaturated fats. Soybeans are an excellent source of phosphorus, vitamin K, and iron.
Iron is used to store and transport oxygen in your blood and muscles. If you have an iron deficiency, it can impair these functions. Women are particularly at risk of iron deficiency due to blood loss during menstruation.
Edamame are immature soybeans and are found in pods. They are served in a variety of dishes, particularly those of Japanese origin. One cup of edamame will give you approximately 18 grams of protein and 8 grams of fiber. In addition, it contains high levels of vitamin K, manganese, and folate.
Folate is responsible for a variety of functions in your body, including helping process amino acids, which we know are the building blocks of protein. In fact, research indicates that folate is important for optimal muscle mass and strength, especially in older adults.
Beans are an excellent food to include in your diet for lean muscle gain. Some of the more popular types of beans, including kidney beans, black beans, and pinto beans actually contain approximately 15 grams of protein per cup of cooked beans.
In addition to being a quality source of protein, beans are also high in fiber, B vitamins, iron, phosphorous, and magnesium. Therefore, beans are a great plant-based protein to include in your diet to gain lean muscle. Research also indicates that they may be able to support long-term health and prevent diseases.
Peanuts contain a combination of protein, fat, and carbs. A 1-ounce serving of peanuts contains 6 grams carbs, high levels of unsaturated fats, 166 calories, and 7 grams of protein. In addition, peanuts contain higher levels of leucine than most other plant products. if you are struggling with getting adequate calories to facilitate muscle gain, peanuts may be a great way to get those extra nutrients and calories you need. Finally, research has indicated that nuts are an important part of a healthy diet.
In case you’re not aware, buckwheat is a seed. It is often ground into a powder form to be used as an alternative to traditional flours. A 1-cup serving of buckwheat groats (cooked) contains approximately 6 grams of protein, as well as adequate levels of carbs and fiber.
Over the years, buckwheat has become popular in the health food arena because it has an impressive vitamin/mineral content. It contains a combination of phosphorous, magnesium, B vitamins, and manganese- which help keep your body healthy and able to perform exercises that build lean muscle mass.
While it’s true that protein rich foods are critical for building muscle, your body also needs fuel to get active. Carbohydrate-rich foods, including quinoa, can help with this. One cup of cooked quinoa contains approximately 40 grams of carbs, as well as 5 grams of fiber, lots of phosphorous and magnesium, and 8 grams of protein. Your body needs magnesium to facilitate proper functioning of muscles and nerves, both of which are required when you move.
A one cup serving of cooked brown rice only offers 6 grams of protein- but it contains the carbs you need to fuel your workout sessions. Therefore, consider consuming healthy carbs such as brown rice or quinoa prior to working out, as it may allow you to workout harder and stimulate your muscle growth. Plus, it’s important to note that rice protein supplements are just as effective as whey protein when it comes to muscle gain during weight training.
Chickpeas, or garbanzo beans, are high in protein and carbs. A 1 cup serving of chickpeas contains approximately 15 grams of protein, 13 grams of fiber, and 45 grams of carbs.
Just like with most plant-based proteins, the protein content (though still adequate) is lower in quality than animal-based protein. That being said, it can still be included in your lean muscle building diet.
While it’s true that a good diet is based on whole foods- there may also come a time when you need some additional support from supplementation. If you are not getting the protein you need from whole foods alone, you may want to add protein shakes to your routine. The most popular ones are whey and casein, which are made from dairy. Some of the other options are bone broth protein, soy protein, and pea protein.
You can buy protein powders at your local grocery store, health food/nutrition store, and even online. There are lots of brands and flavors available.
A 1-ounce serving of roasted almonds offers 6 grams of protein, as well as high levels of phosphorous, magnesium, and vitamin E. Phosphorous is used by your body to facilitate the use of carbs and fats for energy during exercise, along with a variety of other functions.
Almonds should be enjoyed in moderation because they are so high in calories. A ½ cup of blanched almonds contains 400+ calories.
FAQs about Best Foods to Gain Muscle
Below, we’ve taken the time to answer a few of the most frequently asked questions about best foods to gain muscle.
What is the best diet for building muscle?
The ideal diet for building muscle should add 500 to 1,000 calories daily on top of what you are already consuming. That being said, there’s more to it than just increasing your caloric intake. You must first consider what you are already eating in terms of calories and protein. Ideally, you should be consuming foods that are high in complex carbs and protein, which can be obtained through both plant and animal sources.
The best way to optimize the building of muscle mass is to consume 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein daily along with engaging in a resistance workout regimen. You can reach this goal by consuming high quality protein sources throughout the day. You might even want to consider adding a high-quality protein supplement such as whey or casein.
If you want to track your daily protein consumption, you might want to consider using a nutrition app.
How important is diet in relation to building muscle?
Diet is a critical component of building muscle. A diet that is high in protein is helpful for increasing muscle mass, contributing to muscle mass gains and increased strength when used in conjunction with a resistance training program.
Which foods are best for building lean muscle?
If you are trying to build lean muscle, some of the foods you need to include in your diet are salmon, chicken, skim milk, beans, and Greek yogurt.
Which foods can quickly build muscle?
According to research, eggs are a great food to quickly build muscle. However, you must make sure that you are consuming whole eggs- not just egg whites. One study indicated that post-workout muscle building response in participants consuming whole eggs was 40% higher than the muscle building response of participants consuming the same amount of protein from egg whites.
Is it possible to build muscle while only eating 3 meals a day?
If you are only eating 3 meals a day, and you’re trying to build muscle, it’s important to consume more calories than you’re burning. This will trigger a state of anabolic growth.
You want to make sure you have a good balance of healthy fats, protein, and carbs. If you have access to a registered dietitian or a healthcare professional, they can help answer any specific questions about your personal nutritional needs.
How should you modify your diet to maximize muscle growth?
As mentioned, in order to maximize muscle growth, it’s important that you consume more calories than normal. You should be consuming 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight each day.
In addition, you need to make sure that you are consuming enough healthy fats, carbs, vitamins, and minerals to support muscle recovery and growth.
As you can see, there is a wide variety of foods that you can use to help you gain lean muscle mass. Most of them are high in protein, which facilitates muscle recovery and stimulates growth following a workout session.
Of course, protein is not the only important macronutrient. Your body also requires fats and carbohydrates to provide fuel for physical activity, including workout sessions. In addition to the proteins, fats, and carbs, most of the foods on this list also contain a variety of vitamins and minerals that keep your body performing at it’s best.
In order to successfully reach your lean muscle mass goals, you’ll want to focus on making sure that you are consuming your calories through the foods listed in this article, as well as regularly engaging in physical activity, including an appropriate workout regimen for your skill level.
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