To build muscle, you’ve got to train hard and eat right.
Today, we look at the other half of what it takes to get the most from your time spent in the gym -- the best foods to eat for building muscle.
Bodybuilding Meal Plan Basics
The basics of muscle-building nutrition are pretty simple. You must:
- Consume enough calories to fuel muscle growth and recovery
- Consume enough protein each day
- Consume a minimum of 0.3 grams of fat per day (though you can eat a higher amount if desired -- along with a lower amount of carbohydrates)
- Ideally, space your meals out evenly throughout the day (~every 4-5 hours). This promotes a greater anabolic environment and maintains a steady supply of amino acids into the bloodstream.
Sure, there is a bit more detail on certain things, but that’s the gist of it. Consume enough total calories and protein each day, do it consistently, and (provided you’re training hard in the gym utilizing progressive overload) -- you’ll build muscle!
If you’re interested in more detail regarding how many calories to eat to build muscle, click here for our step-by-step guide.
Foods to Focus On
As is the case with a fat loss diet, you want the majority of your diet to consist of whole foods (e.g., fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, nuts, seeds, and legumes). The upside to eating for muscle growth is that you get to consume more calories, which allows a little room for some "dirtier" foods in your diet (if you're having trouble consuming enough calories from whole foods). We'll get into that latter point a bit further down, but first, let's discuss some of our favorite foods to focus on for muscle building.
No real surprise here.
Steak is quite simply one of the most nutrient-dense and delicious foods on the planet. It’s packed with high-quality protein as well as numerous vitamins and minerals. Red meat is also high in two other nutrients -- L-carnitine and creatine!
On a massing (muscle gain) diet, you have some extra calories to spare, so feel free to get some of the fattier cuts of steak if you'd like or if you're strapped for cash as the leaner cuts of beef (e.g., tenderloin, filet mignon, etc.) tend to be more expensive.
Wild Alaskan Salmon
Another stellar source of muscle-building protein is wild Alaskan salmon. In addition to its high protein content, wild Alaskan salmon is a top-quality source for omega-3 fatty acids.
Protein and carbs typically receive all attention when it comes to establishing a proper muscle-building diet plan. Still, fats also play an essential role as dietary fats maintain cell membranes, synthesize hormones (like testosterone), and support a healthy inflammatory response.
Known as nature's ideal human protein in some circles, eggs are truly a nutritional powerhouse. The protein is highly bioavailable (which means our body's absorb and utilize it incredibly well). The yolk is packed with vitamins, minerals, and other essential nutrients, such as choline which supports learning, memory, and focus.
The notion that eggs or egg yolks aren't good for health has primarily been proven false. So, feel free to have a few each day to start the day or any other time you need a quick, healthy snack or meal to support muscle growth and recovery.
As is the case with all the other foods that we have discussed thus far, chicken is another excellent source of high-quality protein. Chicken is also typically cheaper than steak (especially if you go for dark meat, which tends to be juicier because of the slightly higher fat content than white meat chicken).
Cook up a bunch of chicken on the weekends during your meal prep, and you'll have a high-quality protein source ready to throw on a sandwich, in a salad, or mixed into a quesadilla.
One of the two or three primary carbohydrates utilized by bodybuilders for decades is rice. The reason for this is that it’s very easy to digest (which is important if your calorie needs are very high) and packed full of quality carbohydrates.
Rice is incredibly affordable and easy to prepare (especially if you have a rice cooker). And it can go with just about any protein source.
Another staple carbohydrate of muscle-building nutrition plans is oatmeal. It is high in fiber and complex carbohydrates, making it an excellent option for breakfast to fuel your mind and muscles and keep energy levels balanced.
Despite what you may have heard, fruit doesn't make you fat, and it has a place in a muscle-building diet plan. Fruit is packed with water, fiber, and essential micronutrients that support the muscle building and recovery process and overall daily health.
Love them or hate them, veggies belong in your diet plan. They're rich in micronutrients that support health and reduce the risk of a whole host of diseases.
Veggies come in tons of different options. So, if you don’t like broccoli with your rice and chicken, switch it out for asparagus, Brussels sprouts, roasted eggplant, sauteed spinach, or any number of other options. The important point is to eat a variety of foods so that you can take advantage of each food’s unique micronutrient payload.
Foods to Limit
As we mentioned above, the fact that you’re eating for muscle growth means that you are in a calorie surplus, which means your calories needs are higher than they typically are. This means you’ll have some extra room in your diet for some dirtier (higher calorie “junk”) foods.
Now, if you're serious about building muscle and not just gaining a bunch of fat, you'll be moderate with how much junk food you eat each day.
Remember, you still need to consume a certain amount of protein each day, and just because you're in a bulking/massing phase doesn't give you free rein to go ham at the Chinese buffet (at least not if you are serious about building muscle).
With that in mind, if you’re having trouble hitting your daily calorie and protein needs relying solely on whole foods, it’s ok to use some higher-calorie fare to meet your needs. Have a scoop or two of ice cream, be a little more generous with the peanut butter, add some extra olive oil or butter to the pan when cooking your food.
Just be reasonable with your food choices and portion sizes.
Muscle Building Supplements to Use
We've said time, and again that proper nutrition and training are the keys to getting results in the gym. Nothing else matters (meal timing, supplements, mystical crystals, etc.) without those two things in place.
However, if your diet and training are on point, adding certain muscle building post workout supplements can help accelerate the process.
The undisputed "king" of muscle-building supplements is creatine monohydrate.
It has been used for decades and stood the test of time for one simple reason -- it works.
Creatine has been studied hundreds of times and found to improve athletic performance, power, strength, energy production, and (of course) muscle growth!
Timing is largely irrelevant when it comes to creatine. The more important thing is to take it consistently. So, consume 5 grams per day whenever convenient (we like to mix it into our post-workout shake and one of our other favorite muscle-building supplements).
Next to creatine monohydrate, whey protein is probably the most often associated with lifting weights and building muscle.
Whey protein is high in protein (including the BCAAs), rapidly digested, easy on the stomach, affordable, and requires next-to-no preparation or clean up.
It makes a perfect post-workout meal, especially when tossed into a blender with frozen fruit and milk. Whey protein can also be mixed into oatmeal or yogurt for a delicious, quick-fix breakfast or as a bedtime snack to supply your muscles with amino acids for added recovery and growth while you sleep.
SteelFit® Steel Whey® utilizes WPC-80 -- the highest quality whey protein concentrate -- to supply a protein powder high in protein and low in lactose and fat.
Throughout this article, we've discussed quite a few times how important consuming enough protein is for building muscle. This is because protein supplies the body with amino acids -- the building blocks the body uses to repair damaged proteins and synthesize new ones. Amino acids also produce neurotransmitters (which help you focus and contract your muscles during training) and synthesize hormones.
Being deficient in any one amino acid could hinder your quest for muscle as well as hold you back from reaching your health and fitness goals.
Using a high-quality amino acid supplement (such as Steel Fuel® or Amino9®) is a great way to support your protein intake and get the required aminos you need to achieve total body health, peak performance, and optimal muscle growth!