The Best Food for Muscle Growth: What to Eat and Avoid


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When people talk about putting on muscle, the conversation usually centers around workouts. While hitting the gym is important, it’s just half the equation. You’ll also want to eat the best food for muscle growth.

The Best Foods for Muscle Growth

Eating plenty of protein is key to gaining muscle, but how you get that protein matters, too. You’ll also need other nutrients to maximize your gains while minimizing counterproductive ingredients. Here are some of the best foods to eat for serious gains.

A plate of baked chicken, avocado and peas.
Chicken is a great source of lean protein.

Lean Meats

As you probably already know, meat is a great source of protein. Not all meat is equally beneficial, though. You specifically want to eat lean meats — that is, meat with a low fat content. A nice steak has plenty of protein but is too high in fat.

Poultry is a great option. One 100-gram portion of chicken breast has 30.5 grams of protein and just 3.17 grams of fat. Fish is another solid choice and has the added benefit of containing plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent muscle loss.


You can still get all the protein you need without meat if you prefer. Tofu is another one of the best foods for muscle growth. You’ll often see it as a meat substitute, thanks to its high protein content and low fat.

Tofu’s much more than a meat alternative, though. It’s also high in calcium, which aids your muscle and bone development. This soy-based food is full of other nutrients, too, including probiotics and prebiotics, to foster a healthy gut and digest other foods better.


Eggs are another great choice. Like meat and tofu, eggs are high in protein, but their benefits don’t stop there. Studies have found that eating whole eggs after a workout leads to greater muscle growth, increased testosterone and lower body fat percentages.

These benefits likely stem from all the vitamins, amino acids and other micronutrients eggs contain. While eating a single boiled egg or two may not fill you up, consider adding them to another meal for increased gains. Opting for eggs for a snack instead of something more sugar-rich is also a good idea.


Legumes are great all-around foods for muscle growth, too. Beans and lentils are packed with protein and a whole host of other nutrients. These include fiber, magnesium, B vitamins and leucine — one of the amino acids crucial to building muscle mass.

Beans and other legumes are also versatile ingredients, which makes them easier to work into your diet. You could have some beans as a low-fat side, add them to vegetable dishes to up your protein content or use them as a meat alternative.

A bowl of quinoa, beans and vegetables
Quinoa is a nutrient-rich whole grain to include in your diet.

Whole Grains

Much of the best food for muscle growth is high in protein, but that’s not the only nutrient you need. Carbohydrates — more specifically, complex carbs — are also crucial, as carbs produce glucose, the main source of energy for your body. That energy helps you recover from workouts and perform better during them. Whole grains are a great source of these nutrients.

Specific grains to look for include quinoa, oats and rice. These foods offer plenty of carbs as well as fiber, which aids digestion. Stay away from bleached, sugary grain products like white bread and wheat pasta.

Starchy Vegetables

Starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and yams are another great source of complex carbs. As an added bonus, these are gluten-free, so you can use them to get the carbs you need if you have a gluten allergy or celiac disease.

Corn, peas and lima beans are other examples of starchy carbs to work into your diet. They also go well with other great muscle-building foods like chicken and legumes, so try mixing them into your other meals.

Greek Yogurt

Most dairy products aren’t ideal for muscle growth, as they typically have a high fat content. However, Greek yogurt is different. This tasty snack is often low-fat or fat-free and has double the protein of regular yogurt.

Greek yogurt also has lots of probiotics to help you digest other nutrients. Be careful to take it easy on the sweet stuff, though. While eating yogurt with lots of honey or other sugary add-ons is undeniably delicious, too much sugar could hinder your progress.

Foods to Avoid for Muscle Growth

Now that you know the best food for muscle growth, it’s important to review what you don’t need. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need many supplements to bulk up if you eat properly. Here are some other things to minimize or avoid altogether.


As much as we love a good drink, alcohol isn’t great for your health. While there’s some evidence of positive health effects of some beverages like red wine, it’s best to cut out alcohol when building mass. Most of the time, it’s just empty calories.

Alcohol also has a dehydrating effect on the body, which inhibits muscle growth. You need plenty of water to aid digestion, recover from workouts and get enough oxygen to your muscles. Anything that stands in the way of that, especially without bringing any other benefits, is best to avoid.

Added Sugars

Sugary foods also don’t belong in your muscle-building diet. To be clear, your body needs glucose — a type of sugar — to get the energy for a strong workout and recovery. However, you’ll get all the glucose you need if you eat enough fruits, veggies and whole grains. Too much sugar means more empty calories.

Excess sugar can make your liver work too hard and increase fat growth. It can also promote free radical production, which counteracts the lipids and proteins you need to build muscle.

Two coffee creamers
Coffee creamer is a common source of hydrogenated oils, so it’s best to avoid.

Hydrogenated Oils

Similarly, you should minimize your oil intake when building muscle. Hydrogenated oils — which are common in baked goods, margarine, palm oil and fried foods — are high in fat, which you don’t want.

Hydrogenated oils may also cause inflammation, which will slow muscle growth by limiting recovery. Thankfully, you can cut out these foods fairly easily by not pan-frying or deep-frying things and avoiding highly processed foods.

Eat the Best Food for Muscle Growth

Once you know the best food for muscle growth, you’ll find it a lot easier to pack on some healthy pounds. Eating right is crucial to getting more out of your bulking routine.

Use this list to inspire your new, muscle-friendly diet. Pair it with the right workout regimen, plenty of water and sufficient sleep, and you’ll see gains in no time.

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