Skip the Protein Shakes: 8 Muscle Building Foods to Eat

You don’t have to be an aspiring bodybuilder to worry about muscle mass. In fact, maintaining healthy muscle mass is one of the many ways we can stay healthy and improve our overall well-being, especially as we age. And, along with a balanced exercise and strength training regimen, our diet is a critical factor in building and maintaining strong muscles.

Protein, in particular, plays a key role in supporting muscle growth. This collection of amino acids makes up a large part of our muscle tissues and organs. It’s an essential part of your diet, but that doesn’t mean you have to lose weight every day protein shakes to have enough While it’s certainly a way to increase your protein intake, you can actually find it in many delicious whole food sources.

With a little effort, it’s easy to add plenty of foods high in protein and other muscle-building nutrients to your diet. In this article, we’ll look at how various foods help you build muscle mass and the best things to eat if you’re trying to increase your strength.

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How foods help build muscle

Although protein is essential for muscle building, is not the only important food component in the process. According to the National Academy of Sports Medicine, a good muscle-building diet should also include plenty of carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals. A balanced diet that includes all of these will provide the necessary ingredients to help your muscles repair and rebuild after a workout.

In general, the NASM recommends that most people consume at least 0.7 to 0.8 grams of protein and 1.8 to 3.2 grams of carbohydrates per pound of body weight each day. Total calorie intake also plays a role in building muscle, as it is difficult to build muscle if you burn more calories than you consume.

However, diet alone is not enough to stimulate muscle growth. Exercise, especially resistance training such as lifting weights, is necessary to start the process. When muscle fibers are torn, this stimulates cell growth and repair. That’s when your body can use the food you’ve eaten to rebuild and strengthen muscle tissue. Other factors also influence the effectiveness and efficiency of this process, from when you eat your food and how much you rest your muscles between workouts to your hormonal and genetic makeup.

A carton of brown eggs on a blue background.

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8 foods to optimize your gains

Although there are many factors at play in building muscle, there is no doubt that diet plays a key role. Here are eight muscle-building foods you can eat to optimize your workouts and increase your muscle mass.

1. Eggs

Eggs have long been considered a power food, and for good reason. They are incredibly rich in nutrients from fat and protein and include a powerful mix of vitamins such as B12, B6 and thiamine. Their nutrient-dense profile makes them particularly potent, but most importantly, they contain a large dose of leucine. This amino acid is known for its ability to build muscle.

2. Fish

If you already have enough fat in your diet, but need to increase your protein intake, look no further than fish. It’s one of the best lean sources of protein you can eat, and it’s full of other vitamins and minerals. A bonus? Fish is full of omega-3 fatty acids. Although known for their many other health benefits, omega-3s can also improve muscle performance and help prevent muscle loss. Salmon and tuna are especially great food choices for building muscle.

Read more: Best Seafood Delivery Services for 2022

3. Nuts

When eaten in moderation, nuts are an excellent choice for building muscle. These tasty snacks offer a perfect combination of protein, fat and fiber, making them one of the most balanced ways to supplement your workouts. Be careful, though, as many nuts (including peanuts, which are actually legumes) are high in calories. For more nutrient-dense options, try almonds or walnuts.

4. Soy

If you’re trying to build muscle on a meat-free diet, soy should be one of your closest friends. These are some of the most nutrient dense legumes you can eat and pack a powerful punch of protein to help build muscle. Soy contains all nine essential amino acids, making it one of the best sources of plant protein available.

Close-up of a stack of edamame beans.

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5. Greek yogurt

Dairy is a unique source of protein because it offers a combination of fast-digesting whey protein and slow-digesting casein protein. When consumed together, these two types of protein can enhance and prolong the protein synthesis process your muscles go through when rebuilding, helping you build your lean mass. Greek yogurt is an especially great dairy option because it contains twice the protein of regular yogurt and has additional probiotic health benefits that can’t be found in milk or cheese.

6. Cottage cheese

It doesn’t offer the same probiotic benefits as yogurt, but cottage cheese is a great second choice for dairy proteins. In fact, cottage cheese packs more protein than Greek yogurt while offering the same combination of slow and fast digestion. It’s an especially great source of casein and provides a significant boost in calories if you need to make sure you’re getting enough.

7. Olive oil

It may not sound like your typical bodybuilding food, but extra virgin olive oil has become increasingly popular for its muscle benefits in recent years. Widely known as a source of healthy monounsaturated fats, olive oil also helps reduce inflammation and slow muscle breakdown. Both of these features can aid in any muscle building regimen.

8. Quinoa

They don’t call quinoa a superfood for nothing. This dynamic grain (it’s a seed but classified as a whole grain) packs a little bit of everything, including plenty of protein, fiber and carbohydrates, plus a hefty dose of vitamins and minerals. It’s a perfect food for building muscle and maximizing the benefits of your workouts.

Cooked quinoa in a wooden bowl with a green garnish.

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A recipe for stronger muscles

Adding these muscle building foods to your diet will definitely help you on your way to building muscle mass and increasing your strength. Remember, however, that building muscle mass takes time and diet is only one piece of the puzzle. Combining a balanced diet of protein-rich foods with healthy exercise and rest will accelerate your journey and improve your overall health along the way.

Read more: Lose weight and gain lean muscle at the same time with body recomposition

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as medical or health advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified health care provider with any questions you have about a medical condition or health goals.

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